Dogs experience a form of mourning when another dog in the household dies

The loss of a loved one can have a profound impact on humans, affecting everything from sleep patterns to appetite. Now researchers say they have found similar behaviour changes in dogs who have lost a canine companion.

While the team say it is not clear if the findings can be described as grief, they say the work potentially indicates an overlooked welfare issue.

Dr Federica Pirrone of the University of Milan, who is one of the study’s authors, said: “Dogs are highly emotional animals who develop very close bonds with the members of the familiar group. This means that they may be highly distressed if one of them dies and efforts should be made to help them cope with this distress.”

Expressions of grief are not unique to humans: great apes, dolphins, elephants and birds are among species that have been observed to take part in rituals around death and appear to mourn.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Pirrone and colleagues describe how they analysed the responses of 426 Italian adults who completed a “mourning dog questionnaire” online to investigate how canines experience grief.

All of the participants had experienced the loss of one of their dogs while at least one other dog was still alive, and the questionnaire looked at the behaviour and emotions of the owner and their surviving dogs after the death.

The results reveal that 86% of owners said their surviving dogs had shown behavioural changes after the death of another canine in the household.

Pirrone said: “Overall, dogs were reported to play and eat less, sleep more and seek more for owners’ attention.” She said the results did not appear to be affected by the level of attachment between the owner and their dog or whether they humanised their pets, suggesting the owners were not simply projecting their grief.

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The team said the changes did not turn out to be linked to how long the dogs had lived together or whether the surviving dogs had seen the corpse.

The researchers said there were a…

Read full story at the guardian.com

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