If your dog seems down, it probably tugs at your heartstrings. You love your dog, and you just want them to be as happy, energetic, and bright as they always were. Unfortunately, canine depression exists, and dog owners being able to recognize the symptoms of depression is important.
When you suspect your dog is dealing with a mental health concern, early intervention is the best course of action.
How Does Depression Affect Dogs?
Clinical depression in humans is very different from clinical depression in our companion animals. Although depressed dogs may behave in a lot of the same ways that depressed humans behave, our brains are wired differently.
If you know your dog very well and your gut is telling you that their behavior or disposition may be reflective of depression symptoms, there’s a good chance you’re right. But, you won’t know for sure until a checkup with a vet. When you do, mention your concerns that your dog’s behavior is worrying you and you think they may be depressed.
What Are Common Causes of Depression in Dogs?
Dogs are very sensitive to their environments. They’re perceptive animals that notice when things feel different, and can recognize when something bad happens. Some events or ongoing circumstances can contribute to depression in dogs.
If you’re wondering how to identify dog depression, consider any major events or persistent issues that may have a negative impact on your dog’s wellbeing.
A recent move, adopting a new pet, bringing a new baby home, or having long term guests can upset your dog’s routine. They don’t understand what these environmental changes mean or where they may fit in the pecking order. They may miss their old home or their normal day to day life.
A dog’s life revolves heavily around companionship. If they don’t have a furry friend to play with and a human they can regularly interact with, they may begin to feel isolated. If you’ve been busier than usual or if your schedule has dramatically changed, it’s important to figure out how to make time for your dog.
If your household is dealing with the loss of a family member or the loss of a companion, your dog is experiencing the same loss. Dogs mourn people and pets that they love. Some believe that dogs aren’t actually experiencing grief in the same way humans are, but the cause and end result are the same. Mourning often expresses itself as depression, and dogs who are missing someone they love may have a difficult time coming to terms with their loss, especially when everyone around them is experiencing that same, deeply negative emotional state.
Your Own Feelings
You set the tone for your dog. If you’re depressed or stressed out, your dog can absolutely read how you feel. Your feelings of stress, worry, or listlessness can have an impact on your dog’s mood. Your dog may try to comfort you, and seek comfort in return.
What Are the Signs of Depression in Dogs?
The warning signs of depression in dogs are very similar to the warning signs of depression in people. While these symptoms usually indicate depression, it’s important to remember they may also indicate physical health issues like illness or injury.
It’s important not to attempt to diagnose your dog with depression at home. Take note of these common signs and symptoms and explain them to your vet. Your vet will examine your dog to assure that an underlying medical condition isn’t contributing to these symptoms.
Changes in Eating Habits
Depressed dogs may have a loss of interest in food or use food as a way to cope. If your dog is avoiding their food dish or their favorite treats, this is a sign that something is wrong. It’s best to seek treatment immediately to avoid malnourishment.
If your dog is ravenously overeating, make sure you’re only feeding your dog the recommended amount of food for their weight every day and strictly regulate treats.
Trouble Sleeping or Sleeping Too Much
If your dog isn’t sleeping enough or is sleeping too much, this can indicate depression or discomfort of some sort. If your dog has a comfortable place to sleep and the room is a comfortable temperature, a healthy dog shouldn’t have trouble sleeping.
Conversely, dogs that will sleep anywhere and sleep most of the day may be telling you that they’re depressed or ill.
Excessive Licking or Vocalization
Excessive licking and vocalization are signs of distress. If they don’t correlate with a very obvious situation, like a loud thunderstorm, paw licking or howling could be indicative of general emotional distress that requires your attention.
Lack of Interest in Favorite Activities
If your dog doesn’t get excited at the sound of you grabbing their leash and is less than enthused about the idea of a fun car ride or playtime with their rope, you should be concerned. If your dog suddenly doesn’t get excited for a small bite of a special snack or bark to alert you that your packages are being delivered, this behavioral change can indicate that something is amiss.
Preferring To Be Alone
Some depressed dogs may seek comfort from you. Other depressed dogs may demonstrate avoidant behavior, preferring to hide or to generally be left alone by the people and pets in your house.
How To Help a Depressed Dog
Although feelings of depression in humans may subside with time, and talking about the issue can go a long way to promote healing, dogs can’t cope with things the same way.
Seek a Vet’s Advice
Clinical depression in dogs requires veterinary intervention. It’s not something you can fully treat at home. Your veterinarian may prescribe a treatment plan that involves dietary changes, an increase in certain activities, prescription antidepressants such as the dog-safe version of Prozac, and the help of a veterinary behaviorist.
You need to make some changes at home to support your dog. Any step you take to improve your dog’s quality of life is a step in the right direction as long as your vet approves of those steps. Before making any major changes, ask your vet.
Give Your Pet Companionship
Your pet can’t be left alone all day. If your work schedule is demanding, consider asking a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member to stop in and check on your dog. Your dog would appreciate a midday walk to hold them over until you get home.
Dog parks are also a great place for your pup to get some interaction that will stimulate them mentally, physically, and emotionally.
If you have a large fenced-in yard that your dog can freely visit, consider getting your dog a companion to play with while you’re at work. If your dog gets along well with other dogs, consider visiting an adoption event together. Your dog can meet other dogs and pick out a friend they’d like to spend time with for the 8 hours a day you’re gone.
This companion will also help your dog during moments when you’re not available to play, but they won’t act as a complete substitute for your attention. You need to set aside a sufficient amount of time each day to play with and love your dog.
Keep Your Dog Engaged
Your dog needs plenty of toys and things to do. When your dog is depressed, it might take a little bit of a nudge to get them interested in things like puzzle toys that dispense treats. When they eventually figure it out and learn how to occupy their mind with something fun, their mood may begin to turn around.
Support Their Wellness Holistically
Every dog benefits from holistic wellness support, whether or not they’re dealing with a condition like depression. Dogs should be fed a nutritious and well balanced diet composed mostly of dog food made from fresh ingredients. Choose treats wisely and assure that they don’t exceed 10% of your dog’s total food intake.
Do Dogs Mourn | VCA Animal Hospitals
Yes, dogs can 'catch' their owners' emotions | National Geographic
When Should You Get a Second Dog? | AKC