Do dogs get depressed? Whether their beloved Owners left them to go on holiday or they’ve had a stressful visit to the vet, it can seem that our dogs sometimes get the blues. And while it’s not often formally diagnosed or treated in the same way as human depression, dogs do experience their own form of neurological stress and low mood.
The good news is with some care and understanding from their Owners, dogs can get through periods of depression and return to their tail-wagging selves again. There are also ways to practice regular mental wellness so that your pupper doesn’t look so down when you drop them off with their dedicated Pet Sitter.
Why do dogs get depressed?
Like humans, a dog’s mood is determined by neurochemicals in the brain. They see the vet clinic, their little heads fill up with cortisol. They chomp on their favourite toy, they get a rush of serotonin. And also like humans, those neurochemicals sometimes get thrown off-balance. Without enough happy chemicals in the mix, the ones responsible for sadness and stress take over.
There’s a long list of possible answers to the question, “Why do dogs get depressed?” But typically, doggy depression is triggered by a specific life event. Here are a few of the most common ones:
- Their adored Owners have left, either to go to work or on holiday
- Something has changed in their environment, such as a house move or renovation
- They’ve experienced a loss of a family member or been adopted into a new family
- There’s a new addition to the family, such as a baby or new pet
- They’re dealing with a physical illness or are recovering from surgery
- They’re not getting enough mental stimulation or are receiving less attention than they have in the past
- Dogs are very attentive to their Owner’s mood and can sometimes react to depression or stress in the household
While these are some of the most common triggers, every dog is different. You might find that your dog gets depressed for unknown reasons or that even slight changes can throw off their mental wellness.
Regardless of the cause, most dogs experience a similar set of symptoms.
What are the symptoms of depression in dogs?
If your dog is going through a low mood, you’ll likely notice that there’s something off about them. They may also experience the following behavioural changes:
- Withdrawal: Depressed dogs tend to interact less with their Owners and other dogs than normal, preferring to retreat to other rooms or quiet areas rather than engage in play or cuddling.
- Loss of interest: Your dog may leave their box of toys untouched or be reluctant to play. Maybe they play for shorter periods only to lose interest quickly.
- Decreased appetite: One of the most concerning symptoms of low mood in dogs is a decrease in appetite. Your dog may eat slower or stop eating altogether.
- Increased fatigue: Depressed dogs typically spend more time sleeping or resting than they normally would.
- Potty training regression: If your house-trained dog seems to suddenly forget their training, it could be a sign of doggy depression.
- Howling and whining behaviour: This is most common in dogs who have moved to a new house, experienced the loss of a family member, or are suddenly spending more time alone than usual.
- Increased grooming: Some dogs will lick their paws as a way to self-soothe.
Remedies for depressed dogs
Whether your dog is experiencing mild or severe symptoms, you’ll want to take action right away with one or more of the following options:
- Have your dog checked by a vet. Any time that your dog undergoes behavioural changes, it could be the result of a medical condition. Make sure to have them checked out by a vet before proceeding with behavioural strategies. Your vet may also want updates on your dog’s response to your at-home interventions to make sure they make a full recovery. If your lifestyle changes don’t bring your pup out of their funk, your vet may recommend a medication plan to help.
- Address environmental changes. If you think your dog is depressed because of a major change in their lifestyle or surroundings, your main priority will be to help them adjust to their new reality. This could mean getting them on a predictable schedule in their new home so that they can anticipate meals, walks, and bedtime. If they’re transitioning from one family to another or from a shelter to a home, make sure to keep some clothing, toys, or bedding from their previous setting to give them a sense of comfort.
- Use some counter-conditioning techniques. If your dog has developed depression symptoms as the result of a new pet or baby, counter-conditioning may help. Whenever they’re in the presence of their new family member, make sure that they get plenty of attention, treats, and praise. This may be enough to soothe their stress and make them see their new flatmate in a new light.
- Spice up their daily routine. Your dog may be grieving a way of life that is no longer possible. So, spicing up their new routine might help them find new things to look forward to. This could mean buying them new toys or taking them on a walk to a new dog beach. Or, you can try introducing them to new food that is more flavourful than their regular kibble. All-natural raw dog foods are a great way to awaken their senses and possibly bring them out of their funk.
- Up the exercise. Exercise naturally stabilises your dog’s neurochemicals, which will make them feel more content and able to deal with stressors. Of course, it’s not always easy to convince a depressed dog to go for a jog with you, so you’ll want to find a form of exercise that they’ll enjoy. A visit from a friendly Dog Walker can give them a chance to exercise while you’re away and help ease their loneliness.
Over the course of days or weeks, your dog should show signs of improvement as a result of your interventions. But, if your dog responds particularly well to a certain change, such as more exercise or playtime, try to maintain that successful routine even after their mood has improved. By building a healthy, happy lifestyle for your dog, you can lower the risk of them feeling depressed in the future.
Do dogs get depressed? Yes, but you’re already on the road to healing!
The thought of our dogs feeling anything other than pure joy and comfort is painful for Dog Owners! But luckily, identifying and treating the signs of depression can make sure your dog isn’t down for long.
Now that you know the answer to “Why do dogs get depressed” and some treatment options, you’re well on the way to getting Fido back to normal!