Does your furry friend ever seem down in the dumps? Just like humans, dogs experience a wide range of emotions. It’s important for us to look out for our dog’s wellbeing, as their mood often indicates underlying problems. Make sure you know the signs of a depressed dog.
It’s not unusual for a dog to exhibit symptoms of depression after a big life change such as moving to a new house, bringing home a baby or the loss of another pet. When you can’t pinpoint the reason behind their change of mood, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup, as mood changes can sometimes indicate something is wrong physically.
If everything checks out and your pup doesn’t have any physical ailments, you may have a depressed dog on your hands. The purpose of this article is to explain the science behind depression in dogs, symptoms to look out for and remedies to help improve their mood.
Depression & Dogs
While the symptoms of depression in dogs are similar to those in humans, it’s uncertain what biological process cause doggy depression. Even in humans with clinical depression, not a lot is understood about the physiology of the condition; no biological test can yet detect depression for diagnostic purposes. Rather, when it comes too diagnosing depression in a person, we rely on speaking with the patient to gather a history of symptoms.
With a dog, however, you can’t just ask how they’re feeling. We simply observe their behavior to determine whether the symptoms match up and whether their behavior can be pointing to an underlying problem. According to Bonnie Beaver, DVM, Executive Director for the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, “It’s hard to know [if dogs suffer from depression the way people do] because we can’t ask them. But in clinical practice, there are a few situations where that is the only explanation.”
In humans, depression is typically categorized as either situational or general. Situational depression is caused by outside influences, such as a relative dying, job loss or divorce. General depression has a more biological component, and can strike those prone to depressive episodes at any point, whether life is going smoothly or not.
Veterinarians presently believe that depression in dogs is almost always situational and short-lived. It is rare for dogs to suffer from long-term depressive episodes.
Dogs are incredibly intuitive when it comes to their owner’s mood. Not only can they read our facial expressions, they can detect changes in our body chemistry. According to Carol Sumbry, a certified dog trainer and associate certified behavior consultant, “Dogs are being used to detect low blood sugar in diabetics, as well as cancer. They certainly can tune into people and our subtle changes in body language and emotion so that they can be impacted by a family member’s depression. We can’t fool our dogs. They are very in tune with our emotions.”
10 Signs of a Depressed Dog
Just like our dogs are in tune with us, we should be able to detect changes in their emotions. If you think your dog may have depression, consider the following signs:
1. Changes in Appetite
Just like with people, dogs’ appetites can be affected when they are depressed. For some depressed dogs, they lose interest in food. They may eat less often, smaller amounts or maybe even stop eating altogether. Conversely, food may become a source of comfort. Some dogs may engorge themselves when they feel down. If you notice major weight loss or weight gain in your pet, this may be caused by depression.
2. Changes in Sleep
The average dog sleeps 12-14 hours a day, so just because your dog likes to nap doesn’t necessarily indicate depression. However, dogs do most of their sleeping at night when you’re asleep and while you’re away at work or school. If your dog is disinterested in leaving their bed after you get home, this could be a symptom of depression. In some cases, depressed dogs may become restless instead.
3. Loss of Interest
Think about your dog’s favorite activities: going for walks, performing tricks, cuddling on the couch and playing fetch or tug-of-war. If your dog used to get excited over fun activities and/or spending time with you and no longer seems interested, depression could be the cause.
It’s not unusual for dogs to hide behind the couch or under the bed when something scary is happening, like fireworks on New Year’s Day or during a thunderstorm. But pay attention if your dog seems to be avoiding you during mundane activities or when the house is quiet. Even the shyest dog should want to spend time with their owner.
5. Excessive Licking/Chewing
This is a self-soothing behavior similar to when people rock back and forth or bite their nails when they’re nervous. Depressed dogs tend to lick or chew their paws for the same reason.
6. Potty Accidents in the House
If your dog doesn’t feel like they’re getting enough attention, they may begin to have accidents in the house, even if they’ve been housebroken for years. Just like with children, dogs may feel that any attention is good attention. It’s important not to react when you notice your dog has had an accident. Even if you are scolding them, they may feel encouraged because their cry for attention worked.
If your normally kind and docile dog suddenly becomes aggressive toward you or toward strangers, this could indicate something is wrong either physically or emotionally. Consult with your vet or a dog behavior specialist to determine the best plan of action for dealing with the aggression.
Some dogs may wander aimlessly when they are depressed. They could feel lost, confused or even bored. If the disorientation is caused by rearranging furniture or moving to a new house, take the time to explore the new space with them.
Just like potty accidents, howling and whining may be a way for your dog to get your attention. If your dog has suddenly become more vocal, it could indicate depression.
Separation anxiety is a common problem for pets. If your dog whines/cries when you leave the house, scratches up door posts or chews on your furniture, they may be depressed that you’re not there with them.
Remedies & Cures
Although a veterinarian can give you tips for helping your dog deal with depression, there are remedies you can try at home first:
Give Them Attention
There’s nothing your dog loves more than you! When you get home from work, even if you’re tired and grouchy, spend some time with your dog. Play fetch in the yard, have them perform tricks, give them treats and lots and lots of rubs. Remember, your pup spends all day looking forward to you coming home!
Create a Routine
If your life has been shaken up by a move, divorce or new addition to the family, your dog will be as stressed out as you. For both your sakes, create a new routine for your family with scheduled feedings, walks and one-on-one time.
Reward Good Behavior
Don’t give your dog treats or encouragement when they are mopey, or they’ll think you’re praising that behavior. Rather, engage with them and reward them for licks, tail wags and acting like their old selves. When your dog is acting naughty for attention, like going to the bathroom on the floor, barking/whining or showing signs of aggression, don’t scold them, and never hit them. Dogs learn best by positive reinforcement, not by punishment. Ignore bad behavior and reward good behavior.
Consider Getting a Companion
If your depressed dog is sad about the loss of their furry friend, one option is to introduce another pet into your lives. However, this should only be done under certain circumstances. Don’t get another pet unless you know you can afford their care and give both dogs the attention they need. If another pet is not a good option for you, try socializing your dog at the dog park or doggy daycare.
Keep Them Company
Unfortunately, you can’t be around all the time for your fur baby. If you have a depressed dog at home but work long hours that keep you away from them, consider sending them to a doggie daycare or hiring a dog walker. This way your pup can socialize and get the attention they need when you are unable to be there for them.
Antidepressants have not been studied in dogs as much as they have been in humans, so they are typically only prescribed for short periods of time and only in severe cases of depression. Antidepressants for dogs are similar to Prozac. Talk to your vet if you have exhausted other options for treating your dog’s depression.
Our dogs depend on us to care for their total well-being, both physically and emotionally. If your dog is showing signs of depression, take the time to analyze their behavior and determine what underlying factors may be at play. Make sure to consult a veterinarian to rule out medical causes as well as to learn the best tips for helping your pup feel their best.