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How Long Do Dogs Grieve the Loss of Their Owner? What Science Says & Support Tips

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

Sad dog waiting alone at home. Labrador retriever looking through window during rain

The loss of a loved one can be an exceptionally difficult time for everyone in the family, and pets are no exception to that. Dogs in particular tend to be very in tune with the emotions of the people around them. They also tend to bond closely with the people in their home, so it should come as no surprise that many dogs take it really hard when a family member passes. A dog’s grieving can last for weeks or months. In some cases, it can even last multiple years. Let’s talk about the grief that dogs experience after they lose their owner.

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Why Dogs Grieve

Dogs are emotionally intelligent animals that form close bonds with people and other animals. They are also notably impacted by shifts in the emotions of people in their environment. When a dog loses their owner, they will likely be anxious at first. After they realize their owner isn’t coming back, they will likely begin to grieve.

There’s no way for us to know exactly what dogs think or feel when they lose their owner, but many dogs show signs of grief, stress, and depression. Imaging studies of dogs’ brains have also shown that dogs experience similar brain activity to that of humans when experiencing emotions1.

sad black dog
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Signs of Dog Grief

Just like with humans, the way each dog grieves is highly individualized and personal, so the signs may differ. Oftentimes, dogs experiencing grief will show signs of stress, like excessive panting, barking, pacing, whining, and fidgeting. Other dogs may slip into more lethargic and depressive behavior, clinginess, and even loss of appetite and weight loss.

If a dog begins to experience changes in their behavior, it’s extremely important to get them checked by a vet. While dogs can show signs of grief, these can also indicate that a serious medical condition is present. It’s also well-documented that emotional health can affect physical health. A vet visit will help rule out an underlying medical problem and allow you to find the best ways to support the grieving pup in your life.

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How to Support a Grieving Dog

a sad dog hugging a man
Photo Credit: Zen Chung, Pexels

Although you can’t take away the grief of the dog, you can provide them with comfort and emotional support during their grieving process.

Here are a few ways you can provide support:
  • Stick to the routines in the dog’s life. The closer you can stick to a routine, the more comfortable the dog will feel. Routines provide comfort and a sense of normalcy during a confusing or difficult time for a
  • Make sure to spend lots of time with the dog to help them adjust to their new normal. The comfort of spending time with someone they know will help ease the transition into a different life than they had before their owner passed. Extra petting, affection, and attention can all help a dog during their healing process.
  • Play some of the dog’s favorite games, and provide them with their favorite treats and toys. Favorite objects and treats will provide a grieving dog with a little emotional boost, as well as support their need for a sense of normalcy.

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Conclusion

The grieving process for a dog is just as variable as the grieving process for humans, so a dog’s response to the loss of their owner may surprise you. You should be prepared for a grieving process that can last for weeks. Most dogs seem to process their grief in a couple of months, but that isn’t always the case. Make sure to take the dog to the vet to rule out a medical issue when they begin to show signs of grieving, but also be prepared to provide the dog with lots of love and support throughout this difficult time.


Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

Authored by

Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

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