Can Dogs Sense a Death in the Family?

Can Dogs Sense a Death in the Family?
June 29, 2018 Samford Pet Resort

The passing of a loved one is always emotionally strenuous and achingly difficult. Everyone comes to terms with a death in the family in different ways, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief.

Although dogs don’t experience the range of emotions that humans do, they can still perceive when something isn’t quite right. They are very much aware of when their family is in mourning, even though they may not know that someone has died. Dogs have an acute sense of smell and can be quite sharp when it comes to reading behaviour, depending on the breed. More than anything else, dogs value routine, and when this routine is disrupted, they immediately know that something is wrong. These three traits combined can contribute to a dog’s recognition of change and disruption in their home, including a death in the family.

Can a dog smell sickness?

It sounds ominous, but there are many stories where dogs have seemed to perceive when their owners are near the end of their lives. However, when you consider that dogs are around a thousand times more sensitive to smells than humans, it makes sense that they would be able to detect sickness. Studies have been conducted where specially trained medical dogs have been able to sniff out prostate cancer in patient’s urine samples. When a human undergoes any type of sickness, their scent changes, sometimes very subtly, and our canine companions can pick up on it. This can sometimes explain why dogs appear to be able to tell when a person is about to pass into the next life.

Do dogs know when their owners are sad?

Many people report incidents where their dogs have comforted them when they have been upset or crying. Many breeds of dogs are perceptive to body language and will give their owners extra attention if they are hunched over, hanging their head, or teary. Moreover, dogs can also recognise human sweat caused by anxiousness or fear. If you are visibly distressed, a combination of body language and smell may prompt your furry friend to lay by your side, providing you with comfort.

How can the death of someone in the family affect a dog?

The biggest indicator that your family is going through a time of upheaval, for your dog, will be a significant change in routine. If your dog isn’t being fed on time or they have missed their daily walk, he or she will realise. Similarly, if family members become quiet and withdrawn, and do not offer their pet the level of attention that they are used to, this is also a sure sign that something is wrong.

Changes in routine can be distressing for certain dogs. It depends on their personality, and yours, as to whether your mood affects them. Dogs that are resilient to change may be better equipped to assist your family during the difficulties of losing a loved one. Dogs that behave badly when confronted with adjustments to their daily regime may not be. It’s also a matter of age. While older dogs tend to be patient and perceptive of their owner’s behaviour, puppies have a habit of demanding attention that can quickly become exhausting when you are already emotionally drained. If you feel that you are unable to give your puppy or young dog the time that they require during this strenuous period, it may be best (for you and your pup) to allow others to attend to them.

Adversely, many people would not even consider being separated from their dog during such an emotional upheaval. There’s a reason why ‘pet therapy’ has provided comfort and support for the elderly in nursing homes and the sick in hospitals. Being around intuitive and loyal dogs can instil us with a sense of calm that can sometimes be difficult to gain from other people. It’s just important to remember that your relationship with your dog is a two-way street, and even when you are hurting and seeking comfort, you also need to remember and consider their needs too.

Do you need to travel to be with extended family following the passing of a loved one? Or do you feel as though your dog may require a little extra TLC while your family is experiencing a period of bereavement? Here at Samford Pet Resort & North Shore Pet Resort, we understand that grief affects people in different ways and that it’s completely OK if you need a short respite from your pet during this challenging time. Please contact us should you feel that our services may be of assistance to your pet and your family.