Can Dogs Get Depressed?

puppy laying on its back

Can Dogs Get Depressed?

Just like humans, dogs can experience periods of depression for a variety of reasons. While you can never know exactly what is going on in a dog’s head, you know that your pet often communicates how they are feeling through body language and changes in behavior. There are a variety of reasons that your dog may experience canine depression, ranging from situational changes to medical imbalances.

Signs of Depression

Your dog can’t discuss their feelings with you, so you will have to be somewhat of a detective to determine if they are experiencing depression. If you notice that your dog’s behavior has changed in a big way, it may be time to investigate. Here are some signs that your dog may be experiencing depression.

Lethargy or Inability to Sleep

If your dog is sleeping excessively and doesn’t have the energy to do the things that they normally enjoy, like going for walks or chasing a ball around the yard, that could be a sign of depression. It is common for dogs to sleep for long stretches of time during the day. Dogs sleep an average of 12 hours per day, with puppies and senior dogs sleeping anywhere from 18-20 hours each day. However, those long sleeps are usually interspersed with bouts of energy. If you’re noticing more sleep than considered normal in a middle-aged dog, there may be something wrong.

Conversely, if your dog seems unable to sleep and is extremely restless, this can be a warning sign of depression as well. Unlike humans, dogs are usually very good at sleeping when they want to and typically wake up refreshed in the morning. So if your dog is not able to do that, you should take note.

Change in Appetite

Most dogs love to eat! If you notice that your dog is suddenly uninterested in food, or leaving more than usual left over in the food dish, they might be depressed. Additionally, if you offer your dog a treat and they are not interested, you may have cause for concern. Before you worry, consider if you have recently changed food brands, as this may cause your dog’s lack of appetite.

dog stading in grass field

Disinterest in Playtime or Interaction

If your dog is normally very playful, either with you or with other dogs, but suddenly doesn’t seem to want to play, you are looking at a potential case of depression. You know your pet better than anyone. If you try to interact with them in your regular way and they respond very differently, you will know that something is amiss. For example, if you take your dog to the dog park every day and they are excited to play, you should be alarmed if they no longer want to go. This disinterest in playtime could be a sign of depression.

Aggressive or Loud Behavior

If your dog suddenly starts exhibiting aggression, or growling or howling loudly, there may be a mental health issue at hand. Sometimes dogs vocalize their feelings through sound or seem to be reacting negatively to nothing, in order to let you know that something is amiss.

Hiding or Avoidance

Dogs will often seek out small spaces to feel secure and relax in, which may be perceived as hiding. But if your dog starts hiding away suddenly, or seemingly to avoid contact with you, there may be a deeper issue such as depression at play. Whenever fireworks go off in my neighborhood, my very large dog will attempt to fit under our bed in order to hide from the loud sounds. Hiding from an unexpected and loud sound is reasonable, but if you catch your dog hiding away for no good reason, there could be depression at play.

Just Like Humans

Symptoms of canine depression are very similar to those of human depression. When you live with a pet, you become very familiar with its behaviors. Even though your dog can’t tell you that they are feeling depressed, you will be able to tell through their behavioral signals.

Depression vs. Anxiety

Although depression and anxiety are mental illnesses that often go hand in hand, depression in dogs will exhibit itself quite differently than anxiety. While depression will be more commonly shown in inaction, under-eating, or isolation, anxiety can manifest in hyperactivity of all kinds. Here are some signs that your dog may be experiencing anxiety:

-Barking, growling, or pacing in excess

-Shivering or panting when it’s not hot

-Chewing or attacking furniture

-Peeing inside the house after being potty trained

-Escape behavior

-Licking themselves in excess or chewing on themselves

-Causing self-harm through chewing

If your dog is experiencing anxiety, these symptoms could eventually lead to depression. Or, your dog may already be feeling depressed in addition to feeling anxious.

dog tilting its head

Keeping an Eye Out

In general, you will be able to recognize when your dog is anxious through overactive, over-energetic, or harmful behaviors. You might see your dog exhibit one or more of these behaviors when you take them to the vet or when fireworks go off in your neighborhood.

It’s important to recognize the specific signs of anxiety in your dog. Like people, all dogs experience anxiety in certain situations. It only becomes problematic if they are experiencing extreme anxiety in everyday situations which should typically be comfortable for them.

As with humans, anxiety can increase depression or vice versa, so it’s important to stay aware.

Depression vs. Compulsion

Just like humans, dogs can also experience Obsessive Compulsive Behavior. It’s important to be able to identify the characteristics of Canine Compulsive Disorder, or CCD, so that you can differentiate it from anxiety or depression.

CCD is characterized by many of the same behaviors as anxiety, but it involves doing one or many behaviors to an excessive point that it interferes with a dog’s healthy day-to-day life. Examples of such behaviors could be drinking too much water in one sitting, tail chasing, or excessive licking. There is no need to worry if your dog is simply drinking a lot of water. You will know when the behavior reaches a compulsive level.

Underlying Causes of Depression in Dogs

There are a few different reasons why your dog might be experiencing depression. From a variety of obvious situational triggers to a basic chemical imbalance, depression can be completely understandable or completely random.

Chemical Imbalance

Sometimes, your dog can develop depression without any external or situational triggers. Just like humans, dogs can actually suffer from clinical depression, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Since the 1980s, it has been accepted by veterinary scientists that the brain and nervous system of dogs work in a very similar way to that of humans. There doesn’t always have to be a specific reason why your dog is feeling depressed; it could be due to a chemical imbalance.

Loss of a Companion Pet or Family Member

One common trigger of depression in dogs is the loss of a companion dog or cat in their home. You know how sad you feel when you have to say goodbye to a pet, so it only makes sense that a dog buddy would struggle with the loss as well. What makes the situation even more difficult is that there’s no way to explain to your dog what has happened to their friend. When their dog or cat friend disappears, they may be awaiting their return for a long time before accepting that they are gone. Furthermore, they might sense that you are feeling depressed from the loss, or that something isn’t right, which will put them further into distress.

Another thing that may trigger depression in your dog is the loss of a family member. This loss could be through death, due to a child growing up and moving away, or a divorce. There’s no way to explain these events to a dog, so they may experience some emotional distress as they grieve the changes in your household.

Seasonal Depression (SAD)

You may notice changes in your dog’s behavior throughout the different seasons of the year. Depending on your dog’s breed, they may love the cold weather and thrive in the snow. In contrast, your dog may not be suited for the cold dark winter months. Just like humans, dogs may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as Seasonal Depression. While it’s normal for both dogs and humans to feel a bit more lethargic in the winter, you should stay aware of the possibility of seasonal depression in your dog. If their behavior changes dramatically with the seasons, you may be looking at a case of depression.

Separation Anxiety and Depression

Your dog probably loves to spend time with you, and if there’s a drastic change in your day-to-day schedule, that may affect your dog’s mental health. For example, many people have been working from home during the pandemic. If your dog is used to being around you all day and then you suddenly start going into the office regularly, your dog may experience some separation anxiety, which could lead to loneliness and depression. Dog’s need interaction, and if your dog is left alone for the majority of each day, it’s likely that they will start to get depressed.

Treatments for Depression

If you’ve identified that your dog is depressed, there are a few different approaches to helping them feel better.

person holding dog's head in hands

Address the Underlying Cause

First, think about the possible underlying cause of your dog’s depression. Is it situational? Or is there some kind of chemical imbalance? If it’s situational, there are a few ways you can try to address the cause of the depression and help your dog feel better.

For example, if your depressed dog has recently lost a companion pet, you can allow them to play with the companion pet’s old toys or blankets. Veterinarian Technician Naomi Strollo suggests that the smell might bring comfort to your dog. This would also work with a missing family member.

If your dog is dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can try to make sure that they are getting outside as much as possible. It will benefit both you and your dog to spend plenty of time in the sunshine! Go for a walk, play in the yard, or at least open up all the windows in the house so that your dog can soak in some rays.

Dogs do need some level of interaction, so if you want to prevent your dog from becoming depressed, make sure you spend some time with them. However, if you have to spend long days at work, you could consider sending your dog to doggy daycare to ensure that they get enough interaction during the day. If you notice that your dog loves playing with other dogs, try taking them to your local dog park on the weekends to increase both their playtime and serotonin levels.

If you know that your day-to-day schedule is about to drastically change, and affect the number of hours spent with your dog, there are some steps you can take to ease the transition for your pup.

You can start small, leaving your dog home alone for an hour or two at a time so that they get used to your absence. Gradually increase your time away from the house, building up to a full day, so that the change does not come as a surprise and trigger anxiety in your dog.

Dogs Can Take Prozac

Sometimes, your dog is dealing with a simple chemical imbalance for no particular reason. In that case, or in any of the above cases, treatment with psychiatric drugs can help your dog feel better. Dogs need mental health care just like humans!

Dogs can safely take Prozac when prescribed by a vet. Prozac can help stabilize your dog’s mood and increase well-being. A low mood can be lifted by a simple increase in serotonin provided by this medication. Dogs on Prozac often experience a decrease in aggression, licking behaviors, and separation anxiety-induced behaviors.

Prozac can take 4-6 weeks to begin working, and may not work on every dog. It also will not be a magic wand to get rid of unwanted behaviors from your dog. You will still have to train and spend time with your dog to teach them the ropes of your home.

dog walking through field

Depression In Different Dog Breeds

Certain dog breeds are more prone to depression than other breeds. This is because certain breeds require more activity and engagement to feel fulfilled. If your dog is one of these breeds you’ll want to pay extra attention to their care to make sure that they are getting enough activity and stimulation.

Working Dogs: Border Collies and German Shepherds

Some dogs were bred for high-level jobs, meaning that they have a lot of energy, both physical and mental, that they will want to expel each day.

Border Collies are extremely athletic, and capable of working hard all day herding sheep without stopping. They are the workaholics of dog breeds and are happiest when they have a job to do or a problem to solve. For that reason, if they are left at home all day without any stimulation or ample exercise, they can easily become depressed.

German Shepherds are known for their intelligence, working with police and in Hollywood, but they were also originally bred as herding dogs. Much like Border Collies, they are not happy lounging around all day and would prefer some intellectual and physical stimulation for optimal mental health.

Hunting Dogs: Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds

While Spaniels and Hounds can be smaller in size, they are equal in energy to the Shepherds and Collies. These dogs were bred for hunting, and are happy chasing smells deep into the woods.

Cocker Spaniels desire companionship and can easily become depressed when they spend a long time away from their owners.

Hounds love to be on the chase. If you want to help your Basset Hound feel right at home, you can hide treats around the house and have your dog go on a scavenger hunt to find them. Games and tricks like these will help your dog stay active and happy.

dog resting its head on a persons knee

Labrador Retrievers

Labs are another breed of dog that are prone to depression. While known as one of the ideal family dogs, these pups are extremely intelligent and need a lot of exercise to stay happy. Make sure you’re giving your Lab enough responsibilities around the house if you want them to stay mentally healthy.

Human Depression vs. Dog Depression

Symptoms of human and dog depression are remarkably similar. If you or someone you love has ever suffered from depression, it won’t be too hard for you to recognize the same situation in your dog.

Interestingly, dogs can sense human depression, and can sometimes be very helpful in pulling humans out of their dark periods. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health”.

In addition to the physical benefits of regular walking and the hormonal boost from petting a dog, having a dog can also boost your feelings of self-esteem. This is because caring for dogs makes us feel useful.

Taking these lessons to heart, it’s easy to understand that dogs need the very same things: Exercise, interaction, affection, and feeling useful!

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