Posted 7 months ago ago
The emotional intelligence of pets is something that is constantly being looked into - as people wonder, just how much do they understand and feel? A common area of discussion regarding this matter is whether or not dogs grieve. When their owner or another pet passes away, do dogs mourn for the loss in a meaningful way - and how can we see whether this is the case?
When we lose somebody close to us - or a particularly beloved pet - it can be a devastating experience, and grief is expressed in a lot of ways. Given how hard it can be to pin down, how can we spot grief in dogs? One of the key indicators in this area is change to routine and behaviour. When we grieve, the order of our lives gets thrown completely out of whack, and for a creature of habit like a dog, this change can be particularly notable.
A 1996 study by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) found that, after the loss of a fellow pet in the household, dogs exhibited a range of changes in behaviour and regular routine. It found 36 per cent of dogs had less appetite than usual, with 11 per cent even refusing to eat at all. Over 60 per cent of dogs changed how vocal they were (be it more so or less so), and dogs were also shown to experience changing sleep patterns, either developing insomnia or getting far more sleep than usual.
This change in behaviour would indicate dogs really do feel the loss of their fellow pets to some degree - and similar displays have been seen in dogs that lose human companions. This supports the idea grief is an emotion dogs are capable of feeling in some shape or form.
It has, however, been argued this is not a display of grief - and that these dogs are simply frustrated by a change to their usual routine. Dogs benefit from a regular order to their day, and it could be the case that the loss of an owner or companion is simply a very large disruption to that routine. The dog’s extreme response is just the result of an extreme change.
One other way people have tried to puzzle out an answer is via the examination of dog brain waves using MRI scans. When scanned in an MRI, parts of a dog’s brain can be seen to flash in a similar way to ours when we process something - for instance the part of the brain that processes faces. If a dog’s brain can be seen to have similar activity to a person’s after suffering a loss, it might be a strong indicator that they do indeed experience grief. Obviously, however, the sheer difference between our brains means they couldn’t be said to experience grief in the same way we do, or with such complexity.
Far more research will be necessary before it can be said for certain that dogs do process grief in a meaningful sense. Though there may be similarities, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about how a dog’s brain functions - so as of yet these questions remain unanswered. Nonetheless, the connection that a dog can form with its family is clear - which means the day might well come that we discover they feel in a more complex way than originally thought.