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Is My Dog Emotionally Distressed?

dog sitting in a living room surrounded by pillow fluff that they tore up from being emotionally distressed
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    Just like humans, dogs are just as capable of experiencing complex emotions and stress. A variety of lifestyle changes can lead to a dog’s emotional distress. It’s important to understand these signs so you are able to intervene and help to navigate your dog’s emotional distress as best as possible. Read below for signs of emotional distress in dogs: 

    1. Behavioral Changes

    dog sitting in a living room surrounded by pillow fluff that they tore up from being emotionally distressed

    There are a variety of behavior changes that may indicate your dog is experiencing emotional distress. Some dogs may show more signs of aggression that have not been previously displayed. Others may start participating in destructive behaviors including urinating and defecating in the house or chewing on furniture and other items. Another behavioral change to keep an eye out for is a decreased desire to play, go for walks, or engage in physical activity. In some cases, this may be a plea for attention, especially if a big life change just occurred such as a move, a new baby, loss in the family, etc. However, you may want to consult a veterinarian to eliminate any medical problems, especially if the issues cannot be attributed to any major life changes. 

    2. Changes in Eating Habits

    yellow lab holding a dog bowl

    Eating habits and changes associated are key to understanding your dog’s emotions. One of the major signs of anxiety and depression in dogs is a decreased appetite. A dog acting more hungry than usual or increased begging may be a sign of boredom, attention-seeking, or an emotional disorder. If health issues can be ruled out by your vet, be sure to give your dog extra attention and care to ensure they’re happy and enriched. 

    3. Changes in Sleep Patterns

    pug sleeping on the ground with tongue sticking out

    If your dog’s time spent sleeping has increased, they may be feeling bored, depressed/emotionally distressed. The average adult dog spends 12-14 hours a day sleeping, but take note of your dog’s usual sleep schedule as this varies on an individual basis. If your dog’s suddenly sleeping the entire day or acting restless, they may be missing you or feeling down due to a life change. 

    4. Body Language

    chihuahua sitting and showing signs of being emotionally distressed

    Your dog’s body language is a critical indicator of how they’re feeling. Signs of a stressed or upset dog include flattened ears, a tucked tail, a low bent neck, and downcast eyes. Shaking, hiding, pacing, and panting can also indicate that your dog is scared, anxious, or emotionally distressed. 

    5. Excessive Shedding

    pile of gray dog fur on the ground with a red grooming brush next to it

    Dogs often shed when put in stressful and anxiety-inducing situations such as the vet, car rides, and new places. This is because when your dog is stressed the primary stress hormone, epinephrine, which is basically adrenaline, is released. This stress response leads to the shedding of the hair. 

    6. Excessive Licking

    dog licking it's lips

    Licking is a natural behavior of dogs to a certain point. However, some dogs who suffer from stress or depression will excessively lick causing bald spots, sores, and even digestive problems. The act of licking increases endorphins in the dog’s brain which calms them while licking. Consult your vet to rule out any medical conditions as excessive licking may also be a sign of allergies or gastrointestinal issues. 

    7. Whining or Barking

    husky dog howling

    Whining or barking is a dog’s primary form of communication. This may increase when dogs are under emotional distress. If your dog is whining or barking while experiencing emotional distress, they may be attempting to get your attention or self-soothe. For some dogs, this barking/whining is an automatic response in a stressful environment. 

    8. Pacing or Shaking

    beagle outside shaking off water

    Many dogs may pace or shake when agitated or stressed because they simply can’t settle down. However, pacing can be a sign of dementia in senior dogs while shaking can be a sign of neurological issues. Pacing and shaking should be observed closely and discussed with your vet. 

    Dogs are able to communicate with us in a variety of ways. It’s important to familiarize yourself with your dog’s normal behaviors so you’re able to observe when they may be distressed. Keep these signs in mind when it comes to your dog’s emotional distress. If you think your dog may be experiencing emotional distress, consider contacting a behavior specialist from our specialist directory. 

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    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!