Author Website



Abstract: When an animal dies, that individual’s mate, relatives, or friends may express grief. Changes in the survivor’s patterns of social behavior, eating, sleeping, and/or of expression of affect are the key criteria for defining grief. Based on this understanding of grief, it is not only big-brained mammals like elephants, apes, and cetaceans who can be said to mourn, but also a wide variety of other animals, including domestic companions like cats, dogs, and rabbits; horses and farm animals; and some birds. With keen attention placed on seeking where grief is found to occur and where it is absent in wild and captive animal populations, scientists and others interested in animal emotion and animal minds can build up a database that answers questions about patterns of grief in the animal kingdom. The expression of grief is expected to be highly variable in individuals within populations, based on an animal’s ontogeny, personality, and relationship to the deceased. Human grief may be unique in our species’ ability to anticipate death and to consider its meaning across time and space, and yet such hypothesized species-specific features do not imply a more profound emotional experience in humans compared to other animals. This new knowledge of the depth of animals’ capacity for grief invites novel exploration of animal-welfare issues including the use of animals in factory farming, entertainment, and biomedicine.

Author Biography

Barbara J. King bjking@wm.edu, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, writes and speaks about animal thinking, feeling, and welfare. Her article, "When Animals Mourn," in Scientific American was included in the 2014 anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing. King writes weekly for NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. Her next book, Animals We Eat, is forthcoming.






Article Thread

King, Barbara J (2016) Animal mourning: Précis of How animals grieve (King 2013). Animal Sentience 4(1)

Botero, Maria (2016) Death in the family. Animal Sentience 4(2)

Fox Hall, Tara (2016) Anticipatory grief. Animal Sentience 4(3)

Gardiner, Martin (2016) Modulation of behavior in communicating emotion. Animal Sentience 4(4)

Glymour, Clark (2016) The object of grief. Animal Sentience 4(5)

Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona (2016) Love’s claim on grief. Animal Sentience 4(6)

Proctor, Helen (2016) Monkey say, monkey do, monkey grieve?. Animal Sentience 4(7)

Ristau, Carolyn (2016) Evidence for animal grief?. Animal Sentience 4(8)

King, Barbara J. (2016) Understanding emotional suffering. Animal Sentience 4(9)

Colombo, Matteo (2016) Animal grieving and human mourning. Animal Sentience 4(10)