One of the hardest parts of being a pet parent is not being able to directly communicate with your dog through words to find out what he is thinking or feeling. Especially since, just like humans, dogs are able to experience a bouquet of different emotions including depression. We all know that when a dog wags his tail and has a smile on his face all is well in the world of dog. We also know how to identify a variety of other emotions such as excitement, guilt, and sadness either through the cues given to us by our four-legged bestie or sometimes just through the present circumstances. However, just like with human depression - it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. To tackle the issue, dog owners should learn all the possible causes to be able to identify the reason for their dog’s blues.
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The Root of the Behavior
When it comes to our canine companions, it can be quite difficult diagnosing depression. We can’t exactly ask our pets what is causing them to be so down and thus have to rely on our observations of their behavior instead. We have to try to determine what is going on based on how they act and consider any recent events or changes. That can be limiting and not always immediately obvious or accurate. Though periods of sadness are common in dogs, depression is quite unusual and concerning. Dog depression can look quite similar to human depression. Generally, it means a dog is displaying a change in normal behavior. It can manifest as a decreased interest in food and a general loss of appetite, low activity levels, lack of interest or a reduced level of interest in normal activities such as going for a walk and playtime, or a change in interaction with other dogs and/or family members. Your dog might also seem withdrawn and unsociable, he might lick his paws obsessively or he might whine and sleep more than usual. If your dog exhibits any of the above symptoms or changes in behavior, it is important to consult your veterinarian first to rule out any health problems that might be causing your dog pain or discomfort.
Dogs can be incredibly sensitive to events and changes that happen around them which is why most often dogs develop depression that is situational. It could be triggered by something major such as a move into a new home, a death of a pet sibling or an addition of a new family member to the household such as a baby or another pet. However, smaller changes can also have a dramatic effect on the dog’s mood such as changes in schedule, rearrangement of furniture or anything else that can cause a dog to be thrown off guard. If for whatever reason you’ve been suddenly paying less attention to your dog it can also make him feel ignored, unloved and depressed.
Encouraging the Behavior
Once your dog’s veterinarian has ruled out any medical causes for your dog’s blues, ask for recommendations and further instructions, follow them until you see improvement. If after some time your dog still exhibits the symptoms of depression, you will most likely want to comfort him and pet him as a way to cheer him up. Unfortunately, giving your dog attention when he’s refusing to eat, is acting withdrawn, or is licking his paws obsessively might reinforce the behavior and inadvertently reward your dog’s depression. Instead, try to distract him with his favorite activities such as going for a walk or playing fetch in the backyard and creating opportunities for positive reinforcement. Try to get him to engage or exercise and reward him with treats, petting and, praises when he shows joy or interest.
Try to identify the possible causes of your canine’s depression by taking into consideration recent events. If he has recently lost a pet-sibling, your dog is most likely grief-stricken and will need a lot of time, care, and attention before he feels better again. See if more trips to the dog park will make him feel better. If his change in behavior came about the same time you rearranged the furniture in the house and it has been a few weeks but he is still not able to adjust, consider reverting it back to the way it used to be.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs mirror their owners' emotions. So if you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, your dog might be feeling that way as well. Make sure you spend enough time with your furry friend and that the both of you are getting enough exercise as it causes your body to release endorphins which trigger feelings of happiness. Another reason your dog might be feeling down is due to boredom or a lack of purpose. Again, making sure he has enough mental and physical stimulation throughout the day is key. Provide him with enough interactive toys and as much playtime as possible. If none of the above suggestions work, consult with your dog’s veterinarian again and follow the prescribed treatment.