Depression in Dogs – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments & FAQ

Depression In Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Like us, dogs can too feel depression. Whether it be genetics, circumstance or even environment, their mood can struggle and so can their happiness. However, depression in dogs does not manifest itself in the same way ours does. In the same manner that a dog will show distress through different behaviors such as displaying the whites of their eyes, the way depression is displayed is different as well.

Whether you are a breeder or an owner, you need to be aware of how this mental condition shows itself as it can deeply affect a dog’s standard of life. By being able to recognize the physical and behavioral symptoms of dog depression, you can treat and aid it.

What is Dog Depression

Dog depression is biologically the same as human depression, but the way dogs display it is different. Depression is not simply a bad mood or brief sadness, but persistent sadness that lasts for weeks or months which affects behavior in different ways.

As there is no one cause for depression, it cannot be summarised to have one biological explanation. Two possible and common biological reasons for depression include an imbalance of the chemicals serotonin and dopamine. These are either processed too much, too little, individually or combined, and our bodies react negatively through depression. However, depression may not always have a biological input at all.

But how is dog depression different from humans? And how can we recognize it as opposed to it being pain? Dogs will become withdrawn, lethargic, often not interested in engaging in play, walks or even eating. Some may manifest depression through extreme anxiety or even aggression. This wide range of symptoms makes it difficult to diagnose and it is often found through a process of elimination.

After a vet health check, understanding that the dog has no physical pain and evidence of behavioral change, depression can be concluded by a vet or behaviorist. Furthermore, as changes cannot take place overnight, owners may often eliminate depression as a cause because they have attempted to engage their dog for a while. Unfortunately, this is a lengthy process with a lot of work required to make a significant difference.

Why Do Dogs Get Depressed?

In order to aid depression, it is first important to understand where it originated from. These are the main causes of depression in dogs.

dogs feel depressed
Dogs can feel depressed.

Change in Environment

A change in environment can be a stressful time, even just a new person moving into a home can lead to a dog becoming depressed. New people and a new environment can lead to instability, unpredictability and a change in routine. This can cause your dog’s mood to fluctuate and upset them deeply. Dog’s love stability and routine and when this is disrupted, it can lead to a negative mood change. They may not be fed on time, could wake up to you and other family members already leaving the home, perhaps your dog’s bed is located in a different area and they are confused. This leads to stress and mood change, a step towards depression.

Furthermore, a change in environment can lead to your dog being surrounded by different noises, smells and a home that isn’t normal to them. Sadness will take hold of them here and can easily descend into depression.

Loss of a Loved One

Whether it be an important person or pet in their life, dogs most certainly mourn. If you think of a time where you have lost someone, you know how strongly that pain can affect your mood and motivation. This is the same for our pets.

When a family member passes, human or animal, our dogs will miss their company. Perhaps they walked them, cuddled with them or played with them, regardless, they have to process that loss. Furthermore, we understand that the individual is gone and not coming back, a dog will not grasp this concept. This means not only are they mourning but also they may still be hopeful for their return. This requires dual processing and a lot of time for them to realize this person is not coming back. This can cause them to easily slip into a depressed state of mind.

Hormonal Imbalance

Hormones play such a crucial role in influencing our dog’s mood. During and after a pregnancy or in postpartum depression, a dog will often behave differently. This may mean increased signs of aggression or anxiety towards even their favorite person. This is because of their instinctual drive and hormonal influence, their main concern is their litter and physical protection, do not take it personally. However, these drives can also affect a dog to behave lethargically, avoid eating, moving or attempting anything of enjoyment such as affection, play or walks. Regardless of how their possible depression manifests, such as anxiety, aggression or minimal motivation, hormones in pregnancy can certainly lead to depression.

However, hormonal imbalances, although less common, can appear at any time in a dog’s life, such as an underactive thyroid. Sudden changes in hormones or even the hormones themselves can lead to mood changes and depression.

Illness

A cold can affect your dog’s mood, but an ongoing disease can affect their quality of life. Life-threatening diseases such as cancer require multiple treatments with severe side effects. Hereditary illnesses such as hip dysplasia can be painful and restrict movement, making enjoyable activities more difficult. Even contracted illnesses can lead to a dog feeling unwell and limiting what they are able to do. This limitation is what causes your dog to have a negative mood.

Further frustration and upset is usually derived from pain. Pain in itself is enough to make us feel angry and upset with human understanding. Dogs do not understand why the pain exists and when or if it will go away, the same for illnesses and their longevity. This adds towards frustration and hopelessness which further a negative mood into depression.

Phobia

When your dog has a phobia, they are unable to live a day without the worry of it. We may not understand it, but this terror can lead to them not being able to perform regular activities and will begin affecting their quality of life. For example, if a dog has a phobia of a hoover, they may struggle to be inside the house without fear. This means every moment of possible cuddles, eating, play, and sleeping is a time full of worry and waiting. Of course, these phobias need to be identified and dealt with by a behaviorist, but whilst the fear still exists, their worry and stress can develop into depression.

The depression from the phobia can manifest itself into negative behaviors. Aggression may be displayed in order for a dog to protect itself from its phobia. Anxiety is an attempt to escape and hide from its fears while inactivity is a sign of hopelessness, a common inducer of depression.

A Change in You

Dogs are a very empathetic species and are able to pick up on your general mood. If you have been feeling negative for a while, there is a chance your dog has sensed that is feeling similar.

Dog depression may originate because you are not engaging with them how you used to. For example, you may have used to walk them for an hour a day and play with them in the evening. Now that your mood has changed, even if you are still giving your dog everything they require, it may be clear to them you are not going the extra mile. Or it can be that your dog has lost motivation as they can sense you have too. Our furry friends understand emotions very easily and will often mimic what we display.

Symptoms of Depression in Dogs

Although there are many symptoms of depression, these symptoms also exist in many health problems. Never conclude that your dog has depression without the input of a veterinarian. Let them examine your dog to eliminate other health problems first before you implement treatment.

Signs of canine depression.
Signs of canine depression.

Lethargy

It is normal for a dog to lie down and sleep a lot more than we do. However, it becomes a problem when they are uninterested in performing any other behaviors. Perhaps you have noticed their sudden reluctance to go out for a walk, or when they do, they walk very slowly and are eager to go home. It may also apply to playtime, they are uninterested in playing with toys even with a lot of encouragement. Lethargy can even span to mealtime, where your dog has little interest to eat and may even begin missing meals.

Lethargy may just affect how much sleep they require and not their sleep schedule, and that may be more hours than normal. It does not invalidate the possibility it is a symptom. If this issue remains constant and your dog appears to be surviving but not living, this is a common symptom of depression.

Change in Diet

Dog’s appetites can be affected when they are depressed, their appetite may increase or decrease, but much more commonly it is the latter. You will notice your dog slowly eating less, missing meals and even drinking less. This can be seen through every meal and even treats will begin to look less appealing to your pup. As time progresses, you may start to notice weight loss, dizziness, and fatigue. This can result in your dog sleeping more and becoming less interested in going outside on walks and getting involved in playing.

Watch how much food is being left in your dog’s bowl each morning. There is a possibility they have a toothache, do not enjoy the food or are even being fed too much. If their appetite is decreasing alongside the amount they are drinking, this usually is a sign of depression.

Change in Sleeping Patterns

This is not just simplified to your dog sleeping more or less. They may sleep halfway through the night and then sleep more during the day. It can also be seen for them to sleep only an hour at a time and wake up regularly. A normal sleeping pattern for a dog is sleeping 12 – 14 hours a day with the majority of this at night as they are in fact diurnal, meaning they sleep at night. If they are napping more or struggling to sleep during the night, this may be a sign that something is wrong.

A dog napping is not an automatic sign of worry though. Dogs regularly nap during the day especially if they are young or old. It becomes a problem when their regular daily life is interrupted by their constant sleep or their nighttime sleep is interrupted by their daily naps.

Withdrawal from Fun Activities

Depression can install feelings of fatigue and hopelessness in your dog. These can lead to them having little interest in play or walks. Activities that would usually excite any dog. You can shake your dog’s lead, attach it to their collars and even say the forbidden word “walk!” and they will not raise an eyebrow. Furthermore, they no longer care about play. Even their favorite toy and lots of excitement to try and interest them will not. They may even stop initiating play and not go up to or try to play with any of their toys.

But how can you tell if this is a depression symptom or tiredness? Depression is persistent and so are the symptoms until treatment is implemented.

Anxiety

Anxiety can often be confused with stress, but there are key differences. Stress is directed from a one-off situation and will pass, anxiety is a general apprehension that can be worsened by particular scenarios and environments. Anxiety can present itself in the form of behaviors like urination or defecation inside, excessive vocalizations, and destructive behavior. Initially, we may be frustrated by this, but if we track the reason why negative behavior happens, we can treat it.

After time anxiety can develop into aggression. In a situation where a dog used to whine, they now growl. This progression shows increased levels of unhappiness and often a higher level of depression.

dog depression linked to human depression
Canine depression can mirror the owner’s feelings.

Dog Depression Remedies

If your vet has not told you your dog is healthy and they also suspect they have depression, it is time to search for the appropriate treatment. Here are the top four recommended methods to aid your dog with their depression.

Give it Lots of Attention

Loneliness can often make your dog feel sad and then depressed. By giving them attention, they will feel loved, mentally stimulated and it can help to boost their mood. You have to be careful not to make too much of a fuss whenever they are sad as this could reinforce that they get attention whenever they are sad. Instead, try to provide attention more regularly generally, not only when they seem depressed. Cuddle them, play with them if you can attract their attention. If they are able to motivate themselves, training is a great way to make them feel better and accomplished. You can then reward them and this is another reinforcing behavior to cheer them up.

You have to be prepared to persevere with this, as one day of attention will not be enough to bring your dog back to their usual self. It can take weeks or months but you will slowly be able to see change and there will most likely be progress with patience.

Buy Another Dog

Be careful with this method, your dog being depressed should not be the only reason you buy another dog. However, they can help cheer up your dog, reduce their loneliness and play with them when you can’t.

Make sure you have the time, finances, spaced, and dedication for a new dog. Furthermore, check that your dog would actually benefit from a new dog. It may not be loneliness that is affecting them and may be a change of situation causing depression. Therefore, do not rush into this and make sure this is right first. If you feel this is the right situation, make sure the new dog is a perfect match for your current dog. Consider their behaviors, size, and demand. You do not want to buy another dog that only makes your first dog feel left out.

Seek an Animal Behaviorist

When in doubt, an animal behaviorist can confirm to you what is going on in your dog’s head. They will usually have a sit down chat with you, asking about their past and current behavior, what has changed and even vet visits. Next, they will observe your dog for a period of time and firstly confirm whether they agree that your dog has depression. Be completely honest with them so they can give you the true reason for your dog’s depression.

Next, they can tell you what treatment methods they think is best for your dog and their specific situation. Some may recommend daily routines, combined treatments, or even just a change of habits. Most importantly they can look at your individual situation and not give you a generalized plan which may or may not benefit you.

Music

Music played regularly can calm a dog and even aid depression over time. The University of Glasgow in combination with the Scottish SPCA researched this here and found dogs particularly enjoy soft rock and reggae.

Not only did the study find out that dogs each had their own taste in music, but that certain styles actually aided the development of positive behavior over time. So it may be worth creating your dog a playlist of reggae or soft rock songs to play daily. Make sure they are being played more than one song on repeat as this may cause them more stress. If you’d really like the playlist to be custom, start playing types of music to your dog, maybe one genre a day to see what they prefer and react most positively too. Be sure to be patient though, it may take weeks for your dog to start feeling more themselves again.

Medications for Depression in Dogs

Sometimes your dog’s depression may be biological or hereditary and the only treatment that can help is medical. Each of the four medication below have their pros and cons, let’s work through them now.

Prozac

Prozac is also known as Fluoxetine and is used for short term treatment until a situation can be improved or more natural treatments can be put into place. This is because it works very well but comes with numerous side effects. These can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Panic attacks and anxiety
  • Panting and drooling
  • Changes in behavior: Aggression, lethargy, restlessness, insomnia
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea

As you can see, this medication is not the best for every dog. Some will react well to it and some will not. If your dog is put on Prozac and they start to react negatively to it, take them off with vet advice and try a new medication. The dosage of Prozac is usually given in a 0.5 to 0.9 mg per pound of your dog’s weight. Your vet will measure out and give you the proper dosage.

Paxil

Paxil, also known as paroxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant. This means it prevents the reuptake of the chemical serotonin and can thereby prevent your dog’s mood from getting low again. Some of the side effects include:

  • Frustration
  • Sleepiness
  • Panting
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • A churning stomach and decrease in appetite

These are not pleasant side effects, but the severity is not as prominent as other medications. This is why vets may prescribe it in a much more long term use. Make sure to tell your vet if your dog is already on medication, as there are others that can interfere with Paxil. This drug is safe for your dog as long as they have no previous issues with their blood or blood disorders as it has been known to affect your dog’s blood from clotting as normal. It is given in 0.5 to 1 mg per pound of your dog’s weight daily.

Zoloft

Also known as sertraline, Zoloft is a selective serotonin inhibitor and prevents the reuptake of serotonin. It is safe for any dog as long as they do not possess any kidney, liver, or blood disease. Possible side effects include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea and Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness or Hyperactivity
  • Frustration

Zoloft is especially considered by vets for dogs with anxiety or aggression as it can be useful in minimizing these behaviors. Dogs with lethargic tendencies may be recommended for a different drug. The dosage for Zoloft is 1.25 to 2.5 mg per pound of your dog’s weight.

Amitriptyline

The drug amitriptyline works by increasing the serotonin and norepinephrine in your dog’s brain. This is to try and help elevate your dog’s mood biologically by providing what they do not have or have minimal amounts of. Here are some of the side effects:

  • Behavior changes: excitability, sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth and thirst
  • Dry eyes
  • Panting
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, and loss of appetite
  • Weak or stiff muscles
  • Seizures in dogs with epilepsy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Constipation

This medication can be considered one of the strongest but therefore has some of the stronger side effects. It is usually given in 0.5 to 2 mg per pound of your dog’s weight, twice a day.

dog depression (poster)
Depression in Dogs – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments & FAQ

Depression in Dogs – FAQs

So you can feel confident in your knowledge on dog depression, here is an FAQ composed of the four most searched questions regarding depression in dogs.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Depressed?

When your dog is not acting normally, this is the first sign they may have depression. Lack of appetite, lethargy, lack of interest, anxiety and even aggression can all be standalone or contributed symptoms of your dog’s depression. However, you need to make sure you are taking your dog to the vet before drawing the conclusion of depression. Many behaviorally and biological symptoms can originate from a disease or pain as opposed to depression. Once it is clarified that your dog does have depression, you can then begin to consider treatments.

How Can I Cheer Up My Depressed Dog?

The first step to cheering up your depressed dog is to figure out why they are depressed, then you can target the correct treatment. Did you recently lose a family member? Have you moved house recently? Any change in their normal routine may have caused them to develop depression. Furthermore, if nothing has changed in their life, then something may have changed fro them biologically. Once you have determined the reason for their depression, you can then find the appropriate treatment. Create a routine for those that don’t have one, provide those with mourning attention. If your dog is suffering biologically, as the vet whether they should be placed on antidepressants and which ones.

Will My Dog Get Sad If I Get Another Dog?

There’s no real way of telling that. Like humans, every dog is different and you need to judge yours to understand if it gets along with other dogs. If you find that your dog suffers from loneliness, perhaps you just lost another dog or your dog is just very sociable, it may be worth considering. However, if your dog has excess aggression, does not usually enjoy the company of other dogs or is not great at sharing your company, it is probably a bad idea.

Never rush into getting another animal though as this is more dedicated time, money and energy. Every dog deserves a good life and should not be bought on a whim.

Can a Dog Feel Suicidal?

Suicide is not really a concept a dog is aware of. However, depression and anxiety can reach a severity where your dog is self-destructive. They may self-harm which could include ripping their own fur out, chewing hard objects deliberately to the point of hurting their gums and teeth, scratching flooring until their nails hurt or even rubbing their body against sharp objects. This behavior requires a vet and behaviorist to intervene immediately as it is extremely distressing for you and your dog. Other forms of destructive behavior include not eating or drinking properly. Your dog may begin to lose weight and again, this will require a vet and behaviorist to aid.

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