Is My Dog Depressed?

If your pup just doesn't seem like her old self and your vet can't find signs of physical illness, it could be a classic case of canine depression. Though experts agree that depression among dogs is a very real condition, it's a difficult one to diagnose and study, primarily because we can't sit our pups down on a psychiatrist's lounge and discuss their feelings with them. However, we dog parents just seem to have a sixth sense about our canine kiddos, and if we suspect our dog is depressed, we should pay heed to those instincts and consult the advice of a vet. Below are some of the most common symptoms of dog depression as well the common causes and treatments. You'll find that the symptoms of dog depression are very similar to depression in humans—which proves that we have a whole lot more in common with our canine companions that you may think.

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We've also included links to where you can get more detailed information should you suspect that your pooch is battling the blues.

Signs of Sadness

• Behavioral changes - Any significant changes in demeanor can be signs of depression: from energetic to listless, from friendly/outgoing to aggressive or withdrawn, etc.

• Change in appetite - Both under- AND over-eating.

• Lack of Interest in enjoyable activities - If your dog used to jump up and wag her tail the second she saw you reach for her leash, and now she no longer bothers to lift her head, this could be a sign of depression.

• Physical clues of sadness - Look for a limp tail and droopy or pulled back ears.

• Change in sleeping habits - Either too much sleeping, or restlessness.

• An increase in "accidents" - Your housebroken, well-trained pup is having one too many potty "accidents" indoors

Common Causes

Just like in humans, the reason for a dog's depression can be singular or manifold, external (the result of unfortunate life events) or internal (a chemical imbalance). Here's a list of some of the more common causes:

• Absence of someone special - If someone has suddenly become absent from her life, your dog could simply be missing them. Stories abound of dogs undergoing a complete change of personality after the departure of both human and other furry family members.

• Loneliness - Is your dog spending too much time alone? As pack animals, being around others regularly is key to their health and happiness. If you find yourself leaving your dog alone day after day for hours on end, please find a way to remedy the situation.

• Neglect - Even if you DO spend time at home with your dog, if those hours are spent ignoring her (keeping her penned up, away from you), then she could be feeling neglected.

• Change of environment - You don't have to move houses for your dog's environment to change in way she finds significant. Even something as seemingly minor as getting rid of her favorite easy chair can throw off your dog's sense of security and cause sadness.

• Sadness by association - If you or someone in your household is suffering from depression, believe it or not, the blues may be rubbing off on your dog. This can happen because depression in humans often leads to animal neglect, as well as the fact that dogs are naturally attuned to the emotions of their humans.

• Seasonal changes - Both humans and dogs are susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—a mood disorder that causes someone to feel depressed during a certain season every year. Though people usually associate SAD with winter, some sufferers also experience it during the summer months.

• Physical illness - It could be that your dog's symptoms may be caused by both physical illness and depression—two things which often go hand in hand among people as well.

• Old age - Unfortunately, some dogs are prone to becoming depressed as they age.

• Clinical depression - Yes, dog, too can suffer from chemical imbalances which can lead to clinical depression.

Possible Treatment Options

Of course, proper treatment depends on figuring out what the root cause is--which, as mentioned, can be tricky so is best left to professionals. However, there are plenty of actions you can take that are beneficial for all dogs regardless of mood. You may just find that these simple, common-sense actions can do the trick. For example, make sure that your dog gets enough quality social time, physcial exercise, and mental stimulation. Shower her with TLC, though it's important NOT to heap affection on her when she's moping around. Giving her attention when she's in a depressive mood is effectively rewarding her for this behavior. Instead, be quick to offer her praise when she's showing signs of energy and engagement. Of course, for more targeted treatment options, you should always consult your vet. Though anti-depressant medication is sometimes prescribed to dogs diagnosed with clinical depression, this option is typically the last resort if all else fails.

For more information, please visit the following resources:
"Depression in Dogs" (WebMD)
"Is Your Dog Depressed?" (Pet360)
"Dog Depression" (Mental Health Daily)

By Maya M.