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Monday, April 12, 2010

Mourning in dogs

A wonderful eleven year-old Shih Tzu, owned by a very close family member, was struck recently by a car and killed. She left behind a mourning human couple and a lovely canine companion.
Her owner was reasonably, and rightfully concerned about how the living dog would fare after her companion's death. "I don't know," I replied honestly. "We'll have to see."
After more than three weeks since the accident, the surviving Shih Tzu has shown absolutely not a shred of evidence that she is missing her departed canine companion. It's paradoxically sad to report that she continues to thrive in the other's absence (obviously we don't want her to suffer, we just want or expect her to be "missing" the other dog).
Certainly, this is not the case for every dog who suffers the loss of a companion. According to a study done by the SPCA in the late nineties, nearly seventy percent of dogs manifest symptoms in cases like this: inappetence and lethargy are the most common. Are these dogs reacting to a change in their routine or are they literally depressed? I hate to anthropomorphosize but such prolonged symptoms in a person would be consistent with depression.
Wolves, our beloved pets' ancestors, mourn the loss of other wolves in many ways, such as vocalizing, refusing to eat, and futile searches for the deceased (I tried to find more on mourning in wolves but alas could not, so feel free to chime in, experts).
This post was introduced with direct, anecdotal evidence that not all dogs will mourn the loss of a companion. The status of both dogs must surely be taken into account, given that the surviving dog's status may change after the death of a companion. The consequent behavior of the owner(s) who lost the pet will also affect the behavior of the surviving dog.
I'd love to hear your personal stories.

Used with permission, taken from Beverley and Pack's photostream on Flickr.

3 comments:

GoLightly said...

Thanks, Doc.

When my SimonCat's brother Jethro was sadly peacefully put to sleep, Simon pined for several weeks. The addition of a kitten (after a few weeks) did nothing for his mood. He was only nine, and well used to other cats. But his brother was lost too young:(

Husband's GSD died with nary a blip from my old red girl, I think she was secretly relieved.

When old red girl passed, I was destroyed/distraught, and younger sister "loaned" me her Millie dog, just a few days later. But Millie was sad, too. My red dog had been her mature dog hero, as a pup. So, we consoled each other.

Red dog was 11 when Millie was a pup, it was a one-sided admiration thing.

Thanks for the distraction;)

dog arthritis said...

Nice article, and a wonderful read, I must say. You should be a great pet lover as it seems.

Marsha del Sol said...

Because of a family medical emergency, I was staying at a motel with my two dogs. The 11-year-old neutered Shepherd/Husky had Cushings and some sort of prostate problem that wasn't resolving. The 10-year-old Golden was fine. Eventually I sadly had to take my Shep/Husky to be put down.
My Golden was in my van outside the Vet clinic. When I came out, he sniffed my hands, then turned and sat "at attention" staring at the clinic for several minutes, then lay down totally flat on the floor of van.
That afternoon, my GR started pulling fur out of his hip. He wouldn't get up off the floor without my putting collar and leash on him and pulling; he was listless and barely interested in dinner. I thought I was going to lose him too -- it seemed like severe mourning.
Six weeks later, I found a wonderfully calm but happy 8-month-old Golden puppy. The puppy bonded instantly with my older GR, followed him everywhere, was always 'dog-polite' and literally brought my older GR out of mourning and back to life for another 6 happy years.