- Dogs, like humans, can get depressed and show particular symptoms.
- When a dog is depressed, they might sleep more, eat less, and seem withdrawn.
- In general, take note of any behavioural changes your dog is exhibiting.
Our pets can feel like furry family members, so it’s natural that we want to keep them as happy as possible. Unfortunately, depression in dogs is a real problem that can have a serious impact on the life of your four-legged pal.
INSIDER consulted with dog behaviorist Nick Jones, MA, about the causes and symptoms of depression in dogs. Here’s what you should know.
Depression in dogs can be caused by a number of things, including major life changes.
When something in a dog’s normal routine is altered or disrupted, mood problems can sometimes be the result. Major life changes are usually the culprit in dog depression.
Jones told INSIDER that the the death of an owner, periods in kennels, or a long stay in a rehoming center might trigger depression.
“Changes in the dog’s routine may lead to the dog being unsettled for a while. These might include a change in the owners’ working routine or new and quite different rules being put in place,” he added.
A depressed dog may be eating less than usual.
Does your previously ravenous pooch seem uninterested in their dinner? A mood problem might be to blame.
“Generally speaking, I would expect to see a dog eat less if it were in a depressed state,” Jones advised INSIDER.
Changes in appetite and a loss of interest in eating might signal increased stress levels. You can try gradually changing their food to something they may find more appetizing, but if your dog’s appetite doesn’t improve, you should make an appointment with your vet in order to rule out possible medical issues.
However, some dogs might actually eat more when they’re feeling down.
Just like many of us might find ourselves snacking more during stressful times, some dogs can actually experience an increased appetite when dealing with low mood.
“Dogs can be like people – some will eat less when under stress and some will eat more. Some dogs are so food driven that you may not see a change in its appetite,” Jones explained.
If you are feeding your dog enough for their size, age, and breed and you know they’re not pregnant, try chatting with your vet about your dog’s increased appetite.
Stressed dogs might lick themselves non-stop or become destructive.
If you notice that your dog has started licking or chewing to an excessive degree, it might be a sign that your pooch isn’t happy.
Jones revealed that destructiveness can sometime be a sign of emotional turmoil. Excessive licking can also be a sign of anxiety or stress, as dogs often employ this behaviour to soothe themselves.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that there isn’t anything stuck in your dog’s paw or that he hasn’t been stepping on irritating surfaces (like hot pavement) before talking to your vet.
Losing interest in walks and playtime might be a red flag.
Although a drop in energy can simply be a sign of ageing, Jones cautioned that a sudden change in activity levels might be a sign of emotional turmoil.
“A dog that is reluctant to leave the home could indicate that all is not well either on a physical or emotional level. One would normally expect a dog to be less enthusiastic when in a depressed state,” Jones said.
If you notice that your otherwise healthy dog isn’t interested in playtime, try keeping them active and entertained while rewarding them for showing signs of happiness like a wagging tail. Arthritis might be another reason your dog is suddenly avoiding walks, so be sure to check in with your vet if you suspect anything is amiss.
A depressed dog might be too upset to get enough sleep.
Any kind of significant change in a dog’s sleep patterns is cause for concern, and a restless pup that never seems to settle down might be reacting to stress or anxiety.
“If the dog is in a stressed state and displaying signs of anxiety such as whining or howling in the owner’s absence say, then the dog will often not sleep during that period,” Jones said.
A dog that seems restless or unable to sleep might be dealing with a mood problem or high levels of anxiety.
But excessive sleepiness might also be a sign that something is wrong.
Some dogs seem to spend all day napping, but you should take note when a formerly energetic pooch seems especially sleepy.
“I have seen some dogs that are mourning for the loss of a loved one be quite subdued and sleep more than would be expected,” Jones said.
If your dog has recently suffered the death of an owner or close human companion, be sure to take note of frequent napping. A dog that doesn’t seem to react to your presence or seems groggy throughout the day may need to be evaluated by a vet.
A depressed dog might also develop some strange habits.
A dog dealing with depression or anxiety may start to exhibit unusual behaviour. Pay extra attention if this behaviour crops up after a potentially stressful event such as the death of another household pet or the loss of an owner.
“It is possible that a dog may develop new and unwanted behaviour routines such as pacing, circling, or obsessive behaviours such as shadow or light chasing,” Jones told INSIDER.
Other habits or behaviours may include excessive barking or losing a degree of obedience that was previously shown by the dog.
Your dog might be depressed if they seem withdrawn, but they also could just be getting used to sudden changes.
If you dog seems withdrawn or less responsive than usual, it might be a sign of depression. However, Jones also noted that dogs may take a little while to adapt to new circumstances.
“Dogs can respond to sudden changes in a way that we as humans could perceive as depression or being withdrawn,” Jones said.
“Thankfully, dogs are usually able to adapt to new situations very well and soon bounce back to their old selves in not time at all, especially when we ensure that their basic needs are being met with elements such as adequate exercise, good diet, companionship and a warm and secure place to rest.”
Keeping your dog comfortable and healthy is the best way to combat depression.
If you suspect that your pup is suffering from depression, make sure all their basic needs are being met. Give them warmth, healthy food, comfortable bedding, and plenty of attention. You should also make sure that your dog knows what to expect and how you want them to behave.
“When the owner provides a clear and stable set of balanced rules to live by, a dog gains a sense of security,” advised Jones.
“Maintaining a leadership-based style with the dog regardless of recent changes can help a great deal in my experience, as a routine provides emotional security.”
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