Did you know our four-legged pals feel the blues, too? That's right, dogs can experience depression.
Dog depression is often triggered by significant life changes, like losing a close human friend or a furry sibling. Even something like moving to a new place can shake up their mood.
A UK study revealed that a whopping 75% of dogs showed signs of anxiety or depression, with only a third of dog owners recognizing these signs at all. (Source: CBS News)
That's why we need to spot these signs of depression and be there for our furry friends when they need us the most!
8 Potential Causes of Depression in Dogs
Loss of a Buddy
Dogs form tight bonds with those around them, whether it's their human family, another dog, or even a different pet in the house. When they lose a close companion, it hits them hard.
Imagine your best friend suddenly not being around anymore. You'd feel lost, lonely, and sad.
For dogs, these emotions are just as intense. They might not understand why their buddy isn't coming around to play, sleep, or eat with them, leading to confusion.
Some dogs might search for their lost friend, going to their usual hangout spots or waiting at the door, hoping they'll return.
Home Sweet...New Home?
Dogs are creatures of habit. They love routines and familiar surroundings. When everything they know gets flipped upside down, it can be a lot to handle. They may wonder, "Where's my favorite napping spot?" or "Why does everything look and smell different?"
This sudden change may cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in your dog. They might become more clingy, following you around more than usual because you're their primary source of comfort. On the flip side, some dogs hide or become less social, trying to make sense of their new surroundings on their own.
Changes in Your Dog's Routine
Dogs thrive on routine. But when that predictable schedule gets shaken up, stability turns into confusion.
Imagine if every day was a pop quiz, and you never knew when it was coming. That's how dogs feel about unexpected routine changes.
Maybe you started a new job, and you're coming home later. Or perhaps playtime got cut short
because of your busy schedule. Your dog will respond to these changes with feelings of anxiety and depression. They might mope around, lose interest in toys, or even turn their nose up at food.
Lack of Physical and Mental Stimulation
Dogs are naturally energetic creatures whose ancestors chased, hunted, or herded for a living. Even if your dog's daily goal is to chase a squirrel or fetch a ball, those active roots run deep.
When a dog doesn't get enough activity, they're left with a bunch of bottled-up energy. And just like you might feel jittery if you had to sit all day without moving, a dog might feel restless and uneasy.
This pent-up energy leads to all sorts of behavioral issues. They might become destructive, chewing on shoes or digging up the yard, or they might seem really, really sad.
When dogs experience something scary or painful, they don't just forget about it. Maybe they were in a loud, crowded shelter or lived with someone who wasn't kind. Perhaps they were lost and had to fend for themselves. These experiences leave emotional scars.
When a dog goes through a traumatic event, they become more jumpy or scared of certain sounds or situations. They might shy away from people or other animals, refusing to play or explore like they used to. All these changes show that the trauma is weighing heavily on their hearts and minds.
Prolonged Feelings of Loneliness
Prolonged loneliness takes its toll on any dog's mood, manifesting through signs of depression.
They might not want to play as much or might start behaving differently.
It's not just about playtime; it's about missing that deep connection and interaction they usually have.
The Human-Dog Bond
Dogs have this superpower where they can pick up on our moods, truly sensing when something's up. If you're going through a tough time, feeling stressed or sad, your furry buddy will start acting differently, too. They may become more clingy or less playful than usual.
Why? Because dogs deeply care about their humans. They want to be there for us, comfort us, and feel the weight of our emotions at our side.
After all, that's what best friends do—they support each other through the ups and downs!
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition often associated with humans, can also affect our canine companions.
During the winter months, when daylight dwindles, our dogs' outdoor activities and playtime are reduced due to the limited sunlight, leading to a decrease in overall happiness.
Cabin fever, characterized by restlessness and frustration from being stuck indoors, can also affect our furry friends. Dogs are highly social animals, and extended periods of isolation indoors may result in undesirable behaviors or withdrawal.
Another factor to consider is the emotional connection between dogs and their owners. Dogs will sense the low moods caused by winter's gloom, contributing to their anxiety and feelings of depression.
9 Dog Depression Symptoms
A Lack of Interest in Any Past Activities
One clear sign of depression in dogs is losing interest in activities they once enjoyed.
Imagine your dog's joy and excitement when going for walks, playing fetch, or meeting other dogs at the park. However, when a dog is depressed, their enthusiasm wanes, and they might no longer show interest in these cherished pastimes.
Just as in humans, these feelings of depression drain the energy and motivation out of a dog. When they're feeling down, they may not have the drive to engage in activities that used to make them happy.
Loss of Appetite
A significant symptom of depression in dogs is the loss of appetite.
First, just like in humans, depression can affect a dog's overall mood and energy levels. When a dog feels down, they do not have the same enthusiasm for activities, including eating. It's as if their emotional state impacts their appetite for food.
Additionally, depression causes various physical symptoms in dogs, such as lethargy and altered sleep patterns, influencing their eating habits. A depressed dog may not have the energy to eat, or they might sleep through regular mealtimes.
Stress and anxiety, which often accompany depression, also suppress a dog's appetite. Significant life changes contribute to these emotions, such as losing a companion, moving to a new home, or changing the family's routine.
Furthermore, depression in dogs sometimes manifests as gastrointestinal issues, leading to nausea or stomach discomfort. These symptoms will leave your dog reluctant to eat.
When a dog is depressed, things that didn't bother them before might suddenly become sources of irritation.
For example, they might become more impatient with other pets or family members, snapping or growling in response to what used to be minor annoyances.
They might even become more reactive to sounds or changes in their environment, barking excessively or exhibiting signs of stress.
Disruptive Behavioral Issues
We all know dogs can be goofy and playful, but what happens when that behavior becomes more troublesome?
Disruptive behavior in dogs might look like chewing up shoes they have never touched, knocking over trash cans, or digging holes in the backyard like they're searching for buried treasure. It's like they suddenly forgot all their manners!
Sometimes, if a dog feels down or out of sorts, they might act out with disruptive behavior. It's their way of showing they're upset or trying to cope with those feelings they can't express.
Being All Needy and Clingy
Depressed dogs often feel vulnerable, which is why being close to their favorite human provides a sense of safety and reassurance. They might whine, nudge, or paw at you to gain your attention. They might even try to sit on your lap or stay right by your side, not wanting to be separated.
This behavior is especially noticeable if your dog used to be more independent. If your once self-reliant pup suddenly can't stand to be apart from you, it's a sign that they're struggling emotionally.
Being Withdrawn and Distant
Being "withdrawn" means your dog is hiding away, maybe under a bed or in a corner, instead of playing or wanting to be with the family. They seem lost in their own world, indifferent to what usually brings them joy.
Being "distant" is a similar behavior. A usually cuddly and affectionate dog might not come when called or might avoid eye contact.
Altered Sleeping Patterns
When dogs feel down or blue, they tend to sleep all day. It's their way of coping or trying to escape from all the negative feelings.
On the flip side, your dog might have trouble sleeping if they're depressed, like when we toss and turn at night, unable to shake our worries.
Just because your pup is sleeping differently doesn't mean they're automatically depressed. They could be tired from a fun day of playing, or they didn't get a good night's rest the night before. But if your dog's sleep pattern changes for longer and you can't figure out why, it might be a clue about how they're feeling inside.
Changes in Vocalization
Dogs show their anxiety and depression by making more noise than usual. Maybe your quiet dog starts barking a lot, or your chatty dog becomes even more vocal. It's their way of telling you, "I need some help here!"
A depressed dog might pee or poop in places they usually wouldn't, like inside the house, to communicate their feelings of stress and anxiety. That is unless they ate something funky or they're not feeling well physically.
Don't Confuse Dog Depression With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCD)
If your furry friend is on the older side, usually 8 years and above, there's something else you should be aware of aside from dog depression: canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCD).
CCD is tied to the aging of a dog's brain, messing with their memory, ability to learn, or even how they react to certain things.
The tricky part? CCD looks a lot like canine depression. So, if your older pup isn't acting like their usual self, it's a good idea to chat with your vet. They can help determine if it's CCD or something else and guide you on the best steps to help your dog feel better.
How to Cheer Up a Dog Experiencing Depression
If you think your dog might be feeling a bit blue or down in the dumps, there are several ways to help perk up their spirits:
- Exercise and Playtime: One of the best ways to cheer up a dog is by engaging in as much exercise as possible. Exercise helps release feel-good chemicals in the brain. Whether it's a game of fetch or a long walk around the neighborhood, keeping your dog active can make a world of difference.
- Mental Stimulation: Dogs aren't just about physical activity; they need to exercise their brains, too! Engaging in entertaining activities can help fight off feelings of sadness. This is where toys and games, especially puzzles that hide treats, come into play. They get your dog thinking, "How can I get that tasty treat out of there?"
- Social Interactions: If loneliness is the cause of your dog's depression, having more social time can be a big help. It could be playdates with other dogs or simply spending more time cuddling and chatting with them. Yes, talking to your dog counts as social interaction, too!
- Sensory Stimulation: Leaving some calming music on can soothe them. You can also create a little treasure hunt by hiding treats for them to sniff out. Different textures for them to touch, like plush mats or toys, can also be intriguing.
- Positive Reinforcement: This is all about rewarding your dog for the good stuff they do. Did they play well? Did they eat their food or show interest in a toy? Give them a pat, a treat, or some verbal praise. Celebrating these small victories will make your dog feel loved and valued.
- Short Training Sessions: Training isn't just about teaching commands; it's also a fantastic bonding time. It gives your dog a sense of purpose while boosting their confidence. Plus, it's a great way to increase their mental stimulation.
Contact Your Veterinarian in Cases of Persistent Depression
If you've tried all sorts of remedies, yet your dog still seems down, heading to the vet is a smart move:
- Checking for Illnesses: Sometimes, what looks like depression is a sign that your dog is unwell. The vet will perform a thorough check-up to determine if the mood change is caused by underlying physical conditions.
- Medication Options: There are some medications your vet might suggest for dog depression, including Xanax, Valium, Trazodone, Paxil, and Prozac. Make sure that your dog is healthy overall before jumping into any medication. Human drugs, even if they sometimes help our canine friends, should only be given under the supervision of a vet.
- Natural Alternatives: If you're not keen on giving your dog traditional meds, there are other paths to consider. CBD, for example, is becoming a popular natural remedy to help with anxiety and depression in pets without the side effects of heavy-duty drugs! Sometimes, changing proteins in the diet to something a bit warmer gives the body a boost of energy!
Choosing a Proactive Approach to Canine Depression
While we can't predict everything that might get our furry friend down, there are ways to help keep their tails wagging.
Exercise and mental stimulation are the backbone of preventing depression in dogs. Keeping your dog active isn't just about physical health; it's a mood booster, too! Setting aside time for walks, playtime in the backyard, or even fun indoor games can make a massive difference in their mood. And, if you're walking, switch up your routes now and then. New sights and smells can be super exciting for your pup!
But it's not just about running and playing fetch. Giving your dog challenging toys like puzzle feeders will keep them engaged. Training sessions, too, aren't just about learning new tricks; they're about bonding and making your dog feel accomplished.
Sometimes, you must leave your dog alone for a while due to work or other commitments. If that's the case, consider ways to make their alone time less lonely. Leaving a toy or even an item of your clothing can help. Your scent on a sweatshirt or blanket will comfort your pup.
And if you're gone for longer periods? You have options like doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker to provide social interactions and playtime, ensuring your dog isn't just lying around waiting for you.
A Depressed Dog Asks for Attention and Stability
Various physical, mental, and emotional causes might affect your dog's emotional state. This mopey behavior is your dog's way of communicating their feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. However, as long as our furry pups get all the attention they need in a loving, steady environment, they'll naturally bounce back to their jolly good selves in a heartbeat! For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!