Do Pets Experience Heartbreak?
There is something very arrogant in assuming that only humans can experience deep emotions. We’ve all seen our pets excited and happy, and we also come to recognise when they’re sad. In other words, they experience feelings.
Sorrow in an animal is different from fear or anxiety. The latter things are brought on by stress, resulting from poor environment, poor diet, scary neighbours, cruel owners, or countless other factors that can make animals feel exposed or in danger.
Heartbreak, as any person who has experienced it knows, is something very different. It results from bereavement, or other forms of fundamental loss. Scientists are often eager to point out that we can never prove an animal feels these emotions. But many owners have seen it for themselves and have no doubt at all.
What Makes Dogs Sad?
A pet may become distressed if a certain person or a longstanding companion of the same species is no longer around – but only if that person or pet was one that the animal had completely bonded with.
A family dog will have a relationship with all the human members of its family, but there will usually be one favourite – an Alpha male or Alpha Female, if you like. Although the dog may miss the others, it is on this favourite, its main owner, that its affections will be focused.
If such a person leaves the household, for whatever reason, the dog’s first reaction will be one of separation anxiety. It will pine and lose its interest in things such as food, games and walks. Loss of appetite can lead to liver problems in a relatively short time, so keep an eye on the situation and be ready to turn to a vet for help.
The dog may also whine and cry more than usual, and may start to lick and chew household items, or its own fur or paws. Many grieving dogs find it hard sleeping, and will sit and whine by a door, or may simply go into hiding.
A lot depends on the breed, and on the individual animal too. But many dogs can certainly be classed as heartbroken in these situations. The grieving will last for several weeks, even months.
Time will cure the heartache, but in the meantime you can help by making sure the pet continues to have walks in its favourite places. If the dog enjoys staying in kennels, a short break there is a possibility too. You could also consider employing a dog walker, to give your pet a change of routine. Don’t be afraid to be more generous than usual with the snacks, treats and toys, too.
What Makes Cats Sad?
Cats can be harder to read than dogs. They will tend to lay low, hiding away more than usual. Some will become more vocal, mewing and crying for their lost friend. Many will lose their appetites, sleep less, and may even run away for days at a time.
Like dogs, a cat that stops eating can develop potentially fatal liver disease, so early intervention by a vet is recommended.
Many, however, soon transfer their main affections to another member of the household. Other, more independent cats seem to readjust without any problem.
What Makes Other Pets Sad?
Small mammals don’t appear to grieve when their owners disappear from their lives. But many will revert to a natural nervousness if they are no longer being handled and fed by their best friend. Someone else needs to step up and become the pet’s favourite.
Pet parrots who have bonded with a partner or owner are known to grieve the loss of a loved one, whether a fellow bird or a human. Loss of appetite and listlessness are the usual signs. Someone needs to keep up the contact and interaction, to ease these highly intelligent birds into their new lives.
The problem does not usually arise if the birds are kept in an open aviary setting. Smaller parrots such as budgies and lovebirds don’t seem to miss their human friends so intensely either, although they will certainly grieve if their feathered best friend disappears.
The Grieving Process
Above all, try to be upbeat and affectionate with the grieving animal. Pets pick up on our moods with an almost supernatural skill, so if we’re very sad, they may mirror our feelings. Again, this might be a good time to bring in friends or relatives more able to put on a happy face for the sake of the heartbroken pet.
Most pets will, with time, move on. Some older pets may never entirely recover. In all circumstances involving loss, all an owner can do is care for the animal as it readjusts to changed circumstances.
This entry was posted in Cats