We don’t often think our favorite four-legged friends can suffer from mental illness, but they do, and many other species in the animal kingdom have their fair share of mental disorders as well.
Just like people, dogs can go through periods of depression, sometimes mild and sometimes more severe. If you can determine why your dog is depressed, then it is relatively easy to cure through natural methods.
When people develop signs of depression, they will let you know through verbal language. If not, if you’re a very intuitive person, observe body language. Dogs don’t talk in ways we understand, but their body language and their behaviors speak volumes. Here are six different signs your dog may be depressed.
Signs of depression in dogs
1.Changes in appetite
Your dog may either eat more or less or not at all, skipping a meal entirely. You will notice this immediately if you feed on a schedule, but if you offer food freely, it might be more difficult to observe. You usually are aware of your dog’s usual eating habits.
Some dogs devour their food, others eat steadily until the bowl is empty. Still, others may naturally be picky and nibble their food throughout the day. The trick is to observe changes in your dog’s habits. Over-eating is a common sign that your dog may be depressed. Naturally, if your dog is not eating or refusing many meals, he is also likely to lose weight.
Mood changes can be seen in dogs that have not been altered, and they are due to hormonal fluctuations. But neutered or spayed dogs can also have mood changes. A once happy dog whose tail always wagged may show signs of depression by holding her tail down and rarely wagging it.
Sometimes dogs become overly affectionate, or they prefer to be left alone. Some may also display some signs of aggression where none existed before. If your dog is generally by your side, and suddenly decide that well-hidden corner is preferable, he may be depressed. Dogs that suddenly begin to hide in corners are either sick, injured, or sad. If a dog who loved to play fetch, now turns away, it’s time to consider depression.
3.Changes in energy level
Depressed dogs tend to sleep more and act more lethargic than usual. The healthy adult dog will sleep on average about 12 to 14 hours per day. This includes nighttime rest as well as several naps throughout the day. Once awake, dogs will spring back into action and do all the things normal dogs like to do. Depressed dogs are more likely to take longer naps and show signs of sluggishness even after a good rest.
A depressed dog may choose not to greet you or visitors at the door and prefer to find a comfortable corner to curl up in and sleep.
On the other hand, depressed dogs sometimes follow their owners around everywhere they go, yet show no desire to interact.
Changes in Potty Routines
Some sad dogs will forget their housetraining and start relieving themselves inside the house. Dogs prefer a clean bed for sleep, so if a dog begins to urinate or defecate near where he sleeps there is cause for concern.
Change in body postures, body language
Observe your dog’s position and body language. You may notice some subtle and even some not so subtle changes. Depressed dogs tend to stand with their heads down and tails tucked between their legs. Tails are less likely to wag, and when they do, the typical happy wag is replaced by a slow movement of the tail. She may not respond to you in the usual way. If you offer a favorite treat and your dog turns away, you will know that something is just not right.
Some dogs lick their paws as a way to calm themselves down. Repetitive licking is calming to dogs, and those that are stressed may show their discomfort through licking.
The six signs just described are everyday occurrences of depression, but the same symptoms can often be attributed to an illness. For example, paw licking can also mean that the dog has an allergy to something in his environment such as grass. Pottying in the house could also signify kidney or bladder problems, even diabetes, and Cushings Disease.
Any major illness can be accompanied by lethargy, sleepiness, and fatigue. Likewise, loss of appetite can mean many different things.
Deciding whether a dog is sick or depressed will require a bit more investigations. Before you agree that your dog is depressed, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a veterinarian so that other diseases can be ruled out.
Sometimes it is easy to match the causes of depression in dogs with the symptoms you observe. Suppose you just moved into a new home and your ordinarily happy dog suddenly prefers to curl up in a dark corner, refuses to eat, and shows little interest in play. With no other causes of disease, you can assume that your dog may be depressed due to the move.
Causes of Canine Depression
Seasonal and weather changes.
Dogs seem to be similar to humans in that they react to seasonal and weather changes. Cold, rainy weather can bring on depression in people especially if its accompanied by long periods of sun-less days. Seasonal affective disorder in people is prevalent in more northern latitudes where there is less daytime sun. Dogs tend to react similarly. According to vetinfo.com, “…weather can affect your dog’s mood as well. If the weather has recently changed, that might be the culprit.
Loss of a companion or owner
Dogs respond to the loss of a companion or owner by becoming depressed. Dogs create strong bonds with other dogs or pets in the environment, and when one suddenly is no longer present, this void is stressful for them. The lost of a person who is significant in their life brings on stress and sadness even if the daily routine does not change.
Anything that changes in a dog’s life can bring on depression. The addition of another pet, a new baby, a new permanent resident in the household can be the culprit. Moving into a new home or being rehomed into a shelter or rescue situation is another common cause. A stay-at-home mom goes back to work, and the poor dog feels abandoned.
Even an older child going off to college can upset a dog’s world. Dogs are adaptable and will usually recover within a period of time, but the initial shock of the change can throw them into depression.
Some dogs that are very routine oriented may become stressed with even minor changes to their lifestyle. Changes in meal times or when they have their daily walk can create havoc in dogs that prefer to live in a predictable household.
Major renovations that make changes to their environment can also cause stress in dogs and lead to depression. Dogs adapt quickly but prefer predictable routines. When the dog is shuffled from room to room to allow work to be done, the result is stress and depression.
Some people claim that a dog can see straight into their soul while others are convinced that dogs understand and react to our moods. Empathic people and dogs can respond to others emotions and fall victim to depression. Another explanation involves the loss of love and attention on the part of the person. Owners who are fighting depression may not have the energy or resources to give the dog the attention it deserves, so the dog becomes depressed due to loneliness.
Dogs that have been abused or neglected will respond to the situation by becoming depressed. There are long-term consequences for the dog who has been in these situations.
Older dogs tend to sleep more than their younger counterparts. Whether they are also depressed is uncertain. But, depression is an obvious explanation for dogs that are reaching the end of their lives.
Sometimes a debilitating illness can cause depression. This often happens in people and sometimes in dogs. According to Natural Dog Health Remedies, https://www.natural-dog-health-remedies.com/depression-in-dogs.html “If there is a sudden change in your dog’s emotions or behavior, but there have been no environmental changes, it may be that he has a health problem.”
Is dog depression real? It is sad to think our four-legged family members may be depressed. They provide us with so much love and companionship, and we want only the best for their well-being.
Depression is Real
There is still much stigmatizing in the human population regarding mental health. Telling a depressed person to put on a happy face, suck it up, or move on, will not cure their depression. Depression is real both in dogs and in humans.
In a 2013 British study, researchers found that one in four British dogs were suffering from some form of depression because they were being left alone while their owners worked. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10251465/One-in-four-dogs-suffering-depression.html
Dog Depression Treatment
Luckily dogs do not suffer from depression as long as humans may. Most treatment options for dogs are natural, easy, painless and lead to success. If the depression does not lift within a reasonable amount of time, there are pharmacological alternatives that can be explored.
Fixing the Underlying Cause
Some things tend to work themselves out without any intervention. New home environments become commonplace over time. The sadness over the loss of a friend can fade over time, sunless winter days turn into sunny spring days, and so forth.
If there is a way to fix the underlying cause such as going back to the old dinner time routine or walking schedule, then the depression should be lifted quickly. Most underlying causes cannot be addressed. A new baby that causes distress in the dog is not going away, and you will not be moving back into your old residence. The best cures are those most comfortable for you to do consistently.
A dog that is depressed due to lack of stimulation and loneliness will benefit from more attention from his owner. If changes in the environment or schedule have prevented you from your normal doggie activities, a quick cure would include extra snuggle time, more exercise and playtime, and even some pampering in the form of grooming.
Our mothers told us to get out and get some sunshine and exercise seemed to be spot on, even today. Not only can you and your dog benefit from the excise that comes with a daily walk, but you both can profit from that extra Vitamin D provided by the sun.
Puppies need socialization but so do older dogs. If you haven’t been out and about with your dog in awhile, start a new socialization program. Take him to places you haven’t been in a while, arrange playdates, visit a park, or take a hike in a park. Introduce new faces, play new types of music, offer a novel snack.
New Toys, New Activities
Even the addition of something novel in your dog’s environment might brighten his spirits. I new squeaky toy, unusually shaped chew toy, or an interactive game that requires your presence can help a depressed dog.
New Training Options
Even if you have a perfectly trained dog, there’s always a new trick to discover. In people, sometimes getting your mind off of the things that are making you depressed helps and there is nothing to suggest that a new learning activity will help get your dog’s mind off of his troubles.
If All Else Fails
Your veterinarian can prescribe medications that will help with depression in dogs. Most of these medicines are similar to those used in human medicine and are useful in treating depression in dogs. The safest and most natural way, however, is for you, the dog owner, to spend more quality time with your dog.
Janice Jones is a dog lover, breeder and avid blogger (https://www.miracleshihtzu.com) about all things dog. She loves to research and write about dog health, training and well-being, pulling from her many years as a dog owner, vet technician, and breeder. Janice received her M.S. in counseling psychology from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio.