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They Can Bark and They Can Howl, But Can Dogs Cry? Here's What Veterinarians Say


Most often, we think of dogs as happy, carefree animals who wag their tails and roll onto their backs to get their bellies scratched. You know, all signs of happiness and loving behavior. But as any observant pet owner knows, dogs undoubtedly have other emotions, too. They can be scared—maybe if there's a perceived threat like fireworks or a thunderstorm—and they can get snappy—why did you step on my tail?!—and just like humans, they appear to feel sadness, too. But do dogs cry?

"Dogs are extremely emotional creatures," Daniel Caughill, co-founder of Dog Tale, explains. "Most of the time, they're excited and happy, and they show it by barking, wagging their tails, and licking the people they love. But unfortunately, having emotions means dogs experience sadness, too."

But although dogs feel sadness, the way a dog "cries" isn't necessarily the same way a human does. If we're talking tears, there's a bit of a difference in how this species manifests its upset. So, do dogs really cry? Here's what the experts say.

Do Dogs Cry?


No... and yes. Dogs can "cry," but this doesn't necessarily mean that their eyes expel tears... at least not due to their feelings.

"As you might have observed in your own pet, dogs do cry in the definition that they can shed tears," explains Dr. Genna Mize, staff technical service veterinarian in support of the pharmacovigilance team at Virbac Animal Health. "However, humans are thought to be the only animals that cry tears of emotion."

Dog crying really is more like whimpering, and unlike humans, dogs don't tear up when they are sad.

Related: Affectionate Dog Breeds

"Signs that your dog is sad include vocalizations, like whimpering or whining, as well as showing a lack of energy or interest in things they normally love, like favorite snacks or toys," Caughill says. "Dogs may also show their emotion on their face by squinting their eyes or hiding their face from you."

Cauhill adds, "However, even if you hear your dog crying, don't expect to see tears. Dog tear ducts activate for normal reasons, such as washing away debris and other irritants from the eyes. But dogs don't tear up in response to their emotions."

In fact, "crying" in the way of expelling tears is strictly human business. Dogs, and other animals, tear up in their eyes for other reasons, physical reasons—not emotional ones.

"Only humans cry tears when they are sad," Dr. Oscar Chavez, veterinarian and Chief Medical Officer and founding executive at JustFoodForDogs LLC, tells Parade. "Dog tears, however, may be a sign of something wrong in the eyes: discharge, conjunctivitis or infections, allergies, or corneal ulcers or scratches."

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Can Dogs Feel Sadness? What Causes Their Sadness?


Dogs certainly do feel sadness. Just consider their expression every time you leave the house and how happy they are upon your return.

"We know now that your dog isn't crying because they are sad!" Dr. Mize says. "So, how does your dog express sadness? Sadness in a dog is typically displayed by a myriad of signs—some obvious, some not so obvious. Common behaviors which may communicate sadness are vocalizing (such as whining and whimpering), trembling, clingy behavior or the opposite—ignoring you! Just like humans, dogs can communicate sadness in a variety of ways and most astute pet owners understand their own dog's communication style in what they are trying to 'say.'"

So, what exactly causes a dog to feel sad?

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"Loss—perceived or real," Dr. Chavez explains. "For example, some dogs with extreme separation anxiety believe that their pet parents have abandoned them every time they walk out the door."

Apart from separation anxiety and loss, dogs may feel sad for other reasons, too.

"Dogs can feel sadness for the same reasons we humans feel sadness," Dr. Mize adds. "Have you ever felt sad and then your dog responds to you in a compassionate way? They might not know why you are sad or upset but they can respond accordingly to comfort you. Researchers believe dogs have the emotional capacity of a 2 to 2-and-a-half-year-old human child—so a limited but pretty impressive emotional skill set!"

Related: 50 Small Dog Breeds

What Do Dog Tears Mean?


Dog tears don't directly correlate to their sadness. Instead, dogs usually show their sadness in other ways. Most often, as Dr. Chavez pointed out, these signs of sadness manifest as anxiety. According to Dr. Chavez, a sad dog may vocalize (such as whimpering or whining), become withdrawn, hide, stop eating, and/or lose interest in things they normally enjoy (such as taking walks, greeting people, or playing with toys).

Though dog tears don't equal sadness, it is something serious to watch for as tears (and other eye-related symptoms) can be an indication of a medical issue.

"Rather than a manifestation of sadness, if you notice your pup tearing up, it is time to do some investigating into their physical health as excessive tearing is typically indicative of an eye issue," Dr. Mize says.

For example, dog tears may be a sign of allergies.

"If you notice your dog tearing excessively, especially when combined with itching flatulence, it could be do to environmental or digestive allergies," Caughill says. "Your vet can help you determine what your pup may be allergic to."

Related: Best Large Dog Breeds

When to Visit the Vet for Dog Tears

If your dog's eyes are frequently expelling tears, it could be a sign of a medical issue. We recommend always consulting a veterinarian first before taking any action.

"The canine eye, like most mammals, is remarkably similar to a human's with tear ducts that produce tears to keep the eyes lubricated and protected," Dr. Mize says. "While a mild amount of tearing can be normal, excessive tearing in which your dog appears to be crying is typically indicative of an ocular medical issue such as an infection, foreign object or injury of the eye (which can often result in corneal ulceration), allergies, a blocked tear duct, or an (often serious) issue with the inner eye such as glaucoma, retinitis, or cataract development."

"Excessive tearing of any kind should be evaluated by a vet," Dr. Chavez says. "Any thick or opaque discharge (ie: green, yellow, or white tears) should be seen immediately."

If your dog is experiencing swollen eyes or exhibiting other signs that they are in pain, such as frequent pawing at the eye, then contact your vet.

"Dogs with swollen eyes, squinting, or blinking eyes should also be seen," Dr. Chavez adds. "If you see any of the above [symptoms] in only one eye, that's another clue something may be wrong in just the one eye, and your dog should be seen."

Dr. Mize adds, "Excessive tearing or not, if you observe redness, squinting, abnormal discharge or pawing of the eye, it is time to visit your veterinarian ASAP to diagnose the problem and formulate a treatment plan.  We certainly don't want your dog to feel sad because of eye pain!"

Next up, be on the lookout for these 10 signs that your dog loves you.

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