Did you know that a dog’s sense of smell is up to a million times stronger than that of humans? They don’t have the taste power that we have, but their noses are incredibly powerful. That’s why they make such great medical support animals. From an oncoming seizure to migraines and cancer, dogs have been credited with sniffing it all.
Does that mean that a dog’s sniffer is just as good when it comes to illness and death in other canines? We’re going to explore that in great depth right now.
Can a Dog Tell When Another Dog is Dying?
Let’s start this discussion with a related question: Can dogs detect illness in other dogs? The answer here is yes. Dogs use their powerful sense of smell to identify signs of illness in other dogs as well as humans. Scientists are now training disease detection dogs to sniff out people with a wide range of illnesses.
If you’ve ever heard of support dogs alerting people when a seizure is coming, you’ve already heard of this working. Research has proven that what those dogs are picking up on is something in the sweat of a person about to have or in the throes of a seizure.
The same process applies to other illnesses. A dog may not know specifically what is wrong with another dog, but they can detect the scent of chemicals associated with illness. Dogs spend a lot of time sniffing one another and inspecting feces of other canines because they’re assessing their health, wellbeing, and latest meal.
So, what happens when another dog is dying? Dogs can likely detect scents of illness. They may notice lumps, wounds, and other outer signs of injury or illness. Dogs can also pick up on changes in the dog’s activity level and behavior that may signal they’re dying. For instance, a dog may notice that another dog doesn’t want to play, won’t get up and move, or isn’t responding to their licks and touches.
Do Dogs Understand Death?
At this point, we’ve established that dogs can pick up on signs of illness in other dogs. They can also pick up signs that a dog is dying. What’s unclear is whether dogs understand death and know that another dog is in that process.
Most likely, dogs understand that another dog is seriously injured or suffering a serious illness. They pick up on scents associated with illness and know that the other dog isn’t moving, making eye contact, or otherwise showing signs of life. They know that something is wrong, but they may not have complete understanding that the dog is going to pass away and no longer run alongside them.
Do Dogs Get Sad if Another Dog is Dying?
Most dogs are incredibly compassionate toward their own kind and humankind. If you’ve ever seen a dog rush to their owner and wrap their paws around them as they cry, you understand this compassion. Dogs are witnessed comforting one another and humans in times of distress or sadness.
When a dog detects illness or notices signs of death in another dog, they’re likely to react with great concern and sadness. They may lay with the other dog, wrapping their paws around them or leaning on them for comfort. If the other dog cries, the healthy dog may cry along with them. Dogs may also run for human help if they sense that the other dog needs care.
These are all signs that dogs feel sadness and other emotions when one of their kind is ill, injured, or dying. When another dog passes away, research has shown that most dogs display negative behavior changes even if they didn’t see the dog die.
Some things dogs do after another dog dies include:
- Attention seeking
- Reduced interest in playing
- Reduced activity level
- Increased sleeping
- Signs of fearfulness
- Loss of appetite
- Increased barking, whining, other vocalizations
Those are clearly signs of emotional distress that includes sadness. Those behaviors are similar to what humans do when grieving the loss of a loved one. What we don’t know is whether dogs understand death or simply know that another dog they loved is no longer around.
Do Dogs Treat Dying Dogs Differently?
Dogs react to illness in other dogs with great concern. They try to comfort the dog and may get the attention of humans in hope of finding help to make the dog better.
If it becomes apparent that the other dog isn’t moving, making eye contact, or shows other signs of passing on, some dogs will continue providing support. Others may back away and watch or hide in another room with clear signs of sadness and agitation. It’s no different from humans, who may draw closer or keep some separation when a loved one is passing away.
The signs of grief and emotional distress that dogs display after a death may begin before their fellow canine passes away. Dogs clearly understand when another dog is critically ill or injured even if they don’t have a deep understanding of what happens after death.
Do Dogs Know When Another Dog Has Died?
Dogs do know when another dog has passed away. If they were present when the other dog died, they know that the dog became still and stopped interacting with the living. They understand that their fellow canine is no longer here amongst the living and is no longer up for a romp in the backyard.
If a dog isn’t present when another dog dies, they clearly notice the other dog’s absence. It’s common for dogs to search frantically for another dog after they die. They may cry and whine, leading their humans from one room to another while looking everywhere. They understand that the other dog is missing but may not connect that absence to death.
What we don’t know is whether dogs comprehend what death is or what happens to a soul after death. Just as humans have different ideas of the afterlife, it’s possible that dogs have their own understanding. We can observe the behaviors of dogs to determine that they do grieve the loss of another dog. We just can’t get into their heads or have a discussion with them about what death means to them.