Does Your Dog or Cat Feel Grief When a Companion Animal Dies? Study Investigates That Question

DENVER–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The loss of a companion animal can be a difficult life event for pet
owners, but the loss also may affect other animals in the household. A
recent study of owner-reported observations indicates there are a number
of common behavioral changes in dogs and cats after a companion animal
in their home dies.

The study, funded with a grant from Morris
Animal Foundation
, surveyed 279 owners following the death of a pet.
The questionnaire was distributed through veterinary clinics and several
animal welfare organizations based in New Zealand and Australia. The two
most common classes of behavioral change reported through the
questionnaire were in affectionate behaviors and territorial behaviors.

“Both dogs and cats were reported to demand more attention from their
owners and/or display affiliative behavior, as well as spend time
seeking out the deceased pet’s favorite spot,” noted the study
article that appeared in Animals 2016, 6(11)
.

Dogs were reported to decrease the amount and speed at which they ate,
and increase the amount of time spent sleeping. Cats were reported to
increase the frequency and volume of their vocalizations. Researchers
also looked at the practice of giving the surviving pet the opportunity
to see the deceased pet’s body. The survey found no difference in
behavioral responses between animals that saw the deceased pet and those
that did not.

Paper authors noted in their discussion that there were limitations to
interpretations of the study, particularly given the potential for
anthropomorphism (projecting human traits onto animals) and owner bias,
and that further investigations independent of owner interpretation are
required. New investigations might help to establish if the behavioral
changes are a reflection of loss, a change in owner behavior following a
loss, or of the reduction in competition for owner attention and
resources.

This study was funded by Morris Animal Foundation through its Veterinary
Student Scholars program, which provides grant support for aspiring
scientists in the field of veterinary medicine. Dr. Jessica K. Walker,
VSS recipient and co-author on this paper, is now manager at the New
Zealand Companion Animal Council
.

About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation is a global leader in funding scientific
studies that advance the health of companion animals, horses and
wildlife. Since its founding in 1948, the Foundation has invested over
$103 million in more than 2,500 studies that have led to significant
breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments and preventions to benefit
animals worldwide. Learn more at Morris
Animal Foundation
.

Contacts

Morris Animal Foundation
Carol Borchert, 303-708-3418
Director
of Communications