Depression in Dogs: The Owner’s Guide

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Dogs are just as prone to depression as we are. We often forget to acknowledge that dogs are capable of experiencing such complex emotions. Depression in dogs is a real thing, they do experience it, and in some situations, more intensely than we do. That is why every owner should be aware of their dog’s mental health. So, to answer the question, can dogs get depressed?

Yes, they can, and it happens more often than you think. When dogs become depressed, they can exhibit the following signs:

  • Non-stop paw licking
  • Excessive sleeping
  • A change in appetite.

Going out with your dog and spending some quality time with them can improve their mood. But, in a worst-case scenario, it’s advisable to seek professional help to get your furry friend through the tough times.

depression in dogs - close up of a depressed beagle

In our article, we explain the possible reasons for depression in dogs, the symptoms, and the solutions. So, if you have any worries about your dog’s mental wellbeing, we advise that you read this article to the end.

What are the Signs Your Dog Is Depressed?

Do dogs get depressed? As we’ve learned, yes. But, how do you identify it?

Depression in dogs is more common than you think. Since dogs cannot express that they’re feeling depressed verbally, you need to keep a close eye on how they behave. Monitoring their general mood and behavior is vitally important in determining their state of mind.

Each dog has an individual personality, and no one knows your furry best friend better than you. That keen insight into your dog’s character will be what initially alerts you to signs your dog is depressed.

Symptoms of depression in dogs

If you find yourself wondering “Is my dog depressed?”, keep a look out for these common Dog depression symptoms:

Change in Appetite

This is probably one of the most common symptoms of depression in dogs. Depression often triggers a noticeable change in their eating pattern, and that change varies from dog to dog. Some dogs lose interest in food, resulting in a sudden weight loss.

Others eat like their lives depend on it, leading to a sudden unhealthy weight gain.

Dogs use food as a way to comfort themselves when they are feeling depressed. So, if you notice any dramatic change to your dog’s eating pattern, there’s a good chance your dog might be suffering from depression.

Loss of Interest

A playful dog indicates that he or she is healthy in both mind and body. On the other hand, if your dog has lost interested in fun activities such as walks and playing, there might be a problem.

As dogs get depressed, they become inactive and lose all interest in doing anything. If this sounds like your furry friend, it could indicate your dog is experiencing depression.

Sleeping All the Time

Dogs sleep a lot. The average sleep time of an adult dog is about 12 to 14 hours a day. In the case of puppies, the average sleep time is 18 to 20 hours in a day.

A typical adult dog tends to sleep when they’re alone and bored, usually when their owners are in work, or have gone shopping. When you get home, they liven up and get excited.

But if your adult dog sleeps like a puppy, even when you’re home all day, then something is wrong, and this needs investigating.

depression in dogs - depressed labrador lying on the floor, black and white photo

Excessive sleep can be caused by either physical or mental problems. If your dog is sleeping a lot, without reacting to your presence, you need to check if they are ill or not.

If you can’t find any physical problem, then your dog might be suffering from depression.

Alternatively, if your dog is restless and having trouble sleeping, it may also point to depression.

Changes in Mood and Behavior

Dogs are like people, they have good days and bad days. Their mood is fluid and can fluctuate a lot during a 24-hour period.

However, if you notice your dog acting out of character, and stuck in a gloomy mood. If this melancholy state lasts for days or weeks, it’s time to take action.

Avoidance and hiding

Dogs are instinctively pack animals. They see their human family as their pack, the social interaction within that pack is very important to them. So, if your dog is keeping their distance or hiding away and wants to be left alone, it’s not a good sign.

This type of behavior can be caused by either physical injury or mental illness (such as depression). If you can’t find any physical injury or illness, the next thing to investigate is the possibility of dog depression.

Paw Licking

Dogs lick their paws whenever they are feeling down. This non-stop licking triggers the release of endorphins, which helps to improve their mood. Sometimes, when they are sad, they become obsessed with licking. This obsession can create skin infections and sores on their paws.

Nonetheless, dogs may lick their paws for various reasons, such as:

  • Bacterial
  • Fungal infections
  • Joint pain
  • Dry skin
  • Bruises
  • Scratches on the skin
  • Other skin conditions

So, before you decide that your dog is depressed, check your dog for any sort of physical problem.

What Causes Depression in Dogs?

Just like us, every dog has an individual personality. This is the reason why factors that can impact a dog’s emotions, may vary from one dog to another.

Here is a list of some common factors that may or may not trigger depression in dogs.

The Loss of a Loved One

Dogs bond strongly with their loved ones. And when a dog loses their owner or a close companion, they can grieve just like the rest of us. During this time, a grieving dog may show signs of depression.

If you see the symptoms of a depressed dog in your furry friend after a major loss, this is normal. There is nothing to worry about, it’s a temporary emotional state, but do keep a watchful eye on them.

Changes to Environment

We are all creatures of habit, and so are dogs. They are the happiest when they are in an environment that they know. Any change to their routine and environment such as a major home reorganization or house move can cause your dog to become sad. Your dog may even miss their old yard where the sounds and smells are familiar.

During the time of a major physical move, you might notice some changes in your dog’s personality and behavior. This is your dog’s way of trying to cope with all the alterations in their life, and regain the feeling of safety.

close up of a depressed dog lying on the floor, black and white photo

If this is the cause of your furry friend’s depression, you shouldn’t worry about it too much, this is normal. Your dog will overcome this temporary feeling once they get used to their new environment.

New Pet or Family Member

When you bring a new baby, roommate, spouse, or even a new pet into your family, it can impact your dog’s mood. Your furry friend may feel jealous that you are sharing your time with this new member of the family, causing your dog to feel depressed.

In time, your dog will form a strong bond with the new family member and this will certainly improve their emotional state.

Traumatic Experience

One of the most common causes of depression in dogs originates from trauma. Your dog may have experienced something deeply disturbing in the past, and it’s left an emotional scar.

Types of traumatic experience dogs typically experience include:

  • Abandonment on the streets
  • Neglect
  • Traumatic injury
  • Surviving an attack by other dogs
  • Abandoned at a shelter
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse

Your dog may not initially display signs of depression, but it only takes a reminder or a mental association to trigger a memory of a traumatic experience, which can then lead onto depression.

Physical Illness or Pain

Physical illness or injury can also impact a dog’s emotional state. A physical injury such as a flesh wound can cause intense pain, this has a knock-on affect and alters your dog’s mood. If the injury or illness is serious, painful, or debilitating for a period of time, it could send your dog into a depressed state.

Changes to Social Group

Dogs are sociable animals, they enjoy being a member of the family/pack. They develop strong relationships with their owner and other members of the family. Any changes to their social group can strongly affect their emotional state.

This could be when a family member moves out, or you have to find new homes for your dog’s puppies. Sometimes it’s changes in your working routine, or if you suddenly put your dog into boarding kennels while you go on a vacation.

You can’t explain to your dog why these changes are happening, nor inform them of how long this situation is going to carry on for.

Dogs like the love, company, and security of their perceived family. As you are suddenly not around so much, your dog will keenly feel your absence which can cause depression in your furry friend.

Your Own Depression

Dogs are actually empathetic creatures. Many dog owners may not notice, but dogs can feel our sadness and pain. They pick up our mood and mimic our sentiment. This means, when we are sad and depressed, our dogs will also feel sad and depressed.

depression in dogs - a depressed looking dog lying on a sofa

A joint study by a group of scientists from Lincoln and Sao Paulo University has found that dogs were able to match a person’s mood displayed in their picture with their tone of voice. This means dogs can understand when we are happy, sad, or angry. And they will pick up the mood quickly and change theirs accordingly.

Poor Training Methods

Dogs should have at least some basic training so that they don’t cause harm to themselves or to others when they are off the lead. And how you train your dog will have a huge impact on the dog’s emotional state.

If you follow negative reinforcement methods to train your dog, which relies solely on punishment, then you are doing it all wrong.

Negative reinforcement wrecks a dog’s confidence in themselves and their owner. Your dog might appear to be quiet and well behaved from the outside, in reality, they are vulnerable to spells of depression.

This is why positive reward-based training is by far the best way to improve your dog’s depressive mood. While at the same time, create a strong trusting relationship with you.

If your dog is exhibiting more than one of the symptoms mentioned above, depression might well be the root cause. However, keep reading as we reveal how to prevent depression in dogs.

Can Dogs Die from Depression?

There are two ways to answer this:

Answer (A) – No, there is no hard science to claim that a dogs depression can lead to death. This is because no scientific study has been produced to prove one way or the other if it’s true or not.

Answer (B) – Yes, of course it’s true. While science may not have tackled the issue yet, there are plenty of cases that can prove it. Dogs don’t technically die of a broken heart if their owner passes away, but depressed dogs can become lethargic and stop eating. This sets off a sequence of reactions internally that results in the body digesting vital fats. The dog’s metabolism then reduces dramatically, causing dangerously low levels of blood sugars.

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How to Prevent Depression in Dogs?

Here are some of the measures that you can take to prevent depression in your dog. These measures are very simple, and don’t require much effort. They not only prevent depression in dogs but can also help your furry friend get through tough times. They are:

Stay in routine to prevent depression in dogs

As mentioned before, dogs are creatures of habit. Any change in their daily routine can impact their mood. Staying in a routine provides your dog with a sense of safety and security.

Take your dog on walks to prevent depression in dogs

Take your dog out for a walk daily.  If you don’t have the time to take long walks, just taking a quick walk around your neighborhood can also be very helpful.

dog going for a walk in a stream with his owner

This is not only good for your dog but also for you. Because exercise and fresh air are good for the body and mind. It also provides a lot of mental stimulation to your furry friend and to you.

Introduce some fun activities for your dog

There are many similarities between human and dog physiology. When we humans are feeling down or bored, we try to occupy ourselves with fun activities. This triggers the release of endorphins which then helps us to improve our mood.

 The same is also applicable to dogs.

This is why you should introduce your dog to some toys and fun activities to provide more mental stimulation. A Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science study found that dogs whose owners played games with them were less likely to suffer from depression. Playing games not only improves your dog’s mood but also helps your furry pal to get through tough times.

Work on positive-reinforcement training exercises

Teaching your dog new tricks can help a lot in improving their state of mind. But always use reward-based positive reinforcement training while teaching your dog rather than the heavy-handed methods which rely on punishment.

This activity not only helps to prevent depression in your dog but also helps you strengthen your relationship with your pet and will improve the mental state of both owner and pet.

Give your pet individual attention

You don’t need to be a dog behavioral expert to know when your dog wants your attention. If your furry friend has always enjoyed cuddle time, then make sure you continue to do it.

But don’t overdo it. Sometimes your dog needs some space too. If you cuddle with your dog too much, it may cause anxiety.

However, a few tickles behind the ear can go a long way.

Dog Depression Treatment

If you’ve tried everything else, and are wondering how to cure dog depression, and is there a Dog depression cure? Well, there is!

Homeopathic remedies for dog depression are a great option for easing your furry best friend out of their dog depression. Homeopathic remedies naturally improve your dog’s mood, and helps them feel like themselves again.

Anxious Canine recommends Homeoanimal’s Happy Pet Advanced Kit.

Unlike other treatments that will pep your dog up for a couple of days, Homeoanimal’s Pet Advanced Kit will target your dog’s depression over the long term. It’s an antidepressant that naturally increases your dog’s serotonin levels, nourishes the cells in the nervous system and helps your dog regain their equilibrium.

When You Should Seek Help for Your Dog’s Depression

When you notice a sudden change in your dog’s personality and behavioral pattern and you can’t find any physical injury, illness, or any other reason that might be causing it; this is the time when you should seek professional help for your dog.

depressed dog seeing the vet

Take your dog to a vet to do a physical checkup. If they can’t find anything physically wrong with your dog, consult an accredited canine behaviorist. They can look at your dog’s behavioral issues and help to transform your dog’s mental state for the better.

Conclusion

Depression is bad emotional state for anyone, let alone a dog. While we can speak about our problems to a trusted friend or partner, dogs can’t.

Your furry friend looks to you for help and guidance, be vigilant and sympathetic if your dog begins behaving in a sad and dejected way.

If you believe your furry friend is showing symptoms of dog depression, it’s time to take action. Put your detective hat on and use our handy article to discover what could be causing it, and how to help.

If necessary, seek professional help.

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