Dogs are known to lift people’s spirits and make them smile. A wagging tail, friendly face, and the comfort of companionship is a great mood booster for any human. But while dogs can seem like generally happy creatures, just like you, man’s best friend isn’t happy all the time.
If you’ve ever seen a commercial for an animal shelter, you’ve probably seen sad dogs before. Can dogs get depressed? Depression in dogs is just as real as depression in humans, but there are steps you can take to make sure you don’t have a sad doggo.
Depression in Dogs
Do dogs get depressed? Can dogs be depressed? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. While dogs are different from humans in many ways, they can experience some emotions just as we do.
While dog depression isn’t the same clinical disorder that humans experience, dogs certainly can be sad and depressed. And just as a devastating loss, a big life change or life-altering event can affect your mood and make you feel down and depressed, the same goes for your dog.
Symptoms of Depression in Dogs
Signs of depression in dogs can be similar to those that we experience. If you notice your dog acting weird, such as appearing lethargic and withdrawn, it could be a sign of depression. According to HomeoAnimal, here are some ways to help you answer the question, “Is my dog depressed?”
Changes in Behavior/Disposition
One of the first signs that something isn’t right likely will come to light in your dog’s behavior. Pay close attention to how he acts. Is your typically happy-go-lucky dog lying around, acting lethargic, or appearing to be a sad dog overall? If you begin to think, “My dog is acting weird,” that’s probably a good indicator that something is up.
Changes in Appetite
According to HomeoAnimal, a depressed dog may stop eating. On the other side of the spectrum, the dog may eat like he or she is never going to eat again. One of the most surefire warning signs when it comes to how to tell if your dog is depressed is this drastic change in appetite.
Sleeping Too Much
According to HomeoAnimal, the average adult dog sleeps about 12 to 14 hours a day, with puppies sleeping 18 to 20 hours. If your adult dog is sad, he or she may sleep much more than they normally do.
Overgrooming, including incessant paw licking, can be among the signs of anxiety or depression. While paw licking also can occur due to infections, eczema, or dry skin, keep an eye on this excessive grooming.
Dogs are pack animals, HomeoAnimal states, so the family is important. If your dog is hiding or is noticeably more absent than usual, it could be a warning sign of depression. Never seems to be around the family anymore; this may be a sign of depression. Healthy dogs don’t typically retreat and spend more time alone.
Causes of Depression in Dogs
Just as with humans, there are several potential factors in life that could be behind the depression a dog is experiencing.
- Physical Illness: Do you typically feel sad or upset when you’re not feeling well physically? Health problems can also cause dogs to act depressed. Consult with your veterinarian to resolve any health issues and follow those treatment recommendations. If your dog is treated for an illness and recovers but continues to act depressed afterward, talk to your veterinarian.
- Grief: The Spruce Pets states that dogs mourn the loss of human and animal companions just as humans do. Did a beloved member of the family, whether human or animal, pass away recently? Did someone move? Losing a playmate or family member can make your dog sad, too.
- Environmental Changes: Sometimes, animals don’t do well with changes in their environment, especially when they don’t understand why they are in a new place. A new home, renovations, and even the weather can be reasons for an abnormal change in behavior. Give your dog time to adjust to these changes.
- Fear: A phobia or fear can surface in the form of apparent sadness or depression. Fear also can cause your dog to hide or retreat in order to protect him or herself.
- New Family Member: Whether it’s a new baby or a new pet, your dog may be jealous of the time you spend with this new person or new pet and become withdrawn. HomeoAnimal states that “this type of depression should be temporary as your dog forms a relationship with this new person.”
- Your Mood: You might not notice it, but your dog picks up on your energy and emotions and can even mirror them. If you yourself are depressed, sick or anxious, your dog might begin to exhibit similar symptoms
- Schedule Changes: If you switch jobs and the hours are different, the chances are that your dog will notice that his or her usual routine is changing. Similarly, if you take on more hours away from home, your dog might be depressed if you are gone a lot.
How to Help Your Dog Feel Better
Your four-legged friend is like a family member to you, and any good owner would want to know how to help a seemingly depressed pet. Before you jump into any possible solutions, though, you’ll want to rule out any other health issues that could be causing the symptoms your dog is experiencing.
A good place to start is taking your dog to the veterinarian, who will do a thorough examination. Your vet will be better able to tell if there is an actual physical ailment, or if depression is more likely to be responsible for your pup’s abnormal behavior.
If you know your dog is dealing with sadness or depression, you’ll want to find ways to comfort your dog and ensure he or she is getting the necessary emotional support. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Make time for cuddles. Dogs love attention, and most will respond well to increased positive feedback and relaxed cuddle time. However, most dogs don’t enjoy hugs — in fact, it can cause anxiety. Give your pup some pats on the head, soothing pets, and scratches behind the ears.
- Increased stimulation and exercise. Chances are that your pup loves to play and exercise with you. According to HomeoAnimal, “a Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science study found that dogs who played games with their owners were less likely to experience separation anxiety than those who didn’t.” Play with your dog — whether it’s a trip to the dog park, a good jog, or a game of fetch — to increase your bond.
- Get a companion animal. If you suspect your dog is grieving the loss of a playmate, you might consider getting another animal to help fill the void. The new pet won’t replace the old one, but it can provide distraction and the comfort of a new friend.
- Medication. This might be a viable option for your pup if all else fails. Always consult with your veterinarian before putting your dog on prescription medication. Your vet will be able to help assess the situation and recommend the right medication if any.
It’s never fun to watch a loved one, including your four-legged friend, deal with sadness or depression. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your dog’s behavior and take action if anything appears off or strange. Just as your pup is there for you, you want to be there for him or her. Considering your pet’s behavior and the factors that might be contributing to it will help strengthen your bond and will have your pet feeling better faster if something is wrong.