6 min read

Do Dogs Get Depressed Just Like People?

Here's how to tell if your best friend's really blue.

One of the trickiest parts of being a dog parent is knowing exactly how our pet is feeling at any given time. Sure, we know our dogs love us, and when they wag their tails and lick our faces, we know they're happy to have us around - but what about when our dogs aren't happy?

We know the signs for when our pet is excited or hungry, but it can be harder to tell when a dog is feeling down. Can dogs actually get depressed the same way humans can?

"It's difficult to know for sure whether dogs experience depression the same way we do, because they can't tell us how they're feeling," Dr. Jill Sackman, a senior BluePearl clinician, told The Dodo. "However, there is research that suggests that dogs are capable of many of the same feelings as humans, including depression."

When a dog is depressed, his body language and behavior will likely be different from when he's feeling happy and lively. A depressed dog might tend to sleep a lot, have a lack of appetite and be reluctant to engage with his owner. Of course, many of these could also be signs that a dog is experiencing some sort of medical issue, so it's important to get your dog a full checkup first before making any assumptions.

There are several reasons a dog might be suffering from depression. Chronic pain that isn't being dealt with can weigh heavily on a dog's emotions, and dogs who have just lost an owner or a pet sibling are also susceptible to depression. Even something as simple as a new baby or new pet in the house can cause a dog to feel depressed. It all depends on the dog and how they cope with things.

Sometimes, a dog can even become depressed because her mom or dad is depressed.

"Dogs are very perceptive of their owner's moods and behavior," Sackman said. "So if you are feeling sadness or grief, your dog may be picking up on your behavior changes and acting differently as a result. Dogs are really good at picking up on when we're not feeling well."

Luckily, there are ways to help your dog move past his depression, and they don't all involve medication.

The best way to treat depression in dogs is to engage them more. Taking frequent walks, initiating more playtime or even just spending more time together can help bring your dog out of his depressive state.

"More social interaction is good for a dog's emotional and physical health," Sackman said.

If a little extra TLC isn't working, you can talk to your dog's veterinarian about possibly putting him on medication. Dogs can actually take some of the same medications to treat depression that humans do, such as Zoloft and Prozac. However, you should never try to medicate your dog without consulting his veterinarian first.

Depression is a terrible and lonely thing for humans, and we can easily express our feelings to each other. It must be so much more daunting for dogs to deal with when they can't even tell us how they feel. It's important to pay attention to the body language and behavior of our pets, so that if they're feeling sad, we can help them as quickly and as best we can.