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Depression in Dogs

Picture of a sad looking dog

Pet parents are usually confident that they are aware of their dogs’ needs and that they meet them. What might they need more than fresh food and water, belly rubs, as well as regular exercise? However, many pet owners don’t realize that, like their human counterparts, dogs can also suffer from a number of emotional problems, including depression.

Dogs experience a wide range of emotions that range from happiness to sadness and even depression. Some of the signs of dog depression are quite similar to the symptoms shown by depressed people. Let’s look at these signs, how dog depression can be prevented, and how it can be treated.

Possible signs your dog is depressed

There are four very important signs that you should notice if your dog is starting to suffer from depression. We’ll start with these and then discuss other possible ones.

Any changes in your dog’s sleeping habits could be a sign. As many people know, dogs tend to sleep a lot, especially when their pet parents aren’t at home. However, if you leave your dog alone for a long time (when you go in for work, for example) and he or she continues to sleep once you’re back home without reacting to your presence, there’s something definitely wrong. If your canine companion doesn’t even react to you grabbing the leash and trying to get him/her to have a walk, you should be a little alarmed. 

Excessive chewing and licking is another possible symptom of dog depression. Many dogs that feel sad will lick or even chew their paws so as to try to soothe themselves. This can lead to a whole range of problems, one of the more important ones being acral lick dermatitis. This is a skin condition that is seen in dogs, and that is caused by licking one or even both legs. It’s a self-induced dermatologic condition, so it is very hard to treat because its cause is behavioral.

Loss of interest is another possible sign your dog is depressed. If your canine buddy suddenly loses interest in going for walks, playing, or other things that would normally excite him/her, take note of this. Dogs that become less active and seem to lose purpose could be suffering from depression.

Last but not least, any changes in your dog’s feeding habits are another thing you should look out for. If your dog starts either gaining weight or losing weight, and if he/she begins to refuse the treats that he/she normally loves, start paying more attention. 

Other symptoms can range from the possibility of the dog suffering from an undiagnosed medical problem to the animal feeling like he or she’s being ignored, not getting enough exercise, or a human or pet family member just passed away. It’s also worth noting that many dogs will become depressed if their pet parent is, as well. 

Other dog depression clinical signs: 

  • Aggression
  • Hiding
  • Being destructive
  • Wetting indoors
  • Dismissing commands
  • Not sleeping/sleeping too much
  • Growling
  • Howling
  • Biting
  • Responding poorly to affection

Triggers

Environmental changes are among the most important triggers of dog depression. Like many other animals, dogs get used to their living environments and mark their territory. If you have recently moved home, it might take a while for your canine buddy to become accustomed to the new place. During that time, he or she could become anxious or depressed. 

The loss of a companion, whether human or another animal, is probably the number one cause of dog depression. Dogs are capable of creating strong emotional bonds with their fellow dogs (and in some situations, even with other types of animals, or with their toys or blankets). The loss of a loved one takes a toll on everyone, no matter if they’re human or part of the canine family. 

Seasonal depression

Both humans and dogs change their moods as the seasons change. It’s widely known that people who live in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the Northern parts of Europe and America, have less exposure to the sun, and therefore, their bodies secrete less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential in regulating serotonin levels in the brain.

While they might not be the most important cause of dog depression (in cases where the dog has also lost a friend, is suffering from a change in the living environment, or spends too much time alone), weather and seasonal changes can still affect your dog’s mood. Supplementing your dog’s diet with some Vitamin D3 might do him or her a lot of good, especially at the onset of winter. 

Preventing depression in dogs

Luckily, there are many practical things that you can do to prevent dog depression. If, for instance, your dog can’t exercise as much in the winter, you can think about how you can increase the amount of mental and physical stimulation that he or she gets. Puzzle-solving toys are excellent when it comes to keeping your canine friend’s mind occupied. Plus, rewarding your dog when he/she gets the puzzle right is a safe way of increasing dopamine levels. 

Bringing exercise indoors is another good idea. You might want to attempt to create an obstacle course with cardboard boxes and soft furniture for the dog to chase through. You can also invest in an indoor-friendly ball for a game of catch right in your living room. 

There are also heaps of stress-relieving products currently available. You could use a plug-in pheromone diffuser to calm and ease your dog into change if you know that winter is coming, or you know that you’re planning to move to a new place. 

Treating dog depression 

First of all, get in touch with your vet. The inability to cope in a familiar environment or sudden behavioral changes can be signs of illness, but your vet will also check whether there are any actual physical problems affecting your canine buddy. If your dog has been cleared of any underlying issues, your vet could refer you to an animal behaviorist. Your dog’s mental health matters just as much as your dog’s physical health.

Here are some tips for helping depressed dogs.

  1. Keep your dog’s mealtimes the same, but spice things up once in a while

It’s quite important to offer your canine companion the food that he/she is used to, and if possible, at the same time every day. However, if your dog doesn’t have a particular interest in food right now, consider offering a tasty treat either for training or for dessert. Use your dog’s hunger to help your friend to get an appetite right back. Use food toppers, but avoid unhealthy ones. 

  1. Maintain consistent daily routines

Dogs feel like they are at their best when they know what to expect on the next day. Try to keep mealtimes, walks, playtime, exercise, bedtime, grooming, and any other activities on a set schedule. 

  1. Use natural remedies

There are some homeopathic remedies that can be administered to a depressed dog with ease until you start seeing an emotional shift. This could include CBD oil or Bach flower remedies.

  1. Get some sunshine

Dogs are animals that love the outdoors and nature, in general. This type of behavior is deeply rooted in a dog’s instinct, so depression can be linked to a lack of outdoor activity. Get your dog to go on more walks and play fetch in the yard or the park. If the weather is nice, both you and your canine companion will benefit from a little exposure to the sun. 

  1. Make friends

Take your dog to the park or get in touch with another friend who also has a dog. Bringing two dogs together can often lead to a boost in your pooch’s mood. If one of your dogs has recently passed away and the other is depressed, try convincing Fido to make new friends or at least socialize. 

  1. Be more affectionate, but be careful

You’re probably looking to comfort your depressed pet, but did you know that giving too much attention to a dog who’s displaying sad behavior can reinforce it? Give your dog a little more extra love, but make sure to fill his/her time with healthy and fun activities for positive behavior reinforcement. This means taking your dog for walks more often, offering a recreational bone or a food puzzle toy, or just playing with your dog a little more. 

  1. Be a little patient

If a dog has lost a companion or a pet parent, it might take some time for the animal to grieve and recover. This could mean several months. If there is no underlying medical condition, you just have to have some patience. Use the other pieces of advice that we have given you to make it better, but understand that only time heals a depressed dog’s wounds, especially if he/she lost a loved one. 

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