At some point in a dog’s life, owners may ask the question, “Is my dog depressed?” After all, how do you really know? This is a time both veterinarians and pet owners truly wish their dogs could talk. We will focus this article on what you can do at home to help your depressed dog.
Signs That Your Dog is Depressed
There are many signs of depression in dogs. Symptoms of depression in dogs can vary from dog to dog. Signs may include withdrawing from family activities, playing less, and eating either more or less. Learn more about the symptoms of depression in dogs with this article: What are Dog Depression Symptoms?
It is very difficult to make generalizations as to how a certain breed, dogs within the same breed, breed line or even litter will behave.
Is My Dog Depressed? 6 Points to Consider as You Develop a Plan
If you have a dog that you believe is depressed, there are multiple options to help. Before taking action, consider his lifestyle, capabilities, and personality, and what really drives him.
Here are some important points to consider before developing a plan to help your dog:
- A Day in the Life. As you consider solutions, consider what your dog’s day is like. Is he in a crate for hours? Does he get daily exercise? Is he fed at the same time every day? Does he get petted? Does he feel loved? Is there consistency in what is expected from everyone in the household? Is your dog mentally stimulated or bored? Does your dog get to play with other dogs?
- Consider…”Why Your Dog is Depressed?” When developing a plan to help your dog it is important to look at the reason or reasons why you think your dog is depressed. Is your dog in a new home? Did someone close to your dog die? Did another dog in the home die? Did a child leave for college or start school? Was there a divorce? What changed in your dog’s environment? It is important to look at the underlying cause as you consider the treatment that will work best. Learn more about the common causes of canine depression. Go to Dog Depression: How to Spot it and Treat it.
- Evaluate Your Capabilities. Evaluate your time, environment, budget, and capabilities. If you believe your dog needs more play time and you live in a small apartment in the city, or you work long hours, a dog walker or doggy daycare may be a great way to provide more stimulation for your dog.
- Evaluate Your Dog’s Health. When considering a strategy to help your dog, consider your dog’s health. Does your dog have underlying health issues such as congestive heart failure or arthritis? Are there health problems that may impact your play or exercise plan for stimulation? For example, if your dog is a senior with health problems, going for a big run daily at the dog park is not going to be a good solution. Smaller frequent walks or intellectual toys may be a good option. Consider a plan that works for your dog’s functionality and abilities.
- Look at What Your Dog Likes. Does your dog like to chew on bones? Does your dog like to chase Frisbee? Look at your dog’s age, breed, and interests to consider what will give him the most stimulation and enjoyment. Or does your dog enjoy puzzle toys where they have to figure out how to get the treat out? Some dogs love to be brushed and groomed and others do not. For example, if you have a small dog that doesn’t fetch, more time at the dog park playing “ball” is not going to work. Consider what your dog likes and develop a plan to give him more time doing the things he enjoys the most.
- Personality Issues. Some dogs are more people-dogs (meaning they like people more than dogs), some are more dog-dogs (they enjoy other dogs more than people), and others dogs enjoy being with people and other dogs equally. This is important to consider as you evaluate what will work best to help your dog. For example, if your dog gets in fights with other dogs, then going to the dog park or signing him up for doggy daycare with other dogs is not going to be a good idea if you are trying to get more play time with your dog. On the other hand, if your dog seems happiest when playing with other dogs, then that may be the magic ticket.
Is My Dog Depressed? Tips to Help Your Dog
Below are things you can do at home to help a depressed dog. Based on the above things to consider, review the tips below to see what might work best for your dog.
- Keep a Routine – Some dogs that are depressed have had a change in their lives. Someone dies, leaves, or maybe it is an entirely new home. If possible, keep your dog’s routine as consistent as possible. For example, if your dog has always gone for a morning walk and suddenly you went back to work and can’t do this, consider having a neighbor take him on that walk. If you move to a new house, things can definitely be in chaos. Keep as much of your dog’s routine the same. Feed the same food at the same time, etc. as much as you can.
- Keep Some Things the Same – If your dog is rehomed, keep as much the same a possible from his previous home. A client recently adopted his mom’s dog when his mom died. We discussed a plan to create the best transition which included using the dog’s own familiar bed, collar, leash, kennel, blankets, food, and bowls. After the dog is acclimated to the new home, you can then gradually change some things little by little. This may not always be possible but when it possible, it can be helpful.
- Play – One of the best things for depression is playtime. Some depressed dogs are bored and just under stimulated. If your dog is healthy, engage your dog in play. Buy some toys. Learn more about “What is your dogs play preference” to help you choose the best toys for him.
- Exercise – A tired dog is often a happy dog. Just like kids, many dogs need to stretch their legs and run until they wear themselves out! If your dog is healthy, increasing your dog’s exercise routine can be helpful in treating dog depression.
- Spend Time – Some of the happiest times dogs spend with their owner is just being together. This can be watching TV, being petted, belly rubes, or just sitting together while you read a book.
- Talk to Your Dog – Some dogs enjoy it when you talk to them. Things as simple as talking to your dog in that voice that makes your dog wag his tail and feel special is enough to make him happy and can help with dog depression.
- Predictable Feeding Schedule – Some dogs are food motivated. They want to know when their next meal is coming. Providing a predictable feeding schedule can allow some dogs to feel more comfortable and less depressed.
- Clear Communication – Having a clear set of guidelines for your dog that is consistent across all members of the family is important for dogs to understand what is expected of them. Inconsistency can be stressful and cause depression. For example, if some members of the family allow the dog to get up on the sofa when they are watching television and another member does not, this produces conflict. Another example is someone in the home that encourages their dog to jump up on them and others reprimanded them for the same. Try to be consistent so your dog knows what is expected from them.
- Consider a Playmate – Getting another dog is a great solution for dog depression for some dogs. Other dogs might hate the idea of another dog but some dogs truly love it. If you don’t want to commit to a full adoption, consider talking to your local rescue group and foster a dog. This allows you to see how your dog responds to a new dog and determine if it helps with his depression before making that full adoption commitment. Learn more about How to Introduce a New Dog.
In some ways, treatment of canine depression is really about lifestyle optimization. It is providing the optimal exercise opportunities, predictable feeding schedules, clear communication of expectations, and play time.