Could Your Dog Be Depressed?
While dogs don't experience depression the same way humans do, here's how to cheer up your pup.
You notice your dog is lying around, not playing, and not even eating with his usual gusto. Could he be depressed? To help your dog, you need to look at why he is feeling sad and then come up with solutions to turn his spirits around. The next steps will vary with every individual dog and his situation.
Dog Dogs Truly Get Depressed?
The answer is yes, but luckily dogs tend to have short-term depression, not the long-term serious condition that some humans battle. For dogs, the mental slowdown is usually related to loss of a family member (human or animal) or a major change in lifestyle.
Certainly the death of a longtime companion can upset many dogs. When my English setter died, my German shepherd dog howled almost nonstop for 2 days. She was mourning the loss of her friend but also depressed and not acting like her usual self.
Because they tend to live "in the moment", dogs generally recover faster from depression symptoms than humans who can have recurrent long-term cycles of depression. Even so, some dogs, such as a dog who loses their home due to the death of an owner and gets placed in a shelter, can suffer severe and long-term depression.
Signs of Depression in Dogs
Common symptoms of depression in dogs include:
- Lack of interest in their favorite activities
- Spending much more time sleeping or lying quietly
- Loss of appetite
- In severe cases, they may stop eating and drinking altogether
Sometimes, a depressed dog may also choose to go off into a quiet corner and not interact with the family or other pets in their normal way. The signs and behaviors you see in a depressed dog can also fit with a number of different health problems. So even if you think your dog is simply depressed, it is always a good idea to have a check up with your veterinarian to rule out other illnesses. While it is unusual for a dog to die from depression alone, if your dog has a chronic health condition such as diabetes, not eating could contribute to a life threatening situation.
What Causes Depression in Dogs?
Dogs become highly attached to their families, both human and animal. The loss of a companion they played and slept with can be devastating. Many dogs have close relationships with other dogs or even cats or other pets. Losing a buddy means no one to play with, run with, or curl up with.
Loss of a beloved human is even more upsetting. Dogs develop very strong feelings for their people. It goes beyond the fact that the person feeds them and walks them. They defend people and choose to hang out with their favorite people. Dogs are definitely part of the family, and they feel that way about you, too.
Dogs can also become depressed if their life situation changes. A dog who is used to running in fields every day or having a big yard to play in may become depressed if he now has to live in an apartment with shorter daily walks.
How Can You Help Your Depressed Dog?
Make a list of your dog's favorite things. This is a time when you can spoil him without (much) guilt.
If the loss of an animal companion is part of the reason for your pup's depression, it might be worth considering if a new pal could help. Take this approach with caution, however! It can be difficult to find another animal that your dog will bond to. If your dog is a senior citizen, a wild puppy might rejuvenate him—but it also might irritate him and cause him to withdraw even more. Consider fostering any new fur siblings before making it official, so you can see if your dog likes the potential new family member and enjoys having the extra set of paws around the house.
That said, a new puppy was just the ticket to help my dog! Cyrus was still young and adding a puppy gave her a playmate as well as a companion.