There is very little that we know about depression in dogs but we can say one thing for a fact. It is that dogs do get depression. When they are depressed they don’t feel happy and are unmotivated to do daily routines. So, let’s find out everything we can about depression in dogs.
Does My Dog Have Depression?
Dogs don’t have a complex mental capacity as humans but they can feel depressed. Their depression is very similar to our depression in the sense that they lose the will to eat, sleep, play etc.
It is different for different dogs. For instance, some dogs may stop showing interest in food while others will eat too much. Some dogs may feel restless and not be able to sleep while other dogs will sleep too much. On average, you may notice:
- Changes in their eating habits
- Changes in their sleeping habits
- Lack of interest in play and treats – depressed dogs won’t take an interest in learning new tricks
- Lack of interest in walks
- Spending time alone – just like humans depressed dogs don’t find interest in spending time with others, they prefer to be on their own. You may notice this when they don’t come to greet you when you come back home
If your dog is doing most of the things mentioned above, they may be depressed. However, the symptoms above can be a result of physical pain and other sicknesses as well. Hence, it is important to take them to the doctor and do a full physical examination so that you can rule out everything else.
Causes Of Depression
Dogs can be depressed for various reasons like:
- Addition of a new family member like a baby, dog, roommate, spouse etc
- Rehoming/Adoption – If you have adopted a new dog, they may be depressed for a short period
- Keeping them in a pet hostel while you’re gone for a vacation – dogs usually can’t tell if you’ve left them for a short period of time or if you’ve gone forever. So usually, when you come back from a vacation, they may be a little depressed but that resolves after a few days into normalcy
- Physical changes – age and weight gain can lead to depression in dogs too. Knowing that they can’t do the things they were earlier able to do before does affect them mentally
- Change in your schedule – You may be working at a different shift or a member who stayed at home for long hours, now doesn’t stay at home at all. They are perhaps being walked at a different time and aren’t meeting their dog friends. Even small changes in their schedule lead to changes in the smell of the atmosphere and walk buddies, which can make them really sad!
- Death of a loved one – this the most common cause of severe depression in dogs
The above situations can definitely spark depression however, the most common reason for dogs to get depressed is if there is a loss of a loved one. Whether it’s their canine companion or their human, dogs can understand loss. Sometimes they feel so lost that they may stop eating, sleeping and doing all the things that once gave them so much joy.
5 Ways To Help A Depressed Dog?
Once you have confirmed that your dog is depressed, there are some small things that you can do to alleviate them from their depressive state.
1. Excite Them
So, if your dog loves walks try to take them out more often. See what diverts their mind even for a small second. Some dogs love to swim and if the word makes their head turn even slightly, take them out swimming. Try to rekindle that excitement and help them enjoy life again.
2. Increase Interaction
This may be best in situations where they are sad because of your new schedule, or because you became a parent or got married etc. Take out time for them to resume training and give them the same amount of affection. This will help them understand that even if you are not there as much as you were before, you still want to spend time with them and you still love them.
3. Praise Them For Eating And Other Activities
If they aren’t interested in food, encourage eating by hiding a tasty snack in the middle of their kibble. Praise them for eating and give them a lot of love.
Some dogs start to wet the floor or poop indoors when they are depressed. So, when they poop outside to make sure to praise them like they are pooping outside for the first time.
4. Bring Home A New Pet
In case of dogs that are mourning over the loss of a deceased canine companion, you can consider bringing home another pet. A new dog will never replace the old dog but it will definitely help your existing dog to heal.
If you can’t bring home another dog, consider introducing them to someone else’s pet. With other people’s pets, you can choose one that best matched your previous dog in terms of their play style and personality. Arrange meetups and playdates to help them cope with the depression.
Finally, if nothing works, it is okay to give them antidepressants. Consider taking them to the doctor and talk about their depression at great length. Dogs don’t usually need to be dependant on anti-depressants all their life. Some dogs can be weaned off the medications after 6 months to 1 year of having it and they get back to a normal lifestyle.
Don’t Do The Following
While there are some things that you should be doing to regain normalcy, there are some things that are best to avoid.
Avoid Overdoing It
Remember that too much affection may make them needier and dependant. Give them love and affection when you notice good behaviour but not all throughout the day wherever you are with them.
Don’t Praise Them When They’re Sad
Remember that praising and treating reinforces the behaviour. This is why we always tell you to praise them when they are happy or when they did something good. Not when they are sad and alone.
We know that when you give them treats when they are sad, you are trying to uplift their mood. But they see it more as praise. Praising depressive behaviour will reinforce it.
Avoid Hugging Them
All dogs are different. Some dogs understand that hugging is your way of loving them and they may even tolerate it, some may even grow to like a few hugs, but most dogs detest hugs. Hugs make then feel trapped and may even exacerbate the anxiety.
Instead, you can stay in the same room as them or pet them to let them know that you are there for them.
Depression is hard to handle even in humansns. And it’s worse in dogs because they can’t tell you how they feel. But dogs are resilient and with the right amount of encouragement they can bounce back to health.
Did your dog ever get depression? How did you help them heal?