It may seem far fetched but in today's fast paced world, just as in their human counterparts, cases of canine depression are increasing rapidly. If your dog has been acting off lately, sleeping a lot, not eating or drinking as much and has lost interest with things like going for walks or car rides, you may have wondered, “Is my dog depressed?” likely followed by, “Can dogs even get depressed?” The short answer is yes. Because depression symptoms mimic many illnesses, the first thing to do is get your pup to the vet. Check for physical problems first, but if you can’t find anything and the symptoms continue, he may be depressed. It's important to verify whether or not your dog is sick or has a chemical imbalance that should be treated with medication.
So how do you know if your dog is depressed? What are the symptoms?
#1. Changes in Sleeping Habits
It's no secret that dogs sleep a lot, particularly when their owners are gone. However, you should be concerned if you leave your dog for a long time (say, for work) and he continues to sleep after you get home, barely reacting to your presence, something is probably wrong, or if he stays curled up instead of coming to the window or door for things that once attracted him, like the visitors or a passing dog.
#2. Paw licking
Excessive licking or chewing may be rooted in physiological or psychological issues. Depressed dogs will often lick or chew their paws to soothe themselves.
#3. Loss of interest
If your dog suddenly loses interest in playing, going for walks, and other things that would normally excite her, take note. Dogs who become less active, slow down, or seem to lose purpose may be suffering from dog depression.
#4. Changes in diet
Most dogs will eat less and lose weight when depressed. On the other hand, just like humans, some dogs may eat more as a form of comfort. Watch out for:
- Refusing treats that he once loved
- Weight gain or weight loss
Triggers and Treatments for Depression
If you can identify what's triggering depression in your pet, you'll learn to spot the symptoms earlier. This will help you figure how to help your pet feel better.
- Environmental Changes As with people, events going on around your pet can cause him to feel depressed and anxious. Changes in a dog's environment or living circumstances can trigger depression and anxiety. For example, dogs can experience depression and grief when another pet or human member of the household is ill or dies. This is also true when a family member moves away or changes schedules. When summer ends and your dog is suddenly alone most of the day after having children around all summer, symptoms of depression triggered by separation anxiety and loneliness can occur.
- Weather and Seasonal Changes Just as in humans, changes in seasons can have an impact on pet moods, as do periods of extended bad weather. For example, the moods of dogs that live in areas where hurricanes occur can be impacted by the change in atmospheric pressure. Additionally, just as the onset of winter can lead to seasonal affective disorder in some people, it can also an impact on dogs.
- Loss of a Companion This is probably the number one cause of depression in dogs. Dogs create strong emotional bonds with both their fellow dogs (and in some cases other small animals and even beloved toys or blankets) whom they see regularly as well as those who care for them. The loss of a friend or loved one is difficult on everyone and this is no different for your dog and they need ample time to grieve.
Cheering Up Your Pup
- Get Some Sunshine: Sometimes we forget that dogs were originally wild animals who love nature and the outdoors. This is still rooted in your dog’s instincts so his depression could be linked to a lack of outdoor activity. Try getting your dog to go on more walks or to play fetch with you in the yard. If this seems to cheer him up a bit, then do this periodically throughout the day and you are sure to see long-term improvement.
- Make Friends: Whether this is with a friend’s dog or a trip to the dog park having a companion or two can often boost your dog’s mood. If you have recently lost an older dog, then this could be a great way to help get your dog out of a funk. If you can bring a new dog into your home, with proper introduction and a little time to adjust, a new friend might be the best way to help your dog through a tough time.
- Be Patient: Sometimes – especially if the issue was a loss of a companion or master – the only thing that will heal a dog’s heart is time. It may be as few as a couple days or as much as a few months, but most dogs will be able to pull themselves out of depression with a little time and understanding. Do your best to be there for your dog for the time being and always encourage happy moments, but remember that this is not going to be an overnight change.
- Give a Little Extra Love: Just a little extra attention can go a long way with a depressed dog. Sit with them often, showing you support and care for them as much as you always have. This can be especially helpful if you think the root cause of your dog’s depression is due to being lonely throughout the day while you are at work.