Everything You Need To Know About Depression In Dogs

How to get her out of a funk 💕

If your pup’s acting sad all of a sudden, you might be wondering if dogs can get depressed.

The idea that dogs can get depressed might seem crazy at first, especially considering the fact that dogs are seemingly always happy, and people who suffer from depression actually get dogs in order to help manage their own depression.

But dogs actually can get depressed. In fact, your dog’s emotions are more similar to a human’s than you might have initially thought.

The Dodo reached out to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with Spirit Dog Training, and Dr. Jonathan Roberts, a veterinarian working with Pet Keen, to find out more about depression in dogs.

Can dogs get depressed?

Dogs can feel a ton of emotions that people do, and depression is no exception. “Like humans, dogs can suffer from depression and anxiety,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo.

Major changes or traumatic events in a dog’s life — for example, a loss of a companion animal or owner — can trigger signs of depression.

The most common reasons for depression in dogs include:

  • Boredom
  • A physical illness
  • Grief
  • Moving
  • Picking up on human emotions

“Changes in their life, such as a move to a new house, new companion pet or owners having a baby, can affect dogs’ emotions,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Also, significant changes in your dog's daily routine can trigger depression — like you going back to work in the office after being home with your dog for over a year.“Depression in dogs is so far poorly understood and studied, yet I do believe it can be just as complex and multifactorial in dogs as it is in humans,” Dr. Roberts told The Dodo. “Depression can lead to severe physical illness if not picked up [on] early; however, there are ways to detect depression and treat it accordingly.”

Is my dog depressed?

When it comes to your own pup, you’ll want to know the signs of depression in dogs.

“Clinical signs your dog may be suffering from depression are similar to
those seen in humans,” Dr. Wigfall said.

It’s important to note that the signs of depression in dogs are very similar to symptoms of a variety of other health problems, so your vet should rule out any medical issues before trying to treat her for depression.

“If you suspect your dog is suffering from depression, always have them assessed by a veterinarian to make sure there is no underlying health issue,” Dr. Roberts said.

The most common warning signs of depression in dogs include:

Changes in appetite

One of the early signs of depression is a change in appetite — your dog might be totally overeating or she may not eat at all.

”Depressed dogs will mostly suffer from a loss of appetite, while others may see food as a comfort blanket and start eating much more,” Dr. Roberts said.

If extreme weight loss or gain is noticed in a short period of time, your dog may be suffering from depression

Excessive sleeping

Similar to humans, increase in sleeping hours and lack of motivation to get out of bed is a symptom of depression, according to Dr. Roberts

Avoidance of family members (humans and dogs)

A dog who suddenly prefers to spend time alone and wants to avoid interacting with humans or other animals in the house might be suffering from depression.

Loss of interest

“Activities that previously were well-loved by your pet, like walks, playtime or treats, are now no longer interesting,” Dr. Roberts said.

Paw licking

Dogs will lick their paws (specifically their front paws) as a way of self-soothing. So if your dog is feeling sad, she might lick her paws to get herself to feel better.

Behavior changes

“Laid-back and docile dogs may suddenly show signs of aggression or vice versa,” Dr. Roberts said. So if your chilled-out dog is suddenly nipping at you, or your usually reactive dog could care less about the doorbell ringing, there could be a problem.

How to help a depressed dog

It is important to establish the changes seen in your dog are not due to another clinical disease or issue. So if your dog shows any signs of depression, it is first important to get a full health check by your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian can also recommend a treatment plan to help your depressed dog, which might include some lifestyle changes or even prescription medication, depending on the severity of your pup’s symptoms.

Here are some common ways to help a depressed dog at home:

Give her more attention

Ways to help your depressed or anxious pet can include offering her more
attention, especially if a lack of attention is what’s causing her depression in the first place.

If more interaction results in happy behavior from your dog, such as a wagging tail, reward her for that behavior so she keeps it up.

Keep her active

Try to keep your dog active by taking her on her favorite walks and spending time playing with her favorite toy.

“The release of feel-good hormones during and after exercise in humans is well-documented and applies to dogs,” Dr. Roberts said.

Aside from making sure your pup is physically active, you’ll also want to stimulate her mind. You can try using puzzle toys and interactive games, which can help get her feeling like herself again.

Try an interactive puzzle from Amazon for $14.32

Stick to a routine

Dogs already thrive off of a schedule, but this can be even more important to help pull your pup out of her funk. Knowing exactly what’s coming (and having no scary surprises) helps your dog feel secure and confident about what’s expected of her.

“Stick to a strict daily routine, e.g., feeding, walking and playing at similar times every single day,” Dr. Roberts said.

Consider getting her a companion

If your dog is depressed because of the loss of her furry sibling, getting her another one might be just what she needs to feel whole again.

You should only consider this option if you’re confident your dog will thrive having another fur sibling around, though, since not all dogs will be comfortable with a roommate.

Depression medication for dogs

While prescription antidepressants for dogs do exist, they shouldn’t be the first thing you try. It’s also important to know that while they’re called ‘antidepressants,’ these medications are primarily used to treat different anxiety disorders in dogs.

However, if your dog isn’t getting any better from the above tips, your veterinarian might consider prescription medication if she notices that your dog’s depression is linked to anxiety.

“Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and antidepressants can be prescribed for anxiety, but these are considered last resort options if behavior and environmental changes are unsuccessful,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Antidepressants include medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and clomipramine (Clomicalm).”

Other antidepressants include benzodiazepines (like Xanax and Valium).Additionally, geriatric dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (which may contribute to their emotional health) may benefit from selegiline (a medication commonly used to treat cognitive dysfunction syndrome).

If you think your dog is depressed, reach out to your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist in order to get her the help she needs to start feeling like herself again.

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