Dogs are capable of a far greater range of emotions than most owners have ever imagined – and that could even stretch to what looks like a canine version of depression. If you think your dog is feeling down, find out how to keep them emotionally and mentally healthy and happy.
Can dogs get depressed?
Yes, dogs can get depressed or get into a low-mood state! It probably isn’t as psychologically complex as the clinical condition is in humans, but they can get a similar form of it.
What causes ‘dog depression’?
There are many factors that can impact on a dog’s emotional state – these include changes to routine, environment, social group, or as a result of chronic stress or anxiety resulting from fears and phobias or lifestyle. Some of these can produce what looks like a canine version of depression but so often owners don’t recognise the change in their dog’s mood – or know they can do some very simple things to transform their dog’s life for the better and make ‘dog depression’ a thing of the past.
Signs of a 'depressed' dog
- Withdrawn – the dog may have little enthusiasm for exercise or games or joining in with the things they normally enjoy
- Lethargic – they may be sleeping more than usual
- Loss of appetite - they may lose interest in food or there may be changes to eating patterns
- Inability to settle – the dog may appear restless, not sleeping well or deeply or other changes to sleeping patterns
- Behaviour changes – the same mood states that can present as apparent dog depression can present as other issues depending on the dog’s personality. These can include chewing, attempts at escapology, increased reactivity, loss of toilet training, and even aggression.
What should I do about dog depression?
Recognising the problem is the first step to solving it. Then do a canine mental health assessment on your dog:
- Has anything changed in your dog’s life, environment or social group?
- Is your dog getting as much exercise and stimulation as usual? Or as they should for their breed or age?
- Is your dog getting the right sort of exercise and stimulation to give them an outlet for their hard-wired needs and the things they love?
- Is your dog getting as much contact with you as usual?
- Are you spending enough quality time with your dog? This may be exercise, games, training, dog sports or just hanging out together.
- Is your dog bored? Can you relieve this with an additional walk, short training sessions throughout the day, occasional games, interactive toys, etc?
- Does your dog have any other behavioural issues – especially fears and phobias that may be more prevalent for any reason?
Once you have done this check, you should have a clear idea of what your dog needs from you to lift their mood – and find ways to do this. If you are unable to make the changes (such as in the case of house moves etc) be aware that your dog is struggling and give them more TLC than usual and lots of fun things to do to distract them and support them through the changes.
When to seek help for dog depression?
If your dog’s mood or behaviour has changed suddenly and you can find no reason why this may be happening, visit your vet to check for clinical causes.
Once your dog has a clean bill of health, consult an accredited experienced behaviourist who can look at any behavioural changes or issues, and help you transform your dog’s mood and life for the better.
Always make sure to keep an eye on your dog’s body language, that will play a big part in trying to understand your dog’s overall mood. If you want to discover more ways in which dogs express themselves, take a look at our article on the different types of dog growls, next.