Signs of Mental Illness in Dogs

By Shelly Volsche

The signs, symptoms and treatment for human and dog mental illness are amazingly similar. Perhaps he is playing less, sleeping more, has a decreased appetite or simply doesn't seem as interested in daily life. (reference 1)

Depression and Anxiety

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of depression in dogs include:

  • Changes in appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Reduced activity.
  • Withdrawal from social interaction.
  • Refusal of water or treats.
  • Excessive shedding.
  • Sudden changes in behavior.

Anxiety in dogs also presents with similar symptoms as seen in humans. While some anxieties are based upon mild, learned fears, more extreme cases, such as separation anxiety, are true mental illnesses that require veterinary and behavioral intervention.

General anxiety symptoms in dogs include:

  • Trembling.
  • Withdrawal or hiding.
  • Attempts to escape.
  • Self-injuring behavior.
  • Diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Reduced activity.
  • Destructive behavior.

Separation anxiety in dogs is akin to a panic attack, marked by extreme behaviors such as urination, coprophagia (eating feces), chewing and attempts at escape. In the case of separation anxiety, these behaviors usually occur at or near exit points of the home. For example, dogs may chew on door frames or jump out of windows.

Home Treatment

If your dog's depression or anxiety is mild enough that he is not a danger to himself or others, home treatment may be an option. It is possible that depression will resolve itself once your dog adjusts to the recent changes in his environment. If this does not happen, increases in walks, play and training may help stimulate his mind and body, getting him back on track.

In the case of separation anxiety, timing is crucial. Be sure to visit your veterinarian to obtain a local reference for a qualified behaviorist. Together, these professionals can help design a treatment plan to help your dog.

Veterinary Intervention

If your dog's depression or anxiety persist, a visit to the veterinarian may be in order. Many of the same medications used for the relief of human symptoms are now in special formulations for dogs. Your veterinarian may also complete bloodwork to rule out potential underlying medical causes.

Depression and anxiety often go together. In many cases, dogs become depressed in response to anxiety inducing situations such as a change in home, loss of family member or new addition to the family.

Other Mental Illnesses

Dogs can also suffer from other mental illnesses. These include Alzheimer's disease (known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome), obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme phobias. The behavioral symptoms in all cases are nearly identical to those in people. These include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior.
  • Destructive behavior.
  • Aggression.
  • Disorientation.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Self-injury.
  • Sudden loss of training or bodily control.

If at any time your dog has a sudden change in behavior or symptoms persist for more than three to four days, seek the help of a veterinarian or certified behaviorist to determine cause and begin treatment.