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Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Dogs may show emotions and behavior associated with grief after another dog in the household dies, a study said Thursday.
The goal of the study published in Scientific Reports on Thursday was to quantify grief-related reactions in the loss of a companion dog in the Italian pet dog population.
Researchers surveyed 426 Italian adults who had owned at least two dogs, one of whom died while the other was still alive.
Similar to humans experiencing grief, dogs experienced changes in "playing," "sleeping," "eating," and "emotions" after a companion dog died, according to dog owners in the study.
"These findings indicate that a dog may show grief-related behavioral and emotional patterns when a close conspecific [member of the same species] dies, with aspects of the latter possibly related to the owner's emotional status," the study said.
Researchers said that behavior change may be associated with "separation stress after loss," and could be "potentially a major welfare issue that has been overlooked."
Still, they said more research was needed because they could not confirm that it was grief.
"Of course, based on our results we still cannot tell whether these dogs were responding only to the 'loss' of an affiliate, or to their 'death' per se," study author Dr. Federica Pirrone, a researcher at the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Milan, told The Guardian.
The researchers noted that on some levels dogs' mental ability is equal to that of a human child between ages 2 and 3, and children between ages 2 and 5 don't understand the concept of death, but the loss of a caregiver could trigger grief and mourning behaviors.
"Dogs do form emotional bonds which may include companion animals in their household, and hence removing that companion can be expected to cause behavioral changes which certainly overlap those behaviors that we normally interpret as being grief and mourning," the study said.