It may be hard to imagine that your cheerful, tail-wagging companion could ever get the blues, but the fact is that dogs are capable of suffering from depression in much the same way that humans do. This is because dogs are intelligent creatures who can experience a wide range of emotions -- a fact that most any dog owner can attest to. So how should you deal with a dog in the doldrums? Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of depression in dogs.
Causes of Depression in Dogs
Canine depression is usually brought on by a major change in a dog’s life or a distressing event, the most common being the loss of an owner or animal companion. A dog can also pick up on the grief being experienced by those around them, or become stressed out by a sudden drop in the attention they are receiving.
Other events that may cause your dog to feel down include: moving to a new house, introducing a new baby, spouse, or pet into the family, a traumatic incident (e.g., an injury), or a significant change to your dog’s daily routine (like an owner who begins spending more time out of the house).
In some cases, your dog’s depression may be a secondary symptom of an underlying medical condition. If your pet has not recently experienced an upsetting event or significant change to their schedule, talk to your veterinarian about what else could be causing their low spirits.
Dog Depression Symptoms
The symptoms of canine depression are similar to those seen in people. Dogs may become withdrawn, exhibit low activity levels, lose interest in the things they once enjoyed, and change their eating and/or sleeping habits. Some dogs may also show signs of anxiety or aggression, including sporadic howling or whining.
Solutions and Treatments for Dogs with Depression
The good news is that most dogs overcome depression on their own. This can take days to months, and is often helped along by the love and care of their owners.
Offer your dog more attention, but at the right times. Never praise or baby your dog if they seem to be feeling particularly glum. Instead, wait until you see some sign of happiness (a wagging tail, perhaps), and reward for that behavior.
Keep your dog active and entertained with regular walks, playtimes, and any special activities that you know they enjoy. For example, if your dog loves to play frisbee, start doing it more often, and offer praise when you see that your dog is having a good time.
If your dog is experiencing depression due to the loss of an animal companion, consider getting another pet, but only if it makes sense for your situation. Alternatively, a lonely dog may feel better with more frequent visits to the park, socialization with friends’ or neighbors’ dogs, stays at doggie daycare, or training classes where dogs mix and mingle.
If your dog just can’t seem to snap out of their funk, medications that treat depression could help. The medications used on dogs are the same used by depressed humans, however unlike most people, many dogs recover from their depression after 6 to 12 months on the drugs, after which they can stop taking them. Some dogs, however, may need to remain on antidepressants indefinitely.
More on Dog Mental Health
Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health
Dealing with Your Dog's Seizures
Treating the Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.