Can Dogs Get Depressed?: Understanding Dog Depression

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Sad Dog With Dog Depression Hiding Away Withdrawn

Are you concerned about your dog’s mood? Do they seem to be behaving differently, perhaps they have lost their appetite or are no longer interested when you call them for ‘walkies?’ If your dog seems to be battling with the blues, then it is quite possible they are suffering from dog depression. 

Dogs are able to experience a complex range of emotions that are similar to humans. Neurochemicals are substances in the brain that are responsible for regulating our emotions, from adrenaline and cortisol to the well-known dopamine. And, it may come as a surprise that your four-legged companion shares many of the same neurochemicals. Consequently, dogs can experience intense lows and feelings of depression much like people.

What Are The Signs Your Dog Is Depressed? 

If your dog is feeling particularly stressed, it will experience an influx of adrenaline and cortisol. While these substances increase, its levels of the ‘happy hormone,’ dopamine reduce. This can leave your dog struggling to boost its spirits. As our dogs cannot tell us they are experiencing these feelings, we have to analyse any behaviour and actions that may seem out of the ordinary. 

Dog depression will manifest itself within their eating and sleeping habits, as well as in changes to their normal interests, likes and dislikes. While depression can affect individual people differently, the same can be said about dogs. However, there are some common dog depression symptoms you can look out for to help you understand how your dog is feeling. 

If you are particularly concerned about your dog’s mood and behaviour, the first course of action is to arrange an appointment with your local veterinary practice. Seeking medical advice is recommended, especially, if you feel your dog’s health is at some level of risk. 

Dog Depression Symptoms 

Dog Suffering With Dog Depression

When your dog is feeling low, there are several symptoms you can look out for to help you determine if your dog is depressed.

Hiding

Don’t be alarmed by this sign, dogs are known to hide from time to time. If a dog lives in a busy household or experiences a scare, such as around Bonfire Night, it is common for them to seek comfort by hiding under a bed, for example. However, if this action has become a more frequent occurrence, then it can be a sign that something is wrong. 

Chewing/Licking Paws

Similar to hiding, licking or lightly chewing their paws is a soothing mechanism for most dogs. But, when this action becomes a necessity to calm your dog down, it is also a sign that they are unhappy. Similar to humans with nervous habits, chewing or licking a paw is a comparable response amongst dogs.

A Change In Appetite

Just as humans go off their food when something is on their minds or they are feeling out of sorts, it is natural for your dog to show similar behaviour. Changes in your dog's appetite can range from comfort eating and eating excessive quantities of food, to a complete loss of interest in their food. While it can be concerning when your dog is refusing to eat, it is important not to force food on your pup. Instead, we recommend seeking professional advice from your local vet. 

Withdrawn Tendencies

Quite a significant symptom of dog depression is a lack of enthusiasm and a clear display of disinterest in their favourite things. While it is common for a dog's energy levels to vary and develop as they grow older, if they suddenly stop wanting to play or go out on walks, suddenly something more significant is going on. Depression can present itself by numbing your dog’s emotions, they will struggle to find their normal excitement and generally appear disinterested in their surroundings. However, withdrawn tendencies can also be a sign your dog is experiencing side effects from other health issues.

Lethargy

Following on from its withdrawn tendencies, your dog may also show signs of lethargy. If your dog is sleeping more and is less inclined to respond to your presence, there could be a bigger problem at play. 

Behavioural Changes

Changes in your dog’s behaviour are anything that seems out of the ordinary for your pup. For some dogs, depression may manifest in them sleeping more; however, others may become increasingly restless. In some instances, a dog’s intense low mood may cause them to be aggressive, escape attempts and even more toilet accidents. 

As a dog parent, you know your dog best. If your dog is showing any of the above signs of depression or is acting differently from normal, it may be worth a trip to the vet to put your mind at rest. Remember, your dog will be communicating their dog depression to you through these new behaviours.

The Causes of Dog Depression

Many factors can influence a change in your dog’s emotional state, triggering a period of intense sadness. Dog depression can stem from feelings of grief towards changes to their home environments, including their social group and family circle. However, it can always result from stress, anxiety and fear, as well as a side effect of poor health and boredom. 

The following factors may help you understand why your dog has developed depression and a particularly low mood. 

Changes To Their Environment

Dog Suffering From Dog Depression From Boredom

The majority of dogs can be creatures of habit, and at their most content in a routine. When they know and are somewhat in control of their environment, dogs can relax and their confidence grows. If their home environment changes or undergoes transformations, such as building and renovation work, a dog can become uncertain. What once was familiar is suddenly less so, and with so many new smells in the house from the traffic of unknown contractors and materials, it can take them a period of time to adapt. Your dog may need more reassurance and encouragement to regain their routine, helping them to reestablish their safe space. 

Changes To Their Family

The bond between a dog and its owner is extremely strong. But, dogs are able to create prominent bonds with all members of their family. Consequently, when social dynamics change and the people in their families change, dogs are intensely affected. 

Dogs And Grief

When a loved one passes away, your dog will also experience grief, causing your dog to experience periods of sadness that may develop into dog depression. Dogs can grieve their owner or a member of the family, just as deeply as they can grieve another family pet. Their grief may not stem from a bereavement, however, dogs can feel sad from divorce, children leaving home and even changes in working patterns and home routines. To a dog, they simply cannot understand why someone they love and rely on for security and companionship is absent more or has completely left them.

Introducing New Puppies To Older Dogs

An older dog can develop depression when a new puppy is introduced. While your reasons behind getting a puppy may stem from wanting to provide a companion for your older dog, your dog may need a little time to adjust. Changes to your dog’s environment can be unsettling and the introduction of another dog will definitely require time.

Once your new and exciting bundle of joy has arrived, it can be difficult to ensure you are giving your older dog the same amount of attention. It is possible for your older dog to feel jealous and to experience a sense of loss for your love and attention. In situations where a dog struggles to come round to the new puppy, these feelings can easily develop into symptoms of dog depression.

Poor Health

If a dog is experiencing physical pain or frequent periods of illness, it is common for this to have an emotional effect on its mental wellbeing. Physical conditions can particularly impact your dog’s mood as most dogs love nothing more than playing, going on walks and generally being active. When these activities cause them pain and discomfort, your dog is likely to feel a sense of sadness and a sense of loss for these enjoyable activities. 

Fears and Phobias

In some cases, symptoms of dog depression can stem from underlying issues. Commonly dogs who have intense fears and phobias can also present signs of depression. For example, if your pup is sensitive to noise to the extent they have developed a phobia, they may live in a state of constant stress. Constantly worried about when the next loud noise will be, especially when they are home alone. The constant stress they experience can spiral into dog depression.

Boredom

With more dog parents having to make the move back to in-office working, our dogs are once again home alone for a few hours each day. Especially for working dog breeds, the lack of attention and companionship they experience during this time can cause them to feel bored.

While you can give your dog all your attention on their daily walks, it is tricky to keep your dogs entertained for every minute of their waking hours. Without other measures to keep your dog active and engaged in a range of activities, your pup may struggle to entertain itself. When a dog is severely bored for long periods of time, their sadness can quickly develop into additional symptoms of dog depression. 

Are Dogs Affected By The Seasons?

Dog Gazing Out Of Window

Some dogs experience periods of sadness and depressive tendencies that fall into sync with the seasons. When darker nights and wetter weather sets in during autumn, lasting until spring, it is common for dogs to feel the weight of their sadness. 

Dogs need exercise and stimulation to help them remain happy and healthy. Without these physical and mental needs, a dog’s well-being can suffer. During the winter months, the possibility for outdoor exercise and interaction with other dogs can be significantly reduced. Due to the weather and light levels, it can be difficult for dogs to achieve the stimulation they need each day. Without this, your dog may become withdrawn and bored, which can develop into bouts of dog depression as the season progresses.

Dog And Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

As dogs battle with this lack of stimulation during the winter months, it is possible for their sadness to be recognised in a similar way to the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that affects people. The cause of a dog’s SAD, however, often stems from the changes to their routine that the more weather causes. 

With winter months becoming wetter, it can be challenging for dog parents to provide the exercise their dog needs from walks and trips to the park. Moreover, as footpaths become muddier and temperatures drop, taking your four-legged friend out starts to become a chore. Instead of spending hours in the park playing fetch, dog owners cut down playtime so they can return home to the warm.

Cutting down the amount of time spent at the park and out walking reduces the interaction your dog encounters. The friends your dog has made throughout summer, are suddenly no longer there to play with. This lack of contact can further fuel your dog’s sadness and intensify dog depression.

My Dog Is Depressed, What Should I Do?

Cuddles With Depressed Dog

If you have recognised your own dog within the symptoms of dog depression, the first thing is not to worry. Now you have recognised your dog’s behaviour and been able to interpret it, the next step is to help your dog to overcome its low spirits.

There are many ways to lift a dog’s spirits, introducing new physical and mental stimulations that can help your dog reconnect with its environment. But, similar to people with depression, helping your dog overcome dog depression will take time and patience. However, with your continued love and support, your dog will get there. 

Recognising Your Dog’s Depression

You’ve already completed the first and hardest step, recognising your dog’s depression. The next thing you can do is conduct a general, dog-friendly mental health assessment. Answering the following questions will help you understand why your dog has developed depression and how the symptoms have been able to progress.  

To gain a better insight into your dog’s depression, you will be better equipped in providing your dog with the support they need. Ask yourself: 

  • What has changed in your dog’s life? This can be within their home environment or social group.
  • How much physical and mental exercise/stimulation does your dog get?
  • Are they getting the right amount and type of exercise and stimulation? Are you providing them with the opportunity to indulge in the activities they love?
  • How much contact does your dog have with you?
  • How much quality time do you have with your dog? 
  • Could your dog be bored? Is it possible to add in another walk, training session or playtime with your dog to counteract this?
  • Are there any underlying behavioural issues; for example, does your dog suffer from any fears or phobias that may be exacerbating their depression?

Once this checklist has been completed, you should begin to understand a bit more about why your dog is depressed, allowing you to implement new ways to combat the causes and alleviate the symptoms.

How To Help A Depressed Dog

Challenging A Depressed Dog With An Array Of New Toys

Firstly, it is important to resist the urge to shower your depressed dog with treats. Rewarding your dog for not eating their daily dog food or refusing to go out for a walk will only reinforce its depressed behaviour. Instead, the best way to help depressed dogs is to dedicate time with them, coaxing them to do stimulating activities and rewarding them with tasty treats for participating in healthy behaviour.

There are four specific ways you can help your dog out of their symptoms of dog depression, these are:

  • Affection
  • Entertainment
  • Exercise 
  • Food

Affection

All dogs with depression need to be reminded just how loved and appreciated they are, especially if they are grieving, feeling lost in their environment or being replaced by a new puppy. Whether work commitments or changes in the home routine are pulling you away from your four-legged companion, it is important to reaffirm its importance to you. Spending time with your dog, even if it is simply being near them helps them to know nothing has changed. And, of course, cuddles are always a must.

Entertainment

If your dog refuses to engage in walks and is reluctant to go outside, there are a number of activities you can do to encourage your dog to interact indoors. Puzzle-solving toys are a great way to stimulate your pup mentally while giving them something new to explore. Then, once you have sparked their interest, these toys can keep them entertained for hours on end. 

Exercise

Similarly, indoor-friendly softballs are another way to encourage light exercise through playtime sessions. If you show interest in a new toy, your dog should eventually become intrigued, coming over to investigate. This process may take a few days or longer for your dog to come around; however, by allocating time each day to these activities, you can start to create a new routine for your dog. When your dog is feeling more engaged and confident, reintroduce walks that take them to their favourite places. Along the way, allow them to socialise with their fellow dogs, as these interactions can greatly enhance their disposition.

Food

To reward healthy behaviour, the treat you offer your dog can also be another way to help them reconnect and discover their enthusiasm. Treats should account for 10% of a dog's diet, accompanying their nutritional daily dog food; however, these snacks can still be new experiences. Try introducing your dog to new and healthy fruit and vegetables, allowing them to explore different tastes and flavours.

Medical Treatments For Dog Depression

It is important to reiterate that if your dog is depressed as a side effect of another medical condition, you must get your dog booked in at your local veterinary practice. A medical professional will be able to advise what course of action is appropriate for your dog’s specific situation. 

If you have tried the above techniques and your dog is still disinterested and down, a specialist vet may be able to offer medication to help lift your dog’s spirits. Of course, if you are concerned, arrange for a professional appointment to discuss your dog’s depressive symptoms.

Bouncing Back From Dog Depression

With a little perseverance and patience, you can help your dog bounce back from its dog depression. Most dogs experiencing sadness simply need a helping paw to reassure them that everything, regardless of the cause of their depression, will be ok again.

When rewarding your dog for interacting in activities and displaying healthy behaviour, why not treat them with our healthy dog treats? Get your delicious Taster Pack of Bug Bakes today. 

Do you want to learn more about your dog's behaviour? Check out some of our other articles below:

Why do dogs eat grass? What fruit and vegetables can dogs eat? | Why do dogs tilt their heads? | 5 tips to resolve separation anxiety with your dog

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