Most dog owners will easily claim that no one can love you more than your furry little friend. Tales of loyal dogs such as Hachiko have stormed the media. But can dogs die from sadness, or is this yet another urban legend?
We all know how sad dogs can be if their owner or friend passes. But can this go so far as to end with fatal results? Can dogs die from sadness? We have asked around about these claims and decided to see if there is any truth to them. If you’re interested in what we’ve found out, keep on reading below.
Can Dogs Die Experience a Broken Heart Syndrome?
Scientists and animal behaviorists have tried conducting many pieces of research on this topic. So far, there is no definite answer to the question ‘Can dogs die from sadness?’ Still, it is suggested that a positive answer isn’t impossible.
What is ‘broken heart syndrome’ in humans? When humans experience severe stress, such as the loss of a loved person, their hearts can weaken. On rare occasions, this can even lead to complete heart failure. A person can literally die from a broken heart. So, if this can happen with humans, why couldn’t the same happen with pets?
One no-kill animal shelter in Washington filed a painful report on this topic. It stated that, although there is no proof of a broken heart syndrome in pets, the staff has observed it. According to them, many former pets that ended up in their shelter were depressed.
They would curl up in the corner, refuse to eat or sleep, sometimes even hiding their faces with paws. Some pets would stay in that depressed stage until they’d die of old age. While nothing can prove some pets died of sadness, there is no other explanation for their behavior.
Surprisingly enough, some veterinarians mention the opposite behavioral pattern, as well. If the dog was abused by the owner, he will be happy when the owner is gone. Similarly, if another pet abused the dog, but the pet died, the abused dog will change his behavior. Stereotypically, we can say the abused dog is happy after something bad happened to his abuser. This is one of the arguments people use as proof that dogs have the same emotions as humans.
Dogs are social animals, and their behavior is, in a way, connected with their pack members. They experience happiness when reunited with an old friend, but they’ll also be sad after a loss. No matter what you believe in, this cannot be denied.
Dogs who Have Died from Sadness
There is no scientific proof to the question can dogs die from sadness or not. However, the stories of many people seem to give an answer. Read some of them and conclude for yourself.
The story that once again started the talk about dogs dying from sadness is about an online celebrity, Boo. Boo was a pomeranian with a huge presence on social media, who lived with his owner since 2006. In 2018, Boo’s beloved companion, Buddy, sadly passed away. A little after this, Boo started experiencing heart issues, despite the pom never having such problems beforehand. Soon after, Boo also passed away after his heart gave up. His owner claims that Boo surely died from a broken heart, mourning his dear friend.
Wandering Cloud is the name staff at Palonegro airport named a female dog that appeared at the terminal. They believe her owner abandoned her at the airport before flying away. She spent over a month roaming around the terminal, looking at passers-by and sniffing them. When the month passed, she curled in a corner, refusing to eat and drink. The vets picked her up and, despite there not being anything wrong with her, she quickly passed away. Since there was no reason behind her condition, they say she, too, had died from the sorrow.
A Quora member Christian Wagner told a story about his father’s German Shepherd, Scout. Scout was a healthy dog until Christian’s dad died of heart failure in 2005. Ever since that day, Scout stopped eating regularly and showed serious dog depression symptoms. While he did sometimes play and act like a happy dog, most of the time he was sad and lethargic. Scout would go to the woods and sit in silence, looking at a distance. It seemed as if he was in mourning. This lasted for around two months, before Scout simply went into nearby tries, laid down, and passed. As Scout never had any health issues, his owners believe he died from sadness.
So, Can Dogs Die from Sadness?
After reading these stories, we can notice there is a pattern. It seems like dogs truly can grieve the loss of a loved one. This is similar to the widowhood effect that humans experience. You have probably heard of this effect, even if you didn’t know it has a name. Sometimes, when one spouse or partner dies, the other one will get severely depressed. This commonly ends with the other spouse passing away in just a few months.
While veterinary medicine doesn’t document the widowhood effect, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Many evidence shows that animals can experience grief very similarly to humans. If their pack member dies, dogs can stay by their side for days, even months. They’ll commonly search their deceased friends and cry for them. Also, most dogs experience severe depression after their loved one passes. This sometimes includes a complete loss of appetite, which can be fatal.
Signs of Grief in Dogs
While some dog depression symptoms are clear, others aren’t that obvious. Signs of grief in dogs include, but aren’t limited to:
- Appetite loss
- Bad sleeping patterns – a dog might become restless during the night while sleeping during the day
- Excessive demand for attention
- Going to the spots that the deceased person used to spend time on
- Lick granuloma
- Loud, prolonged vocalizations – it can seem like you have a dog crying for owner
- Rejections of any affection
This isn’t the same as having a dog cry when you go to work every morning. Such behavior is called ‘separation anxiety’ and is very different from grieving. Still, separation anxiety can sometimes be so strong that it borders with grief.
How Strong Is Dog’s Grief?
Dogs who grew up with their owner can experience terrible grief if their owner passes away. The same goes for dogs who are abandoned by the owners they loved dearly. Before you wonder can dogs die from sadness, you should understand the danger of some of these symptoms. For example, when a dog won’t eat, several biochemical reactions occur in his body. To make up for the energy loss, the body will eventually start digesting internal fats.
The blood sugar will drop to a lethal level, which will lead to death. So, while we can argue can dogs die from sadness, grief is what eventually can lead to their passing.
A grieving dog loses his ‘spark’, he becomes closed and unhappy. Usually, their activity levels drop, and the same goes for their appetite. Also, the bigger the bond between a dog and his owner, the bigger the grief. At the same time, some dogs are more emotional than others. Two dogs that know each other since puppyhood are more likely to grieve if they are separated.
Opposite of that, if dogs weren’t close, they likely won’t feel any sadness after separation. In fact, as we’ve mentioned prior, they might even become happier when the other one is gone.
Of course, there is nothing bad if your dog doesn’t show signs of grief after someone passes. Dogs are individual creatures, just like humans. Not all will have clear dog depression symptoms. This doesn’t make them less sad. Even if they truly aren’t sad, that’s entirely okay, as well. Canines have the right not to get attached to everyone.
Dogs Can Pick up Their Owner’s Grief
Another thing that can happen is your dog picking up your grief. When you lose a loved one, you too will experience some changes. This doesn’t influence just your behavior, but your odor as well. Dogs can read these changes and feed off them. In other words, if you are stressed, your dog can feel stressed, too. In fact, one science paper proved that depressed owners have dogs who also have symptoms of depression. The same goes for stress.
So, when you’re feeling down, your dog will pick up on this. He’ll soon start feeling down, as well. Dogs are pack animals and they can closely bond with their owners. This can lead to them being stressed out if you’re troubled by something.
To avoid feeding your dog with negative emotions, do whatever you can to stay cheerful around them. Comfort your dog and give him affection. This includes:
- Taking him out for a walk
- Giving him more treats than usual
- Hug him more than normally
- Let him sleep in your bed
How to Help a Grieving Dog
Grief can be very hard to deal with. The same goes for your dogs. You should let your pooch experience sadness and bad emotions. Don’t force happiness onto him, but be there for him. Your furry companion should know he is not alone. Here are some things you can do to help him get over loss:
- Spend more time with him than usual. Dogs need to understand they still have a pack.
- Stick to your normal routine. This way, your dog won’t feel too many changes and he’ll understand things are okay.
- If your dog is social, get another pet. This is a good way to ensure your pooch has company.
- Contact your vet for some calming medicine. Note that this should be your last option.
Typically, your dog should feel better in two to six months. While this is a long time frame, you should understand that this is normal. Still, you should try to do all you can to help your dog in such stressful times. Be proactive and make sure to contact your vet for any advice you might need. Helping a dog get out of grief is very beneficial for his overall health.
While science can’t prove can dogs die from sadness, owner testimonies tell otherwise. True stories about loyal dogs waiting for owners have even been a topic of many movies. Although vets didn’t prove the broken heart syndrome, dogs can certainly experience grief. They will feel sadness over death or abandonment, and they’ll do so in a similar way as humans.
Keep in mind that some signs of depression in dogs resemble symptoms of various illnesses. You should always contact a vet if your dog experiences any change of behavior.