As pet owners, we tend to anthropomorphize our beloved companions. Sometimes we overdo it, projecting our own emotions onto them, but other times, we're right (sort of). Dogs, like us, can experience a heartbreak, in the form of mourning or depression.
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What are the signs of heartbreak in a dog?
When it comes to mourning a loss, dogs are a lot like us. According to Cesar's Way, after the loss of a loved human or fellow dog, your dog might show symptoms like sluggishness, a lack of interest in playing, and loss of appetite. Also like humans, dogs differ greatly in their outward displays of grief. Some may show some or all of the above symptoms, some may howl mournfully (which sounds too sad to bear), and some may display no symptoms at all.
How to react to a heartbroken dog.
How can you help? Just like you would with a grieving human, it's best to simply show your dog patience and understanding. It's also important to maintain their usual routine, so that they keep a sense of stability. If your dog is extremely depressed, you can also add more playtime or exercise to their routine to raise their serotonin levels. You might also consider getting them a stimulating new toy to keep them busy.
Be compassionate, but don't reinforce behavior.
During this mourning period, be careful not to accidentally reinforce unwanted behaviors. Psychology Today points out that "if you comfort a dog when they are having unwanted behaviors, you may be reinforcing that behavior." It's tempting to give a dog lots of attention if they're standing in the doorway crying, but you don't want to teach them that they get rewarded for this behavior, or you'll find yourself stuck with a chronic doorway crier.
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A period of mourning is natural after a loss, but if you notice these symptoms going on for weeks, it's best to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. Your vet can help you come up with a plan for helping your dog cope with their grief, then moving forward with their lives — just like we should do.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.