Do Pets Mourn?

Yes, of course they do!

I tend to anthropomorphize, I am highly (not excessively, highly!) emotional, I love, love, love pets and I spend most of my time at home and at work with them.

I realize that I am not unbiased.

So instead of just saying “yes,” I wanted to share this sort-of-a-scientific-case-but-more-of-an-intriguing-story…

Joy the Puppy has a built-in stress barometer

localized juvenile demodicosis that manifests as periocular alopecia.

Look!  The scientist in me is coming out!  Let me explain that super-nerdy sentence and then move on to how it supports the theory that pets do indeed mourn.  I know that this is a case study of one subject.  Still, I would believe it with no proof, so it is more scientific than my usual carrying on here, wouldn’t you say?

localized – in one or a few areas.  Generalized demodicosis would typically be more serious and warrant a more aggressive search of an underlying cause and more aggressive treatment.

juvenile – puppy disease.  Again, adult-onset would typically be more serious and warrant a more aggressive search of an underlying cause and more aggressive treatment.

demodicosis – a form of “mange” – Many mammals have a species-specific mite, demodex, which is present in small numbers even in healthy individuals.  Since I am an animal doctor, not a human doctor, I will not say “human” or “eyebrows” to you.  Dogs have a species-specific demodex mite called Demodex canis.  It can become a clinical problem if there is an immune system issue or stress, though the underlying cause is not always known.

microscopic view of Demodex canis

periocular – around the eyes

alopecia – loss of hair

When Joy was a pup, she had a mild case of localized juvenile demodicosis that manifested as periocular alopecia.  It came and went pretty quickly and quietly, with no discomfort to Joy.  I treated it with “benign neglect” and she did great.  She had no symptoms for over a year.

When Ebony Dog passed away last month, the disease came back with a vengeance.  Joy moped around the house.  That is, she had decreased energy levels and was much less active than usual.  She circled on the bed that she and Ebony had shared, finally flopping down every night with a deep sigh and her chin on the floor at the edge of the bed.  She would come to a complete stop during walks with Noodle the Poodle and look around as if confused.  For her whole life, walks had always been the three of them:  Joy, Ebony and Noodle.  Most telling of all, the area around both of Joy’s eyes went completely baldy-bald…um, I mean alopecic, again.

Here is Joy in all her shiny gorgeousness…

Here is Joy at the worst of her recent bout of demodicosis…

And here, I believe, is the reason for the stress that has caused this most recent flare-up…

She and Ebony were so close…

In fact, Joy wanted to be Ebony when she grew up…

Joy the Puppy is mourning the loss of her friend Ebony Dog.

I saw it with Wuzzy Rat when Fuzzy Rat passed away…

(She had no hair to let fall out as an outward sign of her mourning – ha!)  I have seen it with other personal pets.  I have seen it with clients’ pets.  This is the first time I have seen it with such clear physical manifestations.  Have you seen this with pets you have known?  The mourning, I mean?

My Prescribed Treatment for Joy: Routine cleaning with a gentle cleanser and topical medication, extra attention, extra love, extra walks and extra empathy.*  Her stress levels are going down, her immune system is becoming strong again, her demodicosis is going back into remission and her hair is growing back.  That is to say…her heart is healing.

*I miss her too Joy.  We’re going to be ok though Puppy, I promise.

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16 Responses to “Do Pets Mourn?”

  1. Even if there wasn’t physical proof, I have always believed that animals mourn the loss of someone they love. Interesting that Joy’s manifested with hair loss. I believe their hearts can break just like ours.

  2. Dear Joy, it’s a good thing you live with Dr Finch because you’re definitely going to be okay soon. She’s a DrDog you know.Mr Thumper was very sad too when Mr Piglet died. He didn’t eat properly, he didnt sleep for a month and would walk up and down the house and stare at my humans while they slept at night. It scared them a lot. Whenever he went to the park, he would look for black dogs just like Mr Piglet and go up to them to see if he was right. He was sad a long time. Then he found me! And he forgot to be sad because he had to help scold and teach me.I hope you get your hair all back soon. Love, Georgia xox

  3. Thank you Shawn for the insightful information about Joy’s manifestation of illness as part of her mourning process. I hope that she is fully back to health soon and her Demodex is under control.My veterinary inclined mind has to ask:Besides the cleanser and topical medication, did Joy receive any other treatment?Dr PM

  4. kenzohw says:

    I did not know dogs could have so much stress over the loss of one of their friends. Poor Joy, I hope she will soon be her old self again!

  5. Cherie says:

    Poor baby. I hope she will start enjoying life again soon.

  6. Awww. This situation, more than anything else, makes me wish that pets and people could talk, if only to say, “It’s going to be okay.” Joy and Wuzzy Rat, such tender hearts. Hugs!

  7. Pamela says:

    We raised Agatha and Christie from puppyhood together (they were litter mates). When we came home from the hospital without Christie, Agatha went running around looking for her. But I don’t think she mourned much.They had such a rough time together that was fraught with tension that I think Agatha was relieved to be an only dog after 14 long years of fighting with her sister. Agatha lived to 16 and was healthy to the last few days of her life. I think being an only dog strengthened her immune system.And in that way, dogs are also like people. We can sometimes be ambivalent about death ourselves.And dogs, like people, have special relationships with some that we don’t have with others.I hope your family experiences lots of healing and that your mourning is replaced with memories of loving Ebony.

  8. Sage says:

    I certainly have seen stress and depression in dogs. Our Maggie was noticeably depressed after we moved to another state. She clearly was mourning the loss of her life-style in the previous place and it took a couple of months of long walks and the eventual introduction of Toby into her life before she seemed to be happy again.We recently went through several months of treating demodectic mange on our now 11 1/2 year old Toby. His underlying problem was hypothyroidism–his counts were extremely low when caught. And I know he was stressed after Maggie died the previous January. So, he had a rough year, but now seems quite healthy!

  9. mom Karen says:

    I had to cry! I remember when Holly died, Sassy wouldn’t eat for days. Our then vet (you were still in middle school and we didn’t know you!!!) get another dog. We got Spunky then and and she and Sassy were good friends. Then Sassy went to Heaven, so we got Skeeter. Then they both went to Heaven and we were too sad so now we have Jacy.Bring Joy out to play with Jacy, cause she is the only dog Jacy likes!

  10. Oh, yes, pets do mourn. And it’s sad to watch.

  11. Hi Y’all,What is interesting is that y’all understand that animals have feelings.Over a lifetime, and even today, I know a number of people who do not think animals have feelings and some who will argue that they do not feel pain. One person told me they couldn’t possibly feel pain, they didn’t have a Soul. I’ve heard people declare that an obviously lame animal was “faking it”. :(Thanks for voicing your observations.BrownDog’s Momma

  12. You all do not even know how much your kind words are helping me to heal. I wish I could share them with Joy ♥24 Paws of Love – I agree. Their hearts break too, and they have to walk through grief like we do – a different grief, because we are different individuals, but a very real grief.Georgia Little Pea – It is good to hear about Mr. Thumper. I am glad he has you now. I wish I could have known Mr. Piglet too!Dr. M – This time, we treated Joy the Puppy with dilute chlorhexidine to clean her skin and topical 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. I would love to hear any immune boosting things that would help her too.Kenzo and Cherie – She is getting there! ♥ If she could choose, I do not think Joy would give up having known Ebony any more than we would have. She was such a great dog.Wendy – I try to tell her everything will be ok. I think she knows…maybe. ♥ (hugs)Pamela – Your insight into Agatha and Christie’s relationship is very wise! And you are so right. AND great names!Mom-Karen – I wish I could have known Holly and Sassy! I know they were awesome from all I have heard! I am glad I got to know the equally awesome Spunky and Skeeter. And now if we can talk Jacy into a Puppy-in-law for me…that would help a lot! I love you so much!! Having all of our family here who knew how great Ebony and the little guys were helps so much. ♥♥♥Jan – You are right! I just want to make everything better, but I know I can just walk through this with Joy. *sigh*Sage – I did not know that about Toby Dog! I am so glad he is doing better now.Brown Dog’s Momma – Isn’t that sad? Part of my (self-appointed) job as a vet has been to gently break down all of those misconceptions.All of you surrounding us and walking through this sad season have been such a huge part of our family healing.

  13. Pup Fan says:

    Wendy’s so right… wouldn’t it be great if we could talk with our animals and let them know it’ll be okay in times like these? I definitely think animals can mourn – and that they can mourn for both people and pets. I’m sure in some cases it’s that the household is stressed and that stress rubs off – but I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that they miss the ones they love just like we do. Hugs to you and Joy the puppy.

  14. You are right Pup Fan! I know some of it is the stress of the household – Joy is highly empathetic, and she worries about us when we are sad, and some of it is her own mourning and processing. Hugs to you too!!

  15. Tammy says:

    Great post – we get this question a lot! I have always believed that animals do grieve for their buddies! I’ve never had such proof as you do with Joy. My Oscar cat gets very freaked out when I take Henry to the vet. According to my husband, Oscar runs around the house vocalizing while Henry is gone. He did something similar years ago after my other cat Lissy was euthanized. He seemed to be looking for her for days.I’m quite sure that I anthropomorphize my cats, but I do see that they care for the people and pets around them! And they worry and grieve for their buddies too.

  16. Thanks Tammy! I think in this situation, our strong intuition is as good as proof – of course they react to changes and endings of relationships they are in! Poor Oscar Cat! I have quite a few clients who bring their pets’ housemates with them on veterinary visits for just that reason!I wish I had brought the other pets with us when we brought Ebony Dog in the last time. I just did not know it would be the last time…though I suspected it might :( I wonder if they would be having a little bit of an easier time now if I had…it wouldn’t be less sad, just maybe less confusing.

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