Do Dogs and Cats Really Grieve?
Whether animals feel emotions in the same way people do is a mystery. However, their behaviors are commonly interpreted as reliable expressions of mood—for example, relaxed, fearful, or aggressive. Based on observed changes in behavior, it is thought that some dogs and cats grieve after losing a close human or animal companion. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted a study of mourning in companion animals and found that more than half of dogs and cats had at least four behavioral changes after losing an animal companion. Many of these changes, such as eating less and changes in sleep patterns, were similar to behaviors exhibited by grieving people.
If you have recently lost a pet and other pets in the household are acting differently, it is possible that they miss the deceased pet and are experiencing grief.
Signs of Grief
Like people, dogs and cats seem to show a wide variety of responses to losing a companion. Behavior changes observed in the 1996 ASPCA study included:
Again, as in people, signs of grief in pets usually improve with time. However, there are things you can do to help your pet through this difficult period. If your pet is eating less or is not eating, encourage him or her to eat by making food more appealing. For example, slightly warming canned food can make it smell better to pets. However, be very careful to not overheat food, which can burn your pet’s mouth. If your pet refuses to eat at all, call your veterinarian.
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