Symptoms and Common Triggers of Depression in Dogs

Sad dog

Just like people, dogs can get depressed. This might be due to some change in their lives, or it could be a sign of a medical condition. Learn how to spot the signs of depression and what you can do to help your dog cope and begin feeling better.

Common Signs of Depression in Dogs

The signs of depression in dogs are actually similar to those experienced by people. Dogs have down days and bad moods just like people. When your pet seems particularly lethargic or appears to be moping around the house or yard, it's possible that she feels depressed.

According to an article written by Bonnie Beaver, DVM, symptoms of canine depression typically include:

  • Becoming withdrawn - A depressed dog may stop interacting with his companions, including his special people and other dogs in the home.
  • Becoming inactive - The dog might no longer show any interest in taking walks or playing. He might also tend to move slower and not seem to have much purpose to his wandering.
  • Changes in appetite - The dog might lose his appetite, and this could lead to weight loss. Alternatively, a depressed dog might eat more and begin to gain weight.
  • Changes in sleep habits - Depressed dogs tend to sleep more, but some may become more restless and unable to sleep well.

Triggers and Treatments for Depression

If you can identify what's triggering depression in your pet, you'll learn to spot the symptoms earlier. This will help you figure how to help your pet feel better.

Environmental Changes

As with people, events going on around your pet can cause him to feel depressed and anxious. Dr. Beaver also states that changes in a dog's environment or living circumstances can trigger depression and anxiety. For example, dogs can experience depression and grief when another pet or human member of the household is ill or dies. This is also true when a family member moves away or changes schedules. When summer ends and your dog is suddenly alone most of the day after having children around all summer, symptoms of depression triggered by separation anxiety and loneliness can occur.

You can counteract some life changes by giving your pet some healthy attention. For example:

  • Take your pet out and about to give him some mental stimulation.
  • If he has a favorite game or activity, try to make time for it at least once a day, but preferably at several periods throughout the day.
  • If your pet is depressed by the loss of a canine companion, take him to the dog park so he can be around other dogs, or consider bringing home a new dog if this is feasible in your situation.

The one thing you want to avoid is accidentally rewarding your pet's depressed behavior by being overly sympathetic.

Weather and Seasonal Changes

According to Elaine Pendlebury, Senior Veterinary Surgeon for the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), changes in seasons can have an impact on pet moods, as do periods of extended bad weather. For example, the moods of dogs that live in areas where hurricanes occur can be impacted by the change in atmospheric pressure. Additionally, just as the onset of winter can lead to seasonal affective disorder in some people, it can also an impact on dogs.

Clinical Depression

Canines can also suffer from chemical imbalances that lead to chronic depression. Treatment for chronic dog depression is no different than treatment for similar problems in humans. According to Karen Sueda, DVM, your veterinarian can prescribe antidepressant medication to regulate the symptoms. These might include:

  • Prozac
  • Clomicalm
  • Zoloft

Medical Conditions

Don't lose sight of the fact that your dog can't tell you when he or she feels sick. Many times, canines exhibit symptoms of depression when there is something physically wrong with them. Behavior changes may indicate the existence of a medical problem. This is why it's so important to seek veterinary care if depression symptoms don't seem to be triggered by a specific event or if they persist for a period of time. Your vet can run blood tests and give your dog a thorough physical examination to determine if there's a medical reason that your pet exhibits signs of depression.

Helping Your Dog Cope

As soon as you notice your dog is experiencing unexplained or prolonged symptoms of depression, contact your veterinarian. It's important to verify whether or not your dog is sick or has a chemical imbalance that should be treated with medication. Once you've made sure that your pet has received proper veterinary care, you can begin looking at environmental factors that might have an impact on your pet's mood and see what you can do to improve those situations.

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Symptoms and Common Triggers of Depression in Dogs