Some highly scientific types may disagree, but I'm convinced it was no coincidence that my dog's skin condition relapsed afer her companion's death.
As a veterinary doctor, I know I tend to anthropomorphize—I ascribe human characteristics to things not human. Plus, I am highly emotional. So when the subject of animal emotion comes up and I say, "Yes, of course pets mourn," I realize that I am not unbiased. That's why I want to share my scientific reasoning.
When my dog Joy was a pup she had a mild case of localized juvenile demodicosis that manifested as periocular alopecia. It came and went pretty quickly, with no discomfort to Joy. I treated the disease with "benign neglect" and Joy seemed to heal. Her symptoms disappeared for more than a year—until my other dog Ebony passed away.
That's when Joy's disease came back with a vengeance—the timing was less than coincidental. During the first months of Ebony's absence, Joy moped around the house with decreased energy levels and was much less active than usual. She even circled the bed that she and Ebony had once shared until she'd give up and lay her chin on the floor at the edge of the bed.
When I took Joy out for walks with my other dog, Noodle the Poodle, Joy would often come to a complete stop and look around as if confused. As far as she was concerned, walks had involved the three of them: Joy, Noodle, and Ebony. Most telling of all, the area around both of Joy's eyes went completely alopecic again.
I've seen grief in other personal pets. I've seen it in clients' pets. But this is the first time I've seen a dog mourn with such clear physical manifestations. My treatment recommendation is routine cleaning with dilute chlorhexidine, topical 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, extra attention, extra walks, and extra love. I'm treating Joy now and her stress levels are beginning to subside. Her immune system is becoming strong again, her demodicosis is going back into remission, and her hair is growing back. In other words, her heart is finally healing.
Dr. Shawn Finch is an associate at Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion, Neb. Do you agree with Dr. Finch? Head to dvm360.com/petsmourn to share your thoughts.