Does a Dog or Cat Know Their Owner Has Died?

Animals can sense when something is wrong.
i Janie Airey/Lifesize/Getty Images

While animals don’t grieve the way people do, they’re still emotional creatures who have a keen insight when something in their world is not, “right.” If an animal’s human companion suddenly disappears, it can be confusing, and can even lead to depression.


Dogs and cats form emotional bonds with their people, and if a caregiver suddenly disappears from their life, they notice the absence. You may see the dog or cat searching for their owner, waiting by the door, at the foot of the bed or by a favorite chair. They even may go in search of their lost owner -- watch them closely so they don't wander away and get lost in their grief.

New People

When a pet owner dies, there’s normally a shift in the routine care of the dog or cat. Maybe someone new is going for walks and feeding the animals, or pets may be uprooted by a change of environment, going to a new home, or sadly, even a shelter. Sensing the absence of his human companion, a dog or cat may show signs of depression or anxiety over this loss of familiarity.


When a human being dies, the surviving humans experience their own forms of grief that a cat or dog can pick up on. Animals may be temporarily ignored, or alternatively, showered with attention, often from strangers, which can turn their world upside down. Cats, in particular, can be thrown off by higher-than-normal levels of household activity and people who smell different.

Signs of Grief

Animals may exhibit grief by acting out, demonstrating behavioral issues like destructive chewing, clawing or digging, or suddenly having accidents in the house. Exceptionally sensitive animals may hide, be unwilling to eat, interact or engage with other humans.


Help a dog or cat maintain its normal routine in terms of eating, sleeping and having a comfortable and familiar spot to be. Reward interaction with treats and attention and try to be available to help the animal move past its grief. If the animal must be re-homed, look for permanent placement rather than multiple temporary homes, which can further confuse the animal.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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