This Amanda Mull article about “How My Dog Knows When I’m Sick” will be familiar to any dog owner:
Midge, my 12-pound rescue pup, isn’t the world’s most affectionate dog. We get along great, but she has her own hobbies: horrifically dismembering her cute little plush toys, chewing through her chew-proof bed. But as soon as even a mild head cold starts to take hold of me, my dog is transformed. She’s no longer her usual self, jabbing a dagger paw into my ribs to prod me into throwing her ball. Instead, she’s Doctor Midge, Medicine Chihuahua, ready to nurse me back to health by cuddling up against me (or on top of me) at all times.
Although I’m of the firm belief that my dog is a unique and special angel, it’s easy to find tales of other pets comforting or guarding their people during times of illness or injury. I was sick last week, and as Midge was glued to my side, friends told me about their own pets attending to them around the clock after everything from surgery to stomach troubles.
My lab pretty much monitors me all the time, which I’ve assumed means he’s neurotic, but maybe means I’m constantly on death’s door; but when the other dog— who normally is more standoffish, pays that kind of attention to me, I’m definitely under the weather. And interestingly, when I’m really laid out with something, she’ll often stay with me more faithfully than the lab.
It’s not clear whether they have a concept of sickness that extends to both themselves and humans— i.e., whether they recognize in us the same state that happens when, say, they eat something they shouldn’t have— but it’s definitely the case that they know that something is happening, and they want to help, even if helping mainly involves making it impossible for us to adjust the covers because they’re weighed down by sleeping dog.