Can Dogs Really Sense Death?

Posted: 16/01/2018

You may have heard it be discussed that animals have a sort of “sixth sense” which helps them to detect when a person is about to die. It is widely believed by those in the supernatural community that dogs can sense ghosts and invisible presences that we cannot necessarily detect. Animal Planet explains that this apparent “sixth sense” held by dogs, whether that be for sensing death or the supernatural, could be a result of a dog’s senses being a lot stronger than that of a human’s.

Many people have claimed that their pets have sensed when their owner was about to pass away. There have been plenty of cases studies where pets, mainly dogs, have stayed by the bedside of a dying owner or “pack member” as they were dying. In some cases, even stayed by their grave after they have passed away. Of course, we will never understand what is going on in a dog’s mind, but it really does make us wonder: since dogs have some sort of sense of death, do they understand it?

Stronger Senses


Animals use their senses in different ways. Humans rely mainly on eyesight, whilst other animals rely on the sense of smell, touch or hearing to get around. Just think of a mole, they are blind and rely solely on touch to navigate themselves.

A dog has an exeptional hearing and sense of smell. Their eyesight is weak but is still used to detect small movements. A dog’s sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000 times stronger than ours, and they can hear sounds which are a much higher frequency than us – some sounds may be silent to us that can be heard by dogs.

Sensing Danger


Due to the nature of how animals survive, animal’s are better at sensing danger than humans. An example of this is that certain animals exhibited behavioural differences before the tsunami hit in Thailand in 2004. There are eyewitnesses of dogs and other animals running for cover and refusing to go outside a week or so before the tragedy hit. Experts say that this could have been due to vibrational changes, undetectable by humans, that happen before earthquakes.

How Do They Sense Death and Grief

It is debatable whether an animal can sense death because it is clear whether they have a concept of death – but it is very probable that they can sense something is not right with a human or another animal. It is also the case that many believe that animals can sense when a person is grieving or in any kind of emotional pain.

According to the Daily Mail, dogs specifically are said to know when a person is close to death, dead or grieving through body language cutes, certain smells which only they can detect. Other ways that they are able to have this incredible ability are not yet determined by experts – so it is mainly put down to senses that they possess and we don’t.

The body language cues that dogs detect are things like humans being slumped over, fragile or people who are not moving as they normally should. Dogs use their ability to recognise body language to read one another, therefore they are great at it. We rely on verbal communication for the most part; we are able to detect information through body language but we are not as attuned to it as dogs and other animals are.

Dogs in Care Homes and Hospices


Due to a dog’s apparent ability to sense death, pain and grief, some rest homes, care homes and hospices have opted to get live-in dogs to comfort all those who live there. Some places have a day a week where they will bring in some dogs for the same purpose. Whilst the main purpose is the comfort involved in having a dog around, the staff can also use the dogs to indicate who is going to pass away soon. This can be determined by who the dog chooses to sleep with at night, for example. This is extremely useful as it gives the relatives fair warning and a chance to come and say goodbye.

Do Dogs Mourn?

It is clear that dogs do act depressed or distressed when faced with the loss of a close companion. Even if a dogs owner goes away for a significant amount of time, they start to show signs of panic and grief in what they do not understand.

They may show signs of what we call mourning by not eating or eating less, moping around or revisiting spaces or objects which are associated with the person or other animal companions they have lost.

But is a dog acting this way the same as what we see as grief? A lot of dog owners would simply assume this as they are inclined to presume dogs have the same emotions as we do.

However, it is true that dogs are an animal of habit and routine. Thus, what may appear to be a dog mourning or in a state grief is probably more likely to be distress at the sudden change in their routine which included that person or other animal companions.

Nevertheless, there is no proof either way. All we can say is that dogs can sense when something is wrong, like a death, and can have negative reactions.

Are Dogs Self-Aware When it Comes to Death?

Up to this point, we have been discussing whether a dog can sense the death of a human, but what about themselves?

It is commonly believed that when a dog is about to die, they simply wander off. The idea surrounding this stems from the fact that dogs often seek out a place to hide when they are ill or going to be sick, this is probably because they feel vulnerable. In addition, dogs of an older age may become disorientated and may get lost even when in a familiar environment.

There doesn’t seem to be anything specific that a dog would do when they are on their last legs than when they are simply unwell. A dying dog will turn down food, as will a dog who is (temporally) ill.

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