Could your dog be depressed? Do dogs even get depressed? Like humans, some dogs can occasionally suffer from bouts of depression. Although dogs do not have the same capacity for reasoning as we humans, it doesn't mean they cannot experience depression. In dogs, depression is not exactly the same complex clinical disorder that it is in people. However, dogs can certainly experience depression.
When dogs are depressed, they often appear sad and withdrawn. They can even lose interest in play. As a loving dog owner, you will be relieved to learn that you can actually help your dog if it is addressed. Often, the first step to doing this is getting your dog in for a veterinary visit.
Causes of Depression in Dogs
As a pet owner, how do you fight an invisible, inner enemy? The first step is recognizing the problem. There are several potential causes of depression in dogs.
- Physical Illness: Many health problems will cause dogs to act depressed. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice signs of depression in your dog. It is important to first rule out a physical cause for your dog's abnormal behavior before things get worse. If your vet does find a health problem, follow the treatment recommendations. Hopefully, your dog's depression will improve once he recovers from the illness. If not, or determine if further diagnostics are needed with your vet or if they suspect any behavioral reasons.
- Grief: Dogs can mourn the loss of human and animal companions just as we do. Perhaps a housemate or neighborhood dog he played with is gone (vacation, moved away, died). Or, maybe a child in your home has grown up and moved out. There is no way to explain this to your dog. Losing a playmate, especially an in-home playmate can be a reason for canine depression. We may not notice it very often, but pets definitely do grieve.
- Environmental Changes: Moving to a new home, a general change of scenery (like a renovation), or even the weather can adversely affect a normal happy dog. You can't explain the reasons for such a dramatic change. It usually takes time for your dog to adjust to major environmental changes. Discussing how to help support your dog during environmental changes should be done with your veterinarian.
- Fear: Your dog may have a fear or phobia that makes him seem depressed. Dogs sometimes show fear in different ways than you would expect. Your dog may be trying not to appear scared since that might make him more vulnerable. Instead, he just retreats from normal activities to protect himself.
- You (the owner): Are you feeling depressed or are you gone a lot? Some dogs become depressed if their owner's are gone a lot. This may be similar to separation anxiety (but instead of "acting out" your dog gets depressed).
- Unknown: In some cases, there is no known reason for the depression. This can be very frustrating for you as an owner.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Depressed
Slow deterioration and loss of initiative are definite clues that something is bothering your dog. If this is happening to your dog, you need to address it right away by taking them to the veterinarian for a check up and possible diagnostics. If your veterinarian does not think a physical illness is the culprit, consider making some changes at home to try to make life fun again. Exercising with your dog is a wonderful way to begin.
Try to engage in fun activities with your dog, like games, fun tricks, and general training. Take some time to bond with your dog. You may also consider letting your dog play with other dogs or go to doggie daycare.
It's natural that you will want to pay more attention to your dog when he is depressed. This is not inherently bad, but do try not to coddle or overly comfort your dog. Too much coddling and comforting on your part may actually reinforce the sad behavior. It is very important to try your best to stay on schedule and stick to your normal routine. This can give your dog a sense of security and boost his confidence.
If the timing is right for your family, you may consider getting another dog. This may be helpful if your dog is depressed because of losing a companion. However, this could make things worse if your current dog does not accept the new dog. Sometimes, new dogs can be a source of stress and agitation for a current dog which creates more problems. Proceed carefully.
If none of these activities seem to be helping, your vet may still be able to help. Medications are sometimes thought of as a last resort, but there are cases when they are the best option. Some vets will prescribe a drug like fluoxetine (Prozac) though this is not right for all dogs. You may also consider seeking the help of an animal behaviorist.
Trying to help a dog that is depressed is important to that pet's quality of life, health and happiness. While it is true that depression in dogs often resolve on its own after a short time, it is important to be proactive with dog's with depression. Signs of depression can look very similar to signs of illness. Remember that the right place to begin is with your veterinarian.
Is My Dog Depressed? Understanding Depression In Canines. Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, 2020
Can My Pet Get Depressed?. Eastern Shore Hospital, 2020
Kaur, Gagandeep et al. The Use Of Fluoxetine By Veterinarians In Dogs And Cats: A Preliminary Survey. Veterinary Record Open, vol 3, no. 1, 2016, p. e000146. BMJ, doi:10.1136/vetreco-2015-000146