Depression in Dogs and What To Do About It

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    Dogs can’t tell us how they are feeling and whether they are in pain, either physical or emotional. Sometimes, certain conditions are more fairly obvious due to the symptoms shown or physical changes. But, emotional pain in dogs can be a different story. In dogs, depression can be hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

    What are the Signs of Depression in Dogs?

    Symptoms of depression in dogs vary per dog as well as depending on the severity of the depression. When dogs are suffering from depression, they will usually have a change in body language with people and other pets. They might also show signs of decreased appetite, lethargy, and acting sluggish. A very common reason owners think their dog has depression is due to not being as playful and not eager to take part in their usual activities like going for daily walks or going to the park. They might also lose interest soon after starting an activity.

    Photo Credit: AMR Image/Getty Images

    Make Sure Something Else Isn’t Going On

    The signs of depression in dogs similarly align with other physical conditions. For example, lethargy and loss of appetite are also symptoms of Immune-mediated Polyarthritis and Septic Arthritis. If a dog is showing any signs of abnormal behavior, it’s important to have them checked out by a veterinarian to rule out any physical conditions going on that need to be treated. Sometimes, chronic pain they may be suffering could also be causing the signs of depression. 

    Usual Causes of Depression in Dogs

    Dogs can develop depression just like humans can. It can be something they are predisposed to due to the chemicals in their brain or it can be triggered by a life-altering event. Dogs have been known to go into depression when another pet in the household or owner has passed away, there has been a big move or just a general lifestyle change. For the lifestyle change, an example might be that you go back to work in an office after working remotely for 2 years. 

    If a dog is showing signs of depression, it’s imperative to look back on any major life or environmental changes in their life and your household. That might just be the clue you need to get to the bottom of the cause and start working on treatment. Depression is more often than not, context-specific.

    Common triggers of depression in dogs may include: 

    • Chronic pain
    • Physical or emotional trauma
    • Grief from the loss of a loved one or another pet in the household
    • Environmental changes like moving, rehoming or introducing a new family member such as a baby or pet
    • Not enough physical or mental stimulation

    Many dogs who come out of horrible situations like hoarding make up some of the most severe cases of depression. But in the end, the whole concept of emotional pain for dogs is still being discovered and studied as there are dogs who seem to be given the best care, with no emotional trauma and plenty of physical/mental stimulation and still suffer from depression which is often a result of genetics. There could also be trauma in your dog’s life that you don’t know about if you adopted them later on in their life. Extreme anxiety can also result in certain behaviors that lead to depression.

    What is the Treatment for Depression in Dogs?

    When it comes to treating depression in dogs, it can be important to find the actual trigger of their depression. If you can pinpoint what changed in their life, you may be able to make some changes to help your dog. For example, if they lost an animal companion, a new one might help. If you had to go back to the office, you could try having more special bonding time with your dog. 

    If the depression is more of a long-term issue with no identifiable trigger, they may need extra help that you can’t provide on your own. It is suggested to get advice from a dog behavior specialist who may also recommend prescription medications (just like with humans). Prescriptions are usually only given to improve the dog’s quality of life. 

    Also, many dogs who have this long-term depression may have the inability to learn new behaviors or have a negative quality of life due to it and prescription pharmaceuticals may help that. Some triggers may also be unavoidable. For example, a dog who has severe thunderstorm anxiety and lives in an area that has constant thunderstorms can slip into a depression and medication may be the only thing to really help. 

    Overall treatment plans aren’t just pharmaceuticals but also environmental management and behavior modification instead of just one of these three options by themselves.

    If you think your dog is suffering from depression, you may want to visit the vet or you can find a behavior specialist near you in our specialist directory! 

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