Asking yourself the question “Is my dog depressed?” is difficult to come to terms with. It may be hard to understand how your tail-wagging, playful pooch might experience days or even weeks feeling down in the dumps, but dogs can suffer from depression just as much as their caring human parents do. You know that your pup is an intelligent soul, but with that intelligence comes a range of emotions, including depression. But what makes your pooch feel down in the dumps? How do you know if they are suffering from depression? Is there anything you can do to help them overcome these down feelings?
We will answer all these questions in the article below. However, before we go into the details on diagnosing and treating dog depression, it’s important you don’t make one crucial mistake that almost every dog owner makes when dealing with their depressed dog…giving them TOO MUCH attention.
When our pups are depressed, all we want to do is shower them with love an attention. As you’ll see below, there’s a time and a place for that. But giving them attention all the time may cause them to think they are being rewarded for this depressed state. If they think they’re being rewarded, they’ll continue to show the signs of depression even if they are no longer depressed.
Symptoms of Depression in Dogs
The number one way to tell if your dog is depressed is by analyzing their body language. If your dog seems bored 24/7, they’re moving slowly, constantly laying in their bed, and you don’t see them wagging their tail, there’s a good chance they are depressed. We will go into more details on some of these signs below, but it all boils down to the one question…does your dog seem bored?
When dogs suffer from depression, many of their symptoms are the same as humans. Knowing what to look for can help you better understand if your dog is dealing with depression and how you might be able to help. Some of these symptoms can also be a sign of underlying medical problems, so it is always a good idea to visit your vet when your canine companion starts acting differently. Ruling out a serious medical problem is the best place to start.
Just as humans with depression find comfort in bed, your pup may want to do nothing but sleep. Adult dogs sleep anywhere from 12-14 hours per day. If your dog is suddenly sleeping a lot (14+ hours per day), this is a red flag.
Not Sleeping Enough
The opposite of the one above, if your dog is trying to prevent themselves from sleeping it means they are anxious and possibly depressed.
Loss of Interest
Your energetic dog that used to love trips to the dog park may now turn his head and go back to sleep when you offer them their favorite toy or show them a leash for a walk.
Loss of Appetite
Food is a big part of a dog’s life and something they should be excited about. If they suddenly stopped eating no matter how much you offer up their favorite food or treat, you may have a depressed dog on your hands.
Your typically friendly and loving dog may start hiding from people or family members or even become aggressive.
Changes in normal behavior, such as suddenly going to the bathroom in the house or being destructive, can point to depression.
Licking is a way dogs soothe and relax. Excessive licking of paws can be a sign that they are suffering from depression and looking for a way to feel better.
Have you ever experienced depression yourself? When you did, think about how you felt being around people. It’s hard to fake that smile and act like everything is ok. All you want to do is lock yourself in the room and be by yourself. That’s how dogs can feel also. Some depressed dogs separate themselves from the rest of the “pack” and go into hiding.
Sometimes dogs want to be left alone when they are depressed. If you aren’t leaving them alone this could cause them to aggressively snap or growl at you. They aren’t trying to hurt you, just letting you know they don’t want to be around anyone at the moment.
Disobeying Common Commands
If your dog has the basic commands of “sit”, “stay”, and “down” mastered, then they start to ignore those commands, this is a sign of depression. Dog follow our commands because they want to make us happy. If they are depressed they might not care about making you happy at the moment because they are so sad.
What Can Cause Depression in Dogs?
As with humans, the cause of depression in dogs can be the result of many different things, so trying to determine what is at the root of the depression can be a challenge. But, with some careful observation, you and your vet may be able to narrow it down.
Being Left Alone
Dogs are very social animals and crave human interaction with their owners. Do you notice your pup may get a bit down in the mornings as you are getting ready for work? This could be because they know that you will be leaving, and they will be alone. You may find that their mood improves when you walk through the door at the end of the workday. You have to be careful with this one though because it could also be a sign of separation anxiety.
Lack of Excitement
Boredom and lack of sensory stimulation is often another cause of depression in dogs. Your dog naturally craves movement and exploration. New smells and environments boost their excitement level and stimulate their brain. Being confined to a house, and even the same fenced-in backyard every day is often not enough stimulation to keep them excited.
They Are Missing Someone
Did your pup lose a family member or their favorite canine companion? The death of a loved one is often the cause of depression in dogs, just as it is with humans. The loss of a companion changes their daily routine, and they long for what they are missing.
Copying Your Emotions
If, as a pet parent, you suffer from depression, your pup might be affected. Dogs are very in tune with their parent’s emotions, and when they are down, it often changes the pup’s mood as well.
Methods of Training
If you notice depressive behavior in your pup, it may have something to do with your method of training. Punishing bad behavior can often lead to depression as your dog may feel they are letting you down.
Changes in the Environment
Dogs are creatures of habit and changing their environment can often lead to depression. Moving, changing schedules,and even replacing old furniture can be enough to make them feel down in the dumps. Dogs get attached to things more than we think. If you got rid of the old couch and replaced it with a new one, they might miss that old couch!
Bringing a New Family Member Into The Home
When you introduce a new baby or even a new puppy into your home, most dogs will be excited that the “pack” is getting bigger. However, some dogs respond with depression instead of excitement. They might be jealous and feel like they are being replaced. Be sure to give you dog plenty of attention during this time.
Change in Weather
As odd as it may sound, weather can have a big impact on emotions. Dogs are much more sensitive to atmospheric changes than humans are, so if a natural weather disaster is about to strike, your dog could go into a state of depression a few days before it happens.
Turning Them Back Into a Happy Dog
As a pet parent, you want to see your pup happy and healthy, so dealing with depression can be difficult. Luckily, with dogs, depression is often short-lived, and treatment requires nothing more than a little extra attention and care. If your dog shows signs of depression, first visit the vet to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions before addressing the depression.
Some simple methods and considerations include:
If your dog seems to suffer from depression because you are leaving for work, take some time to give them extra attention in the morning or when you get home. They love spending time with you, so giving them more of your attention when you can is often enough. From an extra walk around the block to a simple brushing every night, spending more time with them is usually enough to lift their mood.
Change Their Environment
If your pup is always home or in the backyard, they may not be getting the stimulation they need. Often a simple walk around the block, a visit to the local dog park, or even just a car ride is enough to get them excited and give them some fresh new smells.
Spend More Time With Them or Add a Playmate
If your pup recently lost a loved one or lost a doggy playmate, they might be missing time spent with that person or dog. Increased attention from other family members or even the addition of a new puppy playmate is enough to bounce out of depression.
Rewarding Positive Behavior
When training a puppy, reprimanding negative behavior is often enough to lead to depression. Rewarding positive behavior and trying to ignore the negative is usually sufficient to curb depression while also encouraging the right behavior. When your dog is depressed, it’s easy to turn to treats and praise to try and get them interested in activities. They will see this as a reward for the depressive behavior, so try and only offer up treats when they seem happy and are engaging in non-depressive behavior.
Keeping a Familiar Item
If you are moving or making changes to the home, try to keep a few of your dog’s favorite items that give them security. You may need to spend extra time with them, letting them know that while things may change, they still have all your love and affection.
Let Them Out in The Sun
Exposing your dog to more sunshine helps with depression for a couple different reasons. First, dogs are naturally wild animals that have outdoor instincts. If they stay indoor all day, they won’t be able to naturally express those instincts.
The second (and primary) reason this helps is because exposure to sunshine will cause the brain to release a chemical called serotonin. This chemical is responsible for boosting our mood. Sometimes letting your dog run around in the sunshine is all that’s needed to get them out of their depressed state.
Getting Aid From Veterinary Behaviorists
We take our dogs to the vet all the time, but we rarely take them to see a veterinary behaviorist. These are people who have been trained to deal with problems such as depression. They will help you get to the underlying cause and tell you the steps that should be taken to get your dog wagging that tail again.
Medication (Last Resort)
In some cases, depression may not be as simple to treat. If you have exhausted all methods and no longer care to try a natural remedy for canine depression, you’ll want to talk with your veterinarian about medication for depression. With medication, dogs typically get better within six to 12 weeks and are then taken off medication.
Depression Vs. Sickness
Now that you know all the major signs of depression, what could have caused it, and what to do about it, you may want to take immediate action. However, before you assume your dog is depressed and begin your “treatment” plan, it’s best to take your dog to the vet to make sure nothing is medically wrong.
Take a look at all the signs of depression we mentioned above. All of them could also be signs of sickness. The last thing you want to do is self diagnose your dog with depression when it turns out there was a physical problem.
Dealing with a depressed dog in the family can be difficult, but by showing a little extra love, affection, and time spent together, you can often get them back to their tail-wagging and playful self in no time.
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