How Do Animals Perceive Death?

Mourning the Death of a Loved One Is the Same for Both Humans and Other Animals
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How Do Animals Perceive Death?

By Carl Nielsen

Hi,

I just wanted to comment on your essay, How Do Animals Perceive Death? - article by Ellen B Katcher, about the bond we share with our furry (or feathered) friends. Very true, that an animal's love is one of the purest things on earth.

But I have to say, as both a pet owner of so many that have lived out their lives with me, and as a veterinarian, I feel that animals are NOT afraid of death. They fear pain, they fear fear itself, they fear unknown. But animals do not consider whether or not there is life after death. They don't have the thought process that tortures us, such as whether or not we will exist in spirit, and therefore, they do not fear "not-existing." To animals, death is part of life. My old hound, Chloe, taught me that. I had lost so many pets before Chloe, but she was the one, standing in my kitchen, surrounded by my little kids and all of our family's love, who looked at me and smiled and let me know that she felt safe. She knew she was dying, but she was happy. She was safe, and loved.

I don't know this for sure, but I believe that it is good to let your pet see their companion who has died. Again, in most cases, they accept death as part of life, and can move on more easily if they know their friend has crossed over. But there are stresses in losing a companion, too. Your stress or grief, as the pack leader, is also stressful for your remaining pet. And when a companion is gone, for whatever reason, that remaining pet may be insecure and lonely. When Chloe's brother died of a spinal tumor a few years earlier, Chloe had a rough time. But I don't think it was because her brother had died - I think it was because, for the first time since they were born, he was not at her side. When my horse died, my pony was distraught, but again...think of any time a pasture-mate leaves. There is lots of whinnying and running the fence line, even if it's just because the pasture-mate was sold to a new owner.

There is nothing - NOTHING - like love that fills the space between animals and people. My favorite part of being a vet, is being witness to that immense pure love. I feel like I'm in the presence of God.

Take care....

Carl Nielsen, DVM