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Do Animals Grieve?

We are putting our 11 year old Basset hound to sleep . It is really hard on the whole family, how should we handle our...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Oct 1st 2010


We are putting our 11 year old Basset hound to sleep . It is really hard on the whole family, how should we handle our 2 year old mini grey hound. She is very close to sawdust.

Emma Is a recused dog and has alot of fear stills I am worried that if sawdust just leaves and never comes back it will jst add to her problems Help

April
Dayton, OH

Dogs and cats are mammals with very highly developed nervous systems. There is no doubt that they lead complex emotional lives; however, their emotional lives are very poorly understood by humans.

Most experts don’t believe cats and dogs grieve in the same way as humans. However, nobody can truly claim to understand the extent to which animals grieve.

Many pets remain loyal to lost companions. Consider the case of Hachiko, a Japanese dog who, for nine years after his owner’s death, went to the train station every day to meet the train his owner took home from work each day while alive. Even when new people adopted the Hachiko, he still would routinely escape in order to search for his original owner. He is commemorated by a statue at the train station.

Also, both dogs and cats are very adept at reading their owners’ emotions. They know when we are sad, and they often try to comfort us; that is part of what makes them such good companions. Our sadness clearly contributes to their stress–I have seen many animals develop stress-related problems when their owners went through hard times.

April, the loss of Sawdust undoubtedly will be hard on everyone, including Emma. Remember however that dogs, like people, are very resilient so Emma almost certainly will get through the difficult period that lies ahead.

After Sawdust is gone I recommend that you do your best to establish new routines, but also allow yourself to grieve. Attempt to provide as much stability, love, and care for Emma as possible. However, remember that you are human and you cannot be expected to recover from your loss immediately; neither can Emma.

In time a new normal will evolve. My thoughts are with you.

Photo: Statue of Hachiko, by .