Can A Pet Sense Their Owner's Death

By Corinna Underwood

When a pet owner passes away, it can be a confusing time for their pet because no one is able to explain to them what is happening. Imagine losing a companion who has been with you and taken care of you for most of your life, and not knowing where they have gone. 

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Even when someone makes arrangements for the pet to be taken care of, an owner’s death can cause confusion and depression in pets, particularly dogs.

According to the American Kennel Club, it is not unusual for some pets to grieve when their caregiver is no longer around. In fact, many dogs will show symptoms of grief and behavioral changes after their owner has passed.

The Story of a Dog Name Masha

In 2014, a heartwarming story about a Russian dog began circulating in European newspapers. Masha had lived for years with her Siberian owner when he fell ill and was taken into the Novosibirsk District Hospital. During that time, Masha was her owner’s only visitor.

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When her owner passed away, Masha was unable to make sense of his disappearance.

The little dog continued to show up at the hospital, looking for her owner, every day for over a year. Even when the nurses tried to find her a new home, Masha would break free and return to the hospital.

Can a Dog Sense Their Owner Is Dying?

It may be possible that a dog can sense illness in their owner.

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Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Dogs possess as many as 300 million smell receptors, compared to a mere six million in humans. What’s more, dogs have an additional organ – the Jacobsen’s organ – that helps them analyze smells.

Because of their incredible sense of smell, recently dogs have been trained to detect many diseases, including skin cancer, diabetes, and even COVID-19.

So it may be possible that a dog senses when a sick owner. However, even if this is the case, it will not help the pet cope with the loss of a companion.

Signs That a Pet is Grieving

Dogs may respond to losing a life-long human companion in different ways. For example:

  • Becoming listless and not wanting to play
  • Showing signs of depression such as whining
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Scratching or chewing and their fur
  • Moving around more slowly
  • Sleeping more than usual

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While skeptics claim that pets do not grieve, they are simply upset by a sudden change in their routine, many animal behaviorists believe there is more to it.

They liken the dog’s changes in behavior to similar ones that grieving humans display when they have lost someone close. Unfortunately, unlike humans, dogs cannot make sense of the loss of a companion and the sudden changes that triggers in their daily life.

How to Help a Grieving Dog

The best way you can help a dog that is mourning the loss of her human companion is to stick to her usual routine as much as possible. This will help to reduce her stress as much as possible. By maintaining the same feeding and exercise routines, you can limit the amount of change that she has to deal with.

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You may not know the exact routine that the dog formerly had with her owner, but exercise, play, and stimulation are great ways to distract a pet from grieving. They also help to keep her healthy and stop her from becoming bored or anxious. Here are some other ways you can help:

  • Take her for a long walk each day or visit your local dog park.
  • Make sure she has access to stimulating toys.
  • Spend time playing games with her such as fetch.
  • Enroll her in an obstacle course training class.
  • Spend plenty of time giving her lots of affection and bonding with her.

Visit Dr. Jeff Werber’s Instagram account (@werbs_dvm) to view and submit questions and answers on weekly AMAs – or call and leave a voicemail at 424-835-0576. Your call will be returned posthaste. For emergencies, download Dr. Jeff Werber’s app Airvet, a video-chat option for veterinary needs at any time of day or night!