Can a dog be depressed?

Turning Points 3 min read

Yes, dogs can get depressed. However, “Depression in dogs is not the same as what we think of in humans, where depression is a clinical diagnosis,” says Dr. Katie Guest, DVM, a veterinarian in Gilford, NH. “It’s more of a functional analysis that describes a dog’s behavior because we can’t truly know a dog’s emotions. Instead, depression is often part of the presentation of an underlying disease or issue.” Lethargy, decreased appetite, or reduced socialization are symptoms worth investigating.

A veterinary exam and lab work can identify or rule out medical issues and get your furry friend closer to the help they need.

What are the signs of depression in dogs?

The signs your dog is depressed will vary from dog to dog, and they aren’t always consistent. But the following symptoms of depression in dogs are consistent with how dogs act when experiencing depression.

  • Lethargy and decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Uninterested in the family
  • Decreased social interaction
  • Increased sleep time

What causes depression in dogs?

Emotional and social issues can cause depression in dogs. Here’s how to know if your dog is depressed after ruling out any medical causes. These things can change how people in the household feel and how they may treat or respond to the dog.

Loss of a family member

Loss could refer to a person or another dog through death, divorce, or other major life events.

Stress or distress in the household

Stress refers to interpersonal relationships among humans in the home. Learn more about stress relief for dogs.

Changes to routine or structure

Dogs thrive on structure. And though routines do get mixed up from time to time, an ongoing lack of stability can cause issues. For instance, you are returning to work after working from home for an extended period.

Moving to a new home

A significant change to a living space or move to a new home also creates a break in structure and routine. Learn tips for moving with a pet.

Your vet may discuss what’s happening in your home to identify possible depression triggers and help you address them. They’ll also want to know whether your dog’s behavior is new or an extension of previous antisocial or asocial behavior.

Is my dog depressed or sick?

“In veterinary medicine, we don’t see depression as a psychosocial problem until we’ve eliminated or ruled out any underlying medical cause for the clinical signs the pet is presenting with,” Dr. Guest says. “Once we’ve ruled out an underlying medical cause, and if there’s a history of environmental causes or psychosocial issues, we can then be permitted to diagnose ‘depression’.”

Medical causes include illness, disease, and pain. A physical exam and lab work are necessary to identify whether the sickness is the source of depression symptoms. There may be seasonal concerns that could affect your dog in a depression-like fashion, too. Learn more about cold weather tips for pets and signs your pet may have allergies.

What to do if your dog is depressed

Once you’ve ruled out medical issues with your vet and you’re confident the symptoms of your dog’s depression are environmental or social, here’s what Dr. Guest suggests you can do to help them.

  • Invite the dog to play to draw them out into social interactions.
  • Use high-value special treats to reward desirable behaviors.
  • Groom and brush them to encourage social interaction.
  • Take short and frequent walks where you allow the dog to smell all around.

If these methods don’t work, Dr. Guest suggests you ask your vet for a “referral to a veterinary behaviorist, who can analyze and medicate with appropriate medication when applicable.” Your vet may also recommend some natural supplements, but at this time, there’s not much data or clinical evidence to support their widespread use.

Dr. Guest adds that “having pet insurance makes a referral to a veterinary behaviorist more affordable for owners, as this can be an investment.” Learn more about Progressive Pet Insurance by Pets Best.

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