Dog Depression – Causes and Solutions

By Kyoko •  Updated: 09/08/20 •  16 min read
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Dogs suffer from depression, though animal behaviorists can’t say whether it is exactly the same as we humans suffer. Why? Because we can’t ask them! However, dogs do exhibit similar characteristics to us when faced with experiences that would get us all down. As with humans, even the happiest person can sometimes have a lot weighing on them that adversely affects them and can result in some form of depression. The same goes for our friendly pet.

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There’s that unusual loss of interest, a surprising change in the way we eat, we start sleeping a lot, and our energy levels are drastically reduced. The fact is that when your dog goes through the same cycles it is either sick or depressed.

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The reasons a dog might feel depressed are many and varied. The characteristics of what triggers depression may vary from dog to do but there are still a few that are common to most depressed dogs.

Dog Depression Causes

Bonnie Beaver, DVM, who is a Professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine specializing in Small Animal Clinical Sciences and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists says any significant changes in a dog’s life can lead to signs of depression.

These can include:

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Even changes in a dog’s routine, for example, an owner that has usually stayed at home suddenly starting a job that takes him or her out of the home can trigger a dog to get depressed. However, Beaver is sure that the two most common causes of severe depression in dogs are the loss of an animal that has been seen as a companion or the loss of the dog’s owner. Beaver warns that it is important not to jump to conclusions because the dog may simply be responding to other people’s reactions.

Beaver says that dogs sense our emotions, so if an owner dies, dogs can respond to the grief of others. Alternatively, the dog may be missing the attention to which he or she has become accustomed, which can trigger stress. Beaver also points out that it should never just be automatically assumed that our friendly pet is depressed. The animal may actually be sick and require medical attention from an experienced veterinarian.

It is always advisable to think the worst as a first step and to take your pet to see a vet for a professional opinion and proper treatment if it’s necessary

Change is not just as a good as a rest every time and this goes for our animals as well as ourselves. Suddenly, when you would expect your invariably happy and energetic dog to wag its tail, it suddenly becomes withdrawn and listless. The experts are increasingly sure that depression in dogs is probably little different from depression in ourselves. Jodie Richers is well versed in animal trauma. She has founded Dogs on Death Row, Horses on Death Row, Cats on Death Row, as well as Habitats for Dogs and Cats and Canine Heroes.

When her dog, Bada, died 16 years ago, Terrace and Pumba, her two other dogs, went into mourning. Richers, of Roswell, Ga confronted the challenge by doing things they all enjoyed, like taking her surviving pets on lots of adventurous car rides and visits to dog parks. But five years later Pumba passed away, Richers found nothing would shift Terrace out of her depression. Terrace started by shaking a lot. Then she lost interest in going for walks. This was followed by the 35lb mixed breed dog going off her food and water. Finally, Terrace took to hiding, either in the closet or behind a mirror in Richers’ bedroom. As the vet confirmed: It was a classic case of dog depression.

Professor Beaver says that in clinical practice she is aware of a few situations where depression is the only explanation. She adds that although it may be common for pets to get down, especially when changes to their routine occur, it’s very rare for a dog to suffer from any long-term depression.

Dog Depression Symptoms

The symptoms of dog depression symptoms have been found to be similar to those in people. As Dr John Ciribassi, who has served as President of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association as well as President of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), says: dogs become withdrawn, inactive and their eating and sleeping habits can change. But he says that just because they stop participating in things they once enjoyed doesn’t always indicate depression.

The symptoms also can indicate a medical problem. The emphasis, therefore, is on first taking your dog for a full check-up by a veterinarian. Pets that mope around and no longer want to go for walks may simply be suffering from arthritis or another ailment.

Dog Depression Signs

The signs to watch out for when your pet seems depressed are:

Changing Eating Habits

When dogs stop enjoying what they are eating it is usually the first sign there is a deep-seated problem that needs to be further investigated. It may be a sign of depression or something much worse. Depressed dogs tend to either just play with food or stop eating entirely. Watch out for excessive weight or hair loss. In a few cases, the reaction may be for dogs to eat a lot as a method for finding comfort. So also watch out for excessive weight gain.

Hiding or Becoming Withdrawn

Dogs are generally happy creatures who are full of love. If you have a dog that normally finds it impossible to stay away from the door because he or she wants to jump up and pounce on you to lick your face in the excitement of welcoming you home, then you will soon see if there is a change. When that dog suddenly takes to playing hide and seek when you return home there is an obvious problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. There is something wrong and it may be as a result of depression or worse, an injury.

Sleep Changes

Change in a dog’s sleeping patterns and arrangements is another sign that could also indicate depression. Changes in sleep patterns can be difficult to pinpoint because our dogs like to sleep for a long time, but excessive sleeping habits could signal something serious.

If your dog’s routine hasn’t changed and he or she doesn’t appear to want to get up even when excitement like you returning home from work occurs then something is definitely not right and the animal should be checked straight away.

In circumstances like this, it may be that more dog time is to be advised. It’s time to find something fun to do to spark interest in your dog. A long walk to the park or play fun games with a laser pen or other attraction. Do something that usually excites him or her.

Any change of sleep arrangements needs to be monitored. For example, while some dogs may sleep more than usual when depressed, other dogs can become restless and find it more difficult to settle and sleep.

Loss of Interest

Sudden loss of interest in stuff that your dog normally finds fun and over which he or she gets excited is a clear sign that your dog may be depressed. It may be you notice the animal no longer wants to chase the ball in the garden, play around the house with his or her toys, or maybe there is a reluctance to go for walks. By shying away from those things that normally excite is a possible warning sign of depression or illness. Get it checked as early as possible because boredom can be a sign of depression in dogs.

Excessive Paw Licking

Dogs commonly lick their paws, but when it is excessive it’s a cause for concern. Licking is a natural way for dogs to soothe their pains, but when you become aware of a dog licking his or her paws for longer periods than normal, then it’s important to check for any injuries. If there are none and the licking or chewing is incessant it could be a sign of depression or of hypersensitivity. It’s definitely time to visit your Vet.

Other Signs

Other signs that may indicate depression in dogs include:

Any signs of change could be caused by depression or medical concerns, but the advice is always when you notice changes in your dog and cannot identify a valid reason for those changes then it’s time to take your dog to visit a professional veterinarian.

Dog Depression Treatments

The first thing is to take your dog to a vet as soon as you see any of the warning signs. Only once you have together ruled out any possibility of illness should you commence tackling the depression. Then you and your vet can work out a treatment plan for your dog. Here are some ideas:

Increased Dog Time

When a dog suddenly loses interest in everything, it helps to give the dog more time. Play games of fetch. Take the dog for interesting walks where there are lots of fascinating smells. Engage the dog is his or her favorite activities. Extra attention from you is a great way to pick a dog up from the slough of despond.

Consider a Companion

When a dog pines after the death of one of his or her animal friends then tackle the grieving over the loss by considering getting a companion dog if it’s convenient. This can be especially helpful if the dog will be by itself when you have to go off to work.

Other alternatives can be to introduce your dog to other dogs by visiting parks, hiring a dog walker, having other dogs over to interact with your dog around the home. Whatever dog company helps to reinvigorate your dog’s happiness again.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is a good way to counter the causes of depression in any dog. Like humans, dogs can get over depression when they get plenty of physical activity.

You can help your sad pet by taking it for a regular walk, chucking a ball or playing Frisbee. It’s a surefire way of cheering your dog up and making it more lively.

Time and Patience

Depression takes time to heal so you having patience with your down dog is essential. Don’t ever get angry because your dog is sloping around. Try to be there at the times you can. Your dog needs you. When you can do the things that you think will make the dog happy. It may take a while anything from a few days to even a few months, but a little if your extra time and care will help your dog bounce back, and ultimately a happy pet is worth the effort.

Social Interaction

As much as possible enable your dog to be with and interact with another friendly dog. Your dog may well feel positive and less depressed after a meaningful social outing with his or her dog friends.

Special Treats

Dogs love rewards whether verbal or physical so giving your dog a pat, a compliment or a treat when it shows signs of being happy again should never be discouraged. Your dog may refuse to eat normal food, but it’s a rare breed that doesn’t accept their favorite treats from you.

Of course, negative behaviors should not be rewarded with any treats because it just encourages the behavior you are trying to change.

The majority of dogs are able to bounce back from depression with a little extra Tender Loving Care, says Dr. Ciribassi. The important things are to keep the dogs engaged by doing more of the things they like to do and providing more opportunities for exercise.

Rewarding them, according to Professor Beaver, with what gets a tail wag, like a car ride and praise will help dogs feel happier

Dr. Ciribassi believes that sometimes if a dog is depressed after the loss of a companion, another pet can be a great help. But he believes it is not to be taken lightly as both the family’s and the dog’s need to be taken into account.

Dog Depression Medications

When nothing else you try works, then it is possible medication will help your dog get over his or her depression. Karen Sueda, DVM, a vet at the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital and a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, says the medications prescribed for depressed dogs are the same as ones used by depressed humans: Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. Sueda also uses Clomicalm, which is an FDA-approved drug for treating separation anxiety in dogs. What Sueda emphasizes is the importance of the problem being dealt with early, before it becomes too bad.  She says that in most cases, by the time she gets to see the dogs suffering depression, they’re bad. But the majority of cases can be successfully treated early on with environmental enrichment and behavior modification, so it should not reach a point where drugs are necessary.

Professor Beaver points out that for drugs to become effective can take as many as two months. However, she points out that, unlike humans, who often remain on antidepressants for many years, the majority of dogs get better between in six and 12 months on medication when they can be taken off the drugs. All the vets interviewed said that medication should only ever be considered as a last resort when everything else had failed. The optimum solution is always for the signs to be detected early enough and for the dogs to be worked with to correct the behavior naturally rather than by reverting to drugs.

So when you spot signs that indicate your friendly pet is down and depressed, lavish the dog with lots of care, attention, and kindness. In addition, continuously attempt to help your dog come through its depression. It will help the dog get better, faster so he or she can start acting like before – no doubt jumping all over you!

Always remember, in the first instance to seek professional help from your veterinarian.

Bouncing Back

In the case of Richer’s dog Terrace, in the end, it wasn’t the dog parks, the car rides or even any of the antidepressants that were tried. It was another dog called Benji that Richer agreed to foster from a dog rescue home for a week who made all the difference.

As Richer says now when Benji walked in, he ran up the stairs, quickly found Terrace hiding behind the mirror and lay down next to the grieving dog her and started licking her. Within a week, Terrace was over her loss and now, Richer says, she is the happiest she has ever been.

In Conclusion

The fact is that Mental health problems are in no way restricted to human beings. Dogs have personalities, brains and feelings and can also easily develop depression.

To sum up, depression does not need a particular trigger but there are circumstances that can cause the feelings of depression in dogs. The commonest are grief and boredom. Dogs are able to grieve very deeply, especially when one of their human or canine family dies. Dogs can sense sadness and depression, as they can other moods and feelings, in their companions.

Dog can also become bored. They were originally bred for a particular purpose, depending on the breed, and so they can become listless or restless if their brains are not engaged. If they stay home with no stimulation then they can become very sad indeed. There are thing to be aware of to protect your dog from depression. Watch out for them hiding. Some dogs do this naturally, especially when they inhabit a really busy house. But it’s not normal behaviour so if a dog avoids you all of a sudden it’s a sign something is wrong.

If your dog starts chewing or licking its paws it can be a sign they want to be soothed or calmed, which is another indication of depression. This also may be the case if a dog no longer appears to enjoy the play or walks they used to get excited about. Some dogs indicate depression by taking no interest in their food. Alternatively, some dogs may comfort eat. Many dogs show they are depressed by changing their sleeping patterns.

Many symptoms do not necessarily indicate depression. Some may have physical causes. If a dog sleeps excessively it could be symptomatic of underactive thyroid. Whatever, though, if you note any unusual behaviour in a dog then it’s a good idea to consult your vet and get advice. In extreme cases getting the help of a professional behaviourist may be advisable. Medication may also sometimes be a good idea as part of any therapy.

Finally, to reiterate  it’s crucial that a depressed state is not reinforced by the offer of treats or any other rewards. What is better instead, is for you to spend more time doing things your dog may enjoy and then rewarding any healthy behaviour. It’s important that you find or create more opportunities for your dog to socialise with other dogs. Visit places where there are likely to be other dogs, attend dog training classes, or go and see friends who themselves have dogs. This socialising process can significantly help a dog’s disposition. Other dogs are able to provide the sort of interaction even the most loving human would find difficult to do. Many of us have to go out to work and so we leave our pets behind on their own for periods of time. But when you spot that a previously extrovert dog is tending to become quieter, it could well be a good idea to invest in hiring a dog sitter. or sending your pet to a day-care centre.

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Kyoko

Kyoko is from a family of 3 and moved to New York with her parents and siblings when she was 13. Kyoko is fond of spending a great amount of time with pets, specifically her beagle Luna and cat Missy. Her boyfriend often complains that she spends too much time giving attention to their animals. Kyoko has written dozens of articles concerning pets and is aiming at owning a pet shop one day!
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