Can Dogs Become Depressed?
We have all seen our dogs experiencing happiness, excitement, and frustration. While maybe not in quite the same way as humans, our pets definitely feel these emotions. Our dogs can also experience anxiety, disappointment and even depression. At least I know my dogs can and do from time to time! Yes, depression is a real experience for many dogs, and there can be a variety of symptoms and causes.
Signs and Symptoms
Here are some symptoms of depression for which to watch in your dog:
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Restlessness or pacing
- Shaking or trembling
- Withdrawal from activities
- Withdrawal from family members
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Increased appetite or weight gain
- Excessive licking
- Destructive behaviors
These behaviors do not necessarily mean your dog is depressed, and can be signs of illness or dementia, or even signs of excessive energy paired with a lack of activity. Make sure to check with your vet to see if there is a medical diagnosis if symptoms persist for more than a few days, or even sooner if the symptoms are severe.
Causes of Depression in Dogs
If your dog and family have experienced any of the following adjustments and she is otherwise healthy, then depression may be the culprit for your dog’s change in behavior:
Loss of a family member, either human, canine or feline:
If your dog was close to a family member who moved or passed away, it can affect her greatly. The loss of a daily companion is traumatizing and emotional for pets and humans alike
Changes in routine:
Whether it be changes in your hours at work, or simply spending more time away from home for travel or a nighttime softball league, changes in your routine affect your dog’s routine and what she is used to expecting out of each day.
Changes in environment:
Moving to a new home, bringing a new boyfriend or spouse into your home, having a baby or even adopting a new pet can all disrupt the way things used to be for your dog. This can draw some of the attention your dog was used to receiving away from her and onto the new family member, leading to depression.
Changes in health:
Starting to feel old or in pain, or some other health concern can lead your dog to feel depressed-but don’t mistake a change in behavior due to health for depression. Just being in pain from arthritis or a pulled muscle can cause the same symptoms as depression in some dogs. Conversely, being in constant, hard to treat, pain can lead to depression. This can be difficult to decipher, so if you suspect your pet is having a health concern, then get in to see your vet!
What Can I Do to Help?
One of the most important things to remember, though maybe the most difficult, is to not encourage your dog’s depression by coddling her and giving her a lot of positive attention when she is acting down. Instead, encourage her to get up and participate in an activity she usually enjoys. If you see a smile or tail wag, THEN it’s time to give her all of your petting and praise. You are essentially training your dog into happy behaviors again while training her out of depressed behaviors. This does NOT mean that you should ignore your pup when she is acting depressed-this means you need to work hard to get her to do something that makes her happy.
Some activities to try to stimulate your dog’s good mood include (for my dogs): car rides, dog parks, fetch, walks around the neighborhood, interaction with other dogs and people, and earning delicious treats for performing tricks. Any type of mental or physical stimulation is worth trying. Just like with humans, getting up and out of the house and into the sunshine can really lighten a dog’s mood.
If it is a well thought-through decision, then getting a new pet or fostering a pet may be just the thing your dog needs to boost her spirits. But please don’t adopt if you do not have the time to care for another pet! A new companion may be able to draw your dog out of her depression by forcing her to learn new interactions and routines, and get to know a new dog who is full of excitement to be in your home.
I feel that you should consider medication for your dog’s depression as a last resort. I would first try getting your dog more exercise and playtime to see if something that simple can change your dog’s mood before deciding to put chemicals in her body.
Has your dog ever experienced depression? What was the cause and what have you done to help her out of her funk? Let us know in the comment section below.
- Jessie Isbell