Depression can be a serious problem for many people, but did you know that dogs can get depressed too?
In this guide, we explain how you can help your beloved pet get through a period of the blues and back to his usual waggy-tailed, tongue-lolling self!
What causes canine depression?
Prevention is much better than cure. So, if you understand what causes dog depression, you can perhaps take steps to prevent your pet from getting low in the first place.
Like most animals, dogs thrive on routine and are most content when they live in familiar surroundings with a regular schedule for important things like meals and walks.
Any major changes such as relocation, building work, or even simply remodeling your home can be significant stressors for your pet. You might even see changes in your dog’s behavior as he tries to figure out what’s going on and reestablish his feelings of security and familiar routine.
If you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue centre, well, good for you!
But rescue dogs can come with a host of psychological issues. First of all, your new pet will be accustomed to the sounds and smells of many other dogs around him, so if you have no other pets, your peaceful home is going to be a culture shock for him.
Also, you must allow your dog plenty of time to settle into his new routine and get to know you as his new human companion. Throughout this settling-in period, your dog may appear depressed and subdued, although he should quickly perk up once he’s found his feet.
Dogs form a very strong bond with their owners, and any changes to that social dynamic can have a dramatic effect on your dog.
Those changes can include major life events such as:
- Kids leaving home or starting school
- Bereavement (of a human member of the household or another pet)
- A member of the household returning to work perhaps after a long period of furlough or maternity leave
- The arrival of a new baby
- A new partner moving in to live with the dog’s formerly single owner
The dog’s human ‘pack’ is incredibly important to his security, so any changes here can be hard to handle. Dogs can experience feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and even jealousy, all of which can lead to depression.
Dogs are intelligent animals that enjoy having something to do. Working breeds, in particular, can suffer dreadfully from boredom if their owner is out at work all day, leaving the dog home alone.
Boredom can lead to many different behavioural problems, and one of these is dog depression.
Dogs that appear depressed can often be suffering from an underlying behavioral issue.
For example, dogs that are frightened by loud noises or suffer from separation anxiety can end up living in a constant state of stress, and that quickly leads to symptoms of depression.
The winter months can be especially difficult for dogs.
The long, dark days and inclement weather often mean shorter walks, less outdoor playtime, and more time spent in the house. That effectively means a change of routine for your dog that’s unsettling and akin to the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that can affect people.
That lack of outdoor time and exercise is especially difficult for working breeds that are genetically hard-wired to cover many miles every day, herding livestock, or partnering their owners on hunting expeditions.
Negative training methods
All dogs should be trained so that they are obedient and come to call. That enables the dog to be allowed to run off the leash where it’s appropriate and safe to do so and interact with other dogs and people.
The best way to train your dog is by using reward-based training techniques. Negative training methods that rely solely on continually correcting or punishing the dog can leave the pup feeling that he can never please his owner. Eventually, the dog will become quiet and withdrawn, not happy and full of fun.
If the dog is in constant physical discomfort, he will suffer from low mood and depression. In particular, watch out for chronic tooth or gum pain that can go undetected for months. If you notice that your dog’s mood has changed for no obvious reason, always have your vet check him over immediately
Is my dog depressed?
So, what are the tell-tale signs of depression in dogs?
Watch out for the following behaviours that are often a red flag for depression in dogs:
- Low activity levels
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Loss of appetite and interest in food
- Lethargy and sleeping more than usual
- Displaying signs of aggression or anxiety by occasionally whining or howling
- Excessive licking, especially of the paws and feet
- Not playing or interacting with other dogs
- Laying back or flattening the ears
- Regression in behavioral training
- Dogs that are sometimes depressed ‘forget’ about house training and relieve themselves indoors rather than asking to go outside
If your furry friend exhibits any of these signs, there’s a good chance that they are depressed.
When the dog is in heat?
During her heat, your female dog exhibits some fairly obvious symptoms. You will be able to see the many physical and behavioural changes she makes. When a dog is in heat, its behavior often mirrors that of someone who is depressed. Be sure to observe your dog carefully to determine what the problem is. When dogs are in heat, they can cause excitement, panic. Also, female dogs often bleed while in heat, and bloodstains may soil your house. Washable diapers for dogs in heat can provide comfort to your dog while keeping your house neat and tidy.
How to help your sad dog
Once you’ve spotted some of the signs that your dog is feeling down, it’s essential that you know how to get your four-legged friend’s tail wagging again.
Ask the vet
If there’s no apparent social or environmental reason for your dog’s sudden melancholia, we strongly advise that you have your pet examined by your vet to rule out illness or physical pain.
Give your dog more attention
Dogs are highly social animals that thrive on attention from their beloved human companions. So, make time every day to give your dog more of your attention, even if that’s just a few extra cuddles or a surprise play session in the backyard.
Just like people, spending time outside and enjoying more exercise can dramatically improve your dog’s mood. If dogs don’t get enough exercise and socialization, they can very quickly become bored, frustrated, and sad.
So, make time to get your dog out for a couple of walks every day or perhaps take him to the dog park where he can have fun romping with his canine chums. The activity will stimulate the dog’s brain to release serotonin and dopamine, ‘feel good’ mood-boosting chemicals that will put the spring back in your dog’s step.
Dogs are naturally highly social pack animals.
If you have an ‘only dog’, it’s crucial that you arrange for him to enjoy some social time with other canines. That could be through visiting the dog park, attending doggy training classes, walking with friends and their dogs, or booking your dog in at the doggy daycare centre for a few days each week.
Establish a regular routine
Perhaps the best cure for dog depression is establishing a regular routine for your pet.
Try to walk your dog at similar times each day, and make breakfast and dinner times predictable too. A stable routine is almost guaranteed to brighten your sad dog’s mood.
Dogs can suffer from low mood and depression just like people do.
If your dog shows signs of the blues, first have him checked over by your vet to make sure there’s no physical reason for your pet’s change of mood. If all’s well, try the tips recommended above to get that tail wagging again.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being.