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What is Isolating Himself?

Since dogs are such social creatures, it is rare to see them distance themselves from their family. But sometimes, a dog may isolate himself by spending less time interacting and playing with family members, sleeping and hiding in a less trafficked area, and becoming unresponsive to contact or commands. Behavioral changes may also be present, such as depression or lethargy. These signs may point to an underlying condition that is causing your dog to want to spend more time alone, which could include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Heart disease
  • Other Illness 
  • Pain 
  • Age

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Why Isolating Himself Occurs in Dogs

Your dog may be isolating himself because of a mental or physical condition, the reason of which could vary.

Anxiety

Anxieties and fears are commonly seen in dogs, and can develop due to a number of reasons, such as poor socialization or trauma. Along with hiding and cowering, fearful and anxious dogs can exhibit behaviors such as trembling, whining, barking and grooming excessively, and even incontinence. Common conditions like noise anxieties could cause your dog to stay away from noisy situations, even if that means avoiding the family. 

Depression

Dogs can be victims of depression, just like humans, and can show the same kind of detached behaviors. Major life changes can cause depression, such as a move, an addition to the family, or the loss of a companion. Mourning is common for dogs who have lost a friend, causing changes in appetite and activity, and possibly restlessness as he searches for his lost companion. Other signs of depression include decreased or absent social interactions, anxiety, or an increase in sleep. Another reason for depression in your dog may be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. 

Heart Disease 

Heart disease can be congenital, but is more often acquired through a lifetime of general wear, injury, or infection. It includes diseases of the valves, heart enlargement, and heart failure, and can lead to death. When the heart cannot function properly, the body is deprived of oxygen and fluid can leak into the airways, causing coughing and gagging. The reduction in oxygen transport results in a reduced stamina, fainting, a loss of appetite, and various behavioral changes, all of which can be misconstrued as isolation behaviors or dullness. While the body can compensate for many months, the symptoms will progress into a life-threatening condition unless medical attention is sought. 

Other Illness 

There are many other types of illness and disease that can cause behaviors related to depression, a lack of activity, and seeking isolated areas. Due to a physical discomfort, your dog may be unable to play or move like he normally would. If he is suffering from an illness, he may be quieter than usual, have a decrease in appetite, and hide. This is a behavior that dogs in the wild exhibit called fasting or natural hygiene, which allows the body to concentrate its energy on healing itself rather than moving or digesting food. Such medical problems that can cause this reaction include cancers, infections, poisonings, and various diseases of the respiratory, neurological, autoimmune, and digestive systems. 

Pain 

Pain is a fact for some dogs. Joint, bone and muscle problems, as well as various traumas and injuries, can cause pain that results in a reluctance to move. Older dogs can suffer from arthritis and a decrease in muscle mass, which can cause limping and a reduction in movement, jumping, and even comfortable sitting. Dogs may be unable to follow their family members around the house due to pain associated with it, and may choose to lay still, or far from situations which may cause them further pain. 

Age 

Aging can be tough for our furry companions. While humans can complain of the various problems they are experiencing, our dogs simply can’t tell us that they are having trouble seeing, hearing, or understanding their surroundings. Because of conditions of deafness or vision, they may seem unresponsive to family members whom they did not see or hear. They may have decreased movement due to physical conditions. Cognitive dysfunction may cause confusion as they forget where they are, and can be accompanied by increased vocalization and changes in sleep and eating habits. An older dog who often sleeps away from the family may have gotten lost, or was just too pooped to get up when a family member moved to another room.

What to do if your Dog is Isolating Himself

If you have noticed your dog spending more time alone and refraining from social contact with you, take a look at all the behaviors and habits he has been displaying. Symptoms involving elimination, appetite, movement and behavioral changes, as well as his age and medical history, can give important clues as to why he is isolating himself. 

Your veterinarian will first collect information from you about any and all symptoms your dog has displayed, including any changes in behaviors. If the reason may be anxiety or depression, your vet may ask about situations that trigger or may have caused those conditions. A full physical examination and a series of tests are given to help determine a possible physical cause. These can include everything from blood, urine, and fecal tests, to X-rays and ultrasounds. If heart function is in question, then an electrocardiogram may be used to assess heart health.  

Treatment follows the cause. For physical reasons, various treatments could be available, from fluid therapies, to surgeries for cancer, to medications for pain, to stimulate appetites, or ACE inhibitors for some heart disease. Diets may be modified, and supplements can be added for some conditions. For elderly dogs suffering from pain and loss of muscle mass, creating a central place for the dog to be safe and relaxed with the family can help, as can non-skid rugs on slippery surfaces. 

For mental reasons causing isolation behaviors, your veterinarian will recommend a number of methods. For some anxieties and depressions, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications can be prescribed. Training exercises are recommended that can help desensitize and recondition your anxious dog to react less to triggers and remain calm. For depression involving a loss of a companion, adding opportunities for positive and joyful interactions with your dog can help to ease him through this sad time. These can include extra walks, playtimes, and general attention. In some cases, a new family member can help.

Prevention of Isolating Himself

There are many conditions that are seemingly impossible to predict, no less prevent. But ensuring your dog receives routine physical exams can often catch serious physical problems early on, giving you the opportunity to treat them before they cause such behavioral changes.

Good socialization during puppyhood can help prevent many types of anxieties and fears in your adult dog. If there is a big life change coming, prepare your dog in advance. For a move to a new house, take your dog to visit the home a few times before the move. While there is no way to prevent the death of a loved one, be sure your dog knows that he still has companions by spending lots of extra time with him.

Cost of Isolating Himself

The cost for isolating behaviors can vary considerably, and depend wholly on the cause. For medications and training for anxiety and fears, costs can range from $200 to $1500. More serious illnesses, such as poisonings, pancreatitis, and heart disease, can range from $2000 to $10,000. A condition of an enlarged heart averages around $3500. Overall, treatments can range from $200 to $10,000.

Isolating Himself Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Coco
Chihuahua
5 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Isolation, not eating out of it

My dog has isolated himself for the past three days he doesn’t eat or has any energy and he is not responding when called. He is under some chairs in the backyard he doesn’t drink water ether. What can be wrong with my puppy.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1098 Recommendations
Puppies are susceptible to many things, including parasites, intestinal problems, and infectious disease. It would be best to have Coco examined by a veterinarian right away to have him assessed and see what might be happening and what treatment he might need.

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Harley
Meagle
2 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Mood changes
isolation
Lethargic

Our 2 year old min pin beagle mix has had various behavior changes since we recently brought home our second dog both females. They are very close sleep together and play together all the time. She has calmed down so much since we added our new member to our home and we just contributed it to her becoming more mature and tired due to the increased activity but she has recently started isolating her self more frequently and for longer periods of time and I'm starting to wonder if it's something more serious and health related

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1098 Recommendations
Harley would probably benefit from a veterinary examination to make sure that she is okay. She may be adjusting to another dog, and she may be calmer. If you aren't sure, a veterinary visit would let you know whether she actually has a problem or if she is okay. I hope that all goes well for her!

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Piper
American Cocker Spaniel
4 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

isolation
Lethargy
Irritable

My 4 year old cocker spaniel has recently been isolating herself in cooler areas of the house; she likes to stay in my room on my bed and with me when I’m home. We got a new puppy 5 months ago and she was fine with socializing and spending time with us in the family room until recently she has been sleeping on the tile hallway and in my room with the fan on. We haven’t had her haircut in a while and she usually gets a short cut when we do; we know she tends to feel better with a short cut. I am assuming that she has been going to cooler areas of the house alone because she is hot and we just need to take her for another haircut but I want to make sure she isn’t developing anxiety or depression from the puppy.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1098 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm not sure if Piper is being more sensitive to the puppy, or if she does need a haircut. What might help would be to have her hair cut, and see if she is back to her normal self. If not, have her examined to make sure that there isn't a physical reason that she isn't feeling well. I hope that all goes well for her!

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dean
Pit bull
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Sad
not responsive
lack of appetite
Lack Of Coordination

my dog dean has been isolating himself, he usually sleeps with me or one of my family members but lately hes been sleeping in the bathroom, and the hallway. today he was sleeping on the couch and so i put a blanket on him and he hasnt moved since 7:30am. idk if hes tired but usually dogs get up and do things, and hes not responding to any interactions or commands. so when i try to pet him or give him love he sits down and bows his head and walks away. so idk

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1098 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without seeing Dean, I can't comment on what might be going on with him, unfortunately. He seems that he needs veterinary care, and it would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian. They'll be able to look at him, see what is happening, and recommend any testing or treatment that might be necessary. I hope that he is okay.

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Louis
Pomeranian
11 Weeks
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Urinating In House
Urine Spotting
Depression

I just got my puppy (pomeranian/Japanese chin) a week and a half ago. I have spent a ton of time with him since bringing him home. Today he peed twice in his own bed and was very distant from me. Instead of laying next to me he walks away and sleeps in a random spot. I have his bed next to me as I’m watching tv but he still prefers to be away from me. I don’t know if I should let him be or try and get him closer to me.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2513 Recommendations
If this behaviour occurred only today, I would give it a little time as he may be just embarrassed from urinating in the house; if this behaviour continues you should visit your Veterinarian as this may be a sign of something more serious. Without examining Louis, I cannot say what the cause may be; but it is always best to be on the safe side especially with puppies. If you haven’t started vaccinating yet you should discuss this too. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Buddy
Poodle mix
9 Days
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Loss of Appetite

Medication Used

none

Hello,

We adopted an older dog this summer. The shelter said he was about 9 years old but he always acted a lot younger. He has always been very laid back but would get excited when we came home, go on walks etc. For about a week now he has been acting unusual. For instance, he dug a hole in the backyard and lies in it. When he comes inside he runs up under our bed. Up until today he was eating and going to the bathroom as usual. Last night he didn't eat his dinner and today he would not eat breakfast and just wants to hide under the bed or in his hole outside. Physically he seems fine, no fever and when I touch him he doesn't have any pain. He is up to date on his shots and heartworm and I just do not know what to do anymore. The only "strange" thing that has happened as of late is one of our goldfish went mysteriously missing. The dogs cannot jump to the fish tank as it is high up but we think a fish may have jumped out and one of the dogs took it outside as there are no remnants of a dead fish in the tank. After we discovered the fish was missing I though our dog may have been involved and felt guilty, but it has now been 5 days and the fact that he stopped eating last night had me concerned.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2513 Recommendations
Behavioural changes may occur for a variety of reasons and may be purely behavioural or due to a medical issue (obstruction, injury, pain etc…); the missing fish may or may not be related (he may have eaten it), but it is difficult to say (plus a dog should easily digest and pass a goldfish without any problems). I would try to encourage his to eat, possibly trying a more appetising food (wet food) as well as checking his teeth (and mouth) for any injuries or signs of pain. If Buddy doesn’t start eating after today I would suggest visiting your Veterinarian for an examination to look for any obstructions or other issues (teeth etc…) which may explain the loss of appetite and behavioural changes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Vale
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

I would like to know why my puppy does not seem to come when he is called and he sometimes sleeps away from me. He is also showing some of food aggression. What can be causing this?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2513 Recommendations
Most likely this isn’t a medical issue, some puppies may not feel a connection with a new owner immediately and affection needs to the built with time. As for aggression, this is something which you need to nip in the bud as soon as possible by making him sit until you give the food and then sometimes interrupt him eating and pushing him if he is showing aggression. This can be a long process, but there are resources online to help by Behaviourists. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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