Do animals grieve?

Posted on June 2, 2022 by Rev. Pam Reidy under grief, loss, mourning
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I recently presided at a graveside service for a baby.  It was a heartbreaking loss as it was the couple’s only child. The couple bought their family dog to the service and I came away recognizing that our pets grieve and that they can be an enormous comfort to us in our grief.

As I sat next to the little coffin and read the children’s storybook, Guess How Much I Love You written by Sam McBratney, the family dog came forward, sat at my feet and licked my leg. Licking a person is a dog’s own special brand of love. I was so touched, as I looked into this pup’s eyes, I knew she was grieving and helping us all  to do the same.

Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of counseling services for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says this: “Animals can instinctively recognize death, and there’s strong documentation of wild animals grieving. However, there is no consensus among pet experts on how animals grieve.” Pets probably know a lot more about death than we think they do,” she says.  (Help Your Pet Grieve a Death By Clare Walters  May 23, 2022)

New Zealand and Australia surveyed pet owners regarding how their surviving pets reacted to the loss of an animal companion. The research involved 159 dogs and 152 cats. This table reveals some of the study’s more fascinating findings.

Behavioral Change

% of Dogs Involved

%of Cats Involved

More demanding of attention



Being clingy or needy



Seeking less affection from owners



Seeking out the deceased’s

favorite spot



Increased duration sleep



Decreased amount eaten



          Slower eating



Increased frequency of vocalizations



Increased volume of vocalizations



Other behavioral changes that were observed included avoidance of regular sleeping locations, aggression toward people and other animals, and changes in elimination behaviors (e.g., litter box use). (

Whether it is a human or animal loss, LaFarge has advice for helping pets grieve:

  • Try to keep the pet’s schedule as routine as possible. Many owners want to help their pets grieve, LaFarge says, but most won’t need help.
  • Give yourself and pets enough time to mourn and develop new routines without your lost loved one.
  • “It’s normal, and animals will go through it in their own way,” she says, adding that there’s no harm in squeezing in extra time for playing, walking or just relaxing.
  • “The purpose of grief is to get back psychological energy to move forward. That’ll help you even if it doesn’t help the pet,” she says.

“Pets grieve the loss of a beloved family member in much the same way as we do and have many of the same needs during this difficult time. While it can be difficult to focus on your pet’s grief when you are in mourning yourself, doing so has a way of making everyone feel better in the end.” (

At the conclusion of the service I asked the parents to stand and receive a blessing as a family with their new guardian angel. The dog who had been quietly sitting with them, followed in suit, standing stately and lovingly to receive her blessing.  Not a dry eye around.


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