Dog Depression: How to Spot it and Treat It

Dog Depression
Dog Depression

Depression is relatively common in humans, and recent studies have shown that cases of dog depression may be just as frequent. According to Healthline, it is estimated that 17.3 million adults in the United States suffer from depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents that approximately 9 percent of Americans report that they are depressed at least occasionally, and 3.4 percent suffer from “major depression.” Additionally, approximately 7.1 percent of American adults have at least one major depressive episode in a given year.

Unfortunately, dog depression is harder to spot, despite being just as common.

Signs of Depression in Dogs

Just like with humans, every dog responds differently to stress. For example, a person who loses their job may become depressed, while another person may see opportunity and feel relieved or rejuvenated. One dog being rehomed may be withdrawn, scared, or have a decreased appetite. Another dog, however, may be elated.

What Causes Dog Depression

Just as it is difficult to predict or generalize how people will respond to stress, it is hard to determine or predict what will make a dog depressed.

The most common signs associated with dog depression are:

  • Illness. Dogs that are sick and don’t feel well may become depressed.
  • Loss of mobility. Just as illnesses cause depression, so can a loss of mobility. It’s traumatizing for a previously active dog to lose the ability to run, play, walk and exercise and their symptoms may be caused by a back injury, trauma (like a fracture), or from degenerative disease (arthritis) in older dogs.
  • Loss of routine. Some dogs can become very depressed after a change in their routine. This can occur when the kids go back to school, if an owner takes on a new job, or anything else that leads to a disruption in the dog’s day-to-day rituals.
  • Loss of an owner or caregiver. A very common cause of depression in dogs is the loss of someone close to them. The loss can be from death, or from someone moving out and leaving the home. The death of an owner, a child leaving for college, or someone leaving due to a divorce can create a void in a dog’s life.
  • Moving. Moving can be a stressful time for humans and their pets, as they suddenly lose their territory and safety net. Usually, the move is a huge disruption in their routine and environment. Movers, moving boxes, packing, and unpacking can all impact the amount of time spent with their pet parents. This can cause depression in some dogs.
  • New pet or person. Just as pet loss or human loss can cause depression, some dogs will become depressed when a new pet or person enters their life. This can impact their routine and day-to-day lifestyle, as the new pet may take attention away from them.

What You Can Do to Help Dog Depression

Treatments for dog depression can be categorized into pharmacological (drug) treatments and nonpharmacological treatments.

The best course of action to treat dog depression is the following:

  • Figure out the cause. Consider why your dog may be depressed. As you consider the possible cause, also consider what your dog’s life is like on a day-to-day basis. Is there stimulation? Playtime? Exercise? Or is it boring and solitary?
  • Optimize your dog’s quality of life. Make sure your dog has a great routine consisting of plenty of exercise, daily walks, frequent opportunities to go to the bathroom, and predictable meal schedules.
  • See your vet. Make sure your dog is healthy and that you are not mistaking symptoms of depression for symptoms of illness, as they can seem similar and hard to differentiate. Your vet may want to do a physical examination and run some routine blood work.
  • Administer Prescriptions. As a last resort, you could work with your veterinarian to try pharmacological treatment for your dog’s depression. Most dogs respond to playtime, exercise, and quality time otherwise.
  • Give it time. It can take time for the treatments to work. Relax and enjoy being with your dog. On occasion, additional attention will be enough to return them to their normal doggie selves.