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Can Dogs Get Depressed? Read the Signs in Those Puppy-Dog Eyes

Yes, dogs can get depressed. Learn the signs, symptoms, and treament options so you can turn your pup's frown upside down.

A sad dog stares longingly out a rain-streaked window.

Yes, dogs can get depressed. Learn the signs, symptoms, and treament options so you can turn your pup's frown upside down.

By: Dr. Juli G., DVM

Although our canine friends can't talk to their people, they are experts at communicating their likes, dislikes, and love for their human companions. Many pet parents can set the clock on their pup's mealtime, playtime, and nap time. Additionally, dogs often use vocalizations and body postures, like tail wagging, to convey their emotional state to their owners. In many cases, dog owners will teach their furry friend specific actions to relay the desired activity, such as grabbing a ball for a game of fetch.

Dogs thrive on routine, and subtle changes in your dog’s behavior or desire to participate in their favorite activities, like a trip to the dog park, could be the first clue that your pup is suffering from canine depression. Understanding and recognizing canine depression signs and triggers will ensure pet owners can turn their pup's frown upside down by taking the appropriate actions and seeking treatment.  

A sad dog stares longingly out a rain-streaked window.

What Is Canine Depression?

Clinical depression is a commonly diagnosed mood disorder in people that is often associated with persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities that once brought joy. It can result from various factors, including genetics, environmental problems, or trauma, or it can lead to other issues in everyday life activities.

Dogs, however, do not experience clinical depression the way people do. Still, they can become depressed due to a variety of reasons. In some cases, dog depression is a result of underlying health issues, like painful arthritis, or it can occur as a result of environmental changes. Like people, the depression severity will vary amongst dogs depending on their breed, genetics, environment, and health factors.

Common Signs of Canine Depression

Dog depression signs can mimic a variety of other medical illnesses. They may also be a result of an underlying health problem. Symptoms of dog depression will also vary, depending on the breed and circumstance that has led to depression.

Bring your dog for a veterinary examination if they show any of the following common depression signs:

  • Increased sleeping or disruptions in their sleep/wake cycle
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Excess clinginess or seeking more attention than usual
  • Withdrawal from household members or hiding
  • Abnormal aggressive behavior
  • Destructive behavior
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation in the home
  • Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities (i.e., fetch, walks in the park, belly rubs)
  • Changes in body language or posture (i.e., ears down, lack of tail wagging or tail between the legs)
  • Excessive licking or chewing at paws or other body areas

Causes of Depression in Dogs

There are numerous triggers for dog depression, some of which may be a result of a medical condition causing chronic pain. Canine depression may also mimic other medical issues, like canine cognitive dysfunction (i.e., dog dementia), or other neurologic diseases, like brain cancer.

Common causes may include:

  • Grief due to the loss of a human friend or companion animal
  • Long-term stress or anxiety (including separation anxiety)
  • Boredom due to lack of mental stimulation or physical exercise
  • Chronic pain from an underlying illness, like arthritis or other physical trauma or injury
  • Changes in daily routine or socialization (i.e., no longer visiting a favorite park or canine friend)
  • Limited bonding time with their owner or other family member
  • Significant environmental changes (i.e., moving to a new home or the presence of a new baby

When to Seek Veterinary Care for Your Dog's Depression

In some cases, immediate veterinary care may not be required. For example, if your dog's companion recently passed away and they are now showing depression signs. In these cases, provide your pup extra reassurance, attention, and positive activities to help counteract their grief. However, if the grief affects your dog's ability to function or eat, a veterinary examination is required to rule out other underlying medical conditions and provide supportive care.

Because dog depression mimics a variety of illnesses, it's critical to bring them for a DVM visit to determine the underlying cause and provide them with appropriate treatment. Your vet will be able to advise you on the care your dog needs to get back to their old self.

Treatment Options for Canine Depression

Treatment depends on the severity and circumstances surrounding a dog's depression. Ensure to inform your veterinarian of recent changes to your dog's routine, environment, activities, and social interactions. Your veterinarian will likely recommend various blood tests to rule out any underlying medical problems. A thorough physical examination will also determine if your pup is experiencing any pain or has an injury. Additionally, your veterinarian may refer you for a consultation with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist for severe cases.

Depression treatments are often multimodal and may include:

  • Pain medication for underlying chronic pain, like arthritis 
  • Implementing environmental changes at home and removing any chronic stress triggers, like loud noises
  • Providing positive behavior modification training to draw attention away from depression behaviors
  • Referral to a certified dog trainer to learn positive dog training techniques  
  • Veterinary supplements to help boost mood or calm an anxious dog, like Native Pet Calm Chews
  • Veterinary-prescribed mood-supporting medications, like an antidepressant
An older man sits on his lawn and plays with his dog.

How to Prevent Depression in Dogs

Like human depression, canine depression is not always avoidable in our four-legged companions. However, you can take various actions as a pet owner to support your pup and decrease the chances of them becoming depressed. Spending quality time with your dog strengthens your bond and provides a positive environment for you and your pup.

Additionally, studies have shown that dogs can often reflect the mood and behaviors of their owner, so if you are depressed, have low energy, or are sad, your dog will likely experience these feelings. Providing a happy and low-stress environment will decrease the chances of dog depression.

Other prevention tips include:

  • Bringing your dog for yearly or more frequent veterinary visits to check for underlying illness and overall health
  • Consulting your veterinarian when your dog's mood behavior has changed
  • Providing your pup with an AAFCO-approved complete and balanced dog food to ensure proper organ and brain health
  • Supporting your dog's aging joints and body with veterinary-approved supplements like Native Pet Omega Oil and Native Pet Relief Chews 
  • Providing daily mental and physical exercise for your pup 
  • Providing a consistent daily routine and avoiding major changes when possible 
  • Socializing your dog so they can adapt to different people and animals 

It can be heartbreaking for pet owners to observe depression in their dogs. Determining the underlying cause with your veterinarian will ensure your dog receives the most appropriate treatments to improve their mental and physical health.

For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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