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Dogs feel grief, just like humans

Kaypo has an unusually complicated family history for a crossbred dog. Her mother, a purebred Labrador called Bibi, was imported from Australia to Singapore, where she became the much-loved pet of Therese’s niece.

Bibi became pregnant by mistake when she was six years old, to an unknown male dog, and six pups were born. Kaypo was the only one that was kept by the family: this meant that from the day she was born, Kaypo was never out of sight of her mother, Bibi.

Adored

Therese’s niece moved back to London a few years later, bringing the dogs with her. She travelled extensively as part of her job, and so the two animals ended up spending much of their lives in Co Wicklow, with Therese, who adored them both.

Kaypo was always doted on by her mother, Bibi. The two animals did everything together: exercising, playing, sleeping and even eating their meals side by side.

They were a contented couple of dogs: they both had a spring in the step and a glint in the eye. Life was as good as it gets in the dog world.

The years passed - as they do - and last year, Bibi began to show her age. She was 13, and her hind legs began to fail her, with the usual arthritis that’s so common in elderly animals. Eventually, she was unable to get up, and the difficult decision was made to carry out euthanasia.

Therese’s niece had heard that other animals in a household can be badly affected by the death of a housemate, so everything was done to make Bibi’s death as easy as possible for Kaypo.

The younger dog was allowed to be present when her mother was euthanased, and she had the opportunity to sniff her mother’s inert body afterwards.

Kaypo didn’t react much at the time, but a few days later, the effect of the loss on her became clear. Her behaviour changed: she moped around with less energy than before. She was more subdued than she used to be.

There was also a dramatic physical manifestation of her grief: her previously jet-black face turned a grizzly grey-white colour over a few short weeks. She was clearly feeling deeply stressed, and her body’s pigment production changed during this period.

emotional

In the past, grief was thought to be a uniquely human emotion, but in recent years, it’s been established that animals can feel a similar emotional sense of loss. Brain-imaging studies have shown that when humans feel grief, it’s the primitive parts of the brain that are activated. Dogs - and other animals - have brains that are just as highly developed in these areas, so it’s no surprise that they often feel sad.

The thinking part of the brain - the forebrain - is much smaller in animals compared to humans, so the type of grief that they feel may be different to us, with less analysis and less thinking about the lost one. But in all other respects, grieving dogs look sad because they

It’s now nearly a year later. Kaypo has gradually picked herself up and returned to being an active, playful dog. But she still has quiet times. Does she think of Bibi at these times? She was much more than her mother: she was her life-long friend and constant companion.



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