Can Dogs Suffer From Depression?

People often talk of the soulful eyes of the dog, and most pet owners can tell very quickly if their own dog seems to be feeling under the weather, a bit flat, or is outright unhappy. Although dogs are generally renowned for being very positive, upbeat and cheery animals, and are often credited with lifting the spirits of the people around them, nevertheless, most dogs will almost certainly go through a ‘down’ phase now and then too. If you have noticed that your dog’s moods seem to have highs and lows, or that he suffers from prolonged periods of time when he just don’t seem to be as interested in the things going on around him or engaging with their family in his usual energetic way, it is possible that your dog may be depressed. But what exactly does depression mean for dogs, and is there anything that you as a dog owner can do about it? Read on to learn more.

Is dog depression a clinical condition?

While any vet would generally agree with you that dogs have moods and emotions similar to those of people, it is almost impossible to diagnose depression in pets as an illness in itself because it can be so hard to identify. One of the core ways in which human depression is assessed and managed is by means of verbal communication with the patient- something that is of course not possible with dogs and other pets! The other issue to bear in mind is that, unusually, in canine depression, the person best placed to make a diagnosis is you, rather than your vet. You know your own dog’s moods and norms and behaviour better than anyone else, and so you are better placed to be able to assess your dog’s moods on a daily basis. While your vet can of course guide you and support you in managing depression in your dog, the wide range of variables involved make reaching a definitive diagnosis of clinical depression in dogs almost impossible, which is why it is unlikely that you will see depression listed as an illness in an animal’s case notes. Depression in dogs is generally dealt with as a behavioural issue rather than a medical issue, as depression often has its root causes in factors within the home or the life of your dog that behavioural assessments can help to pinpoint.


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Symptoms of depression in dogs

Just like people, all dogs are different and how their depression manifests will vary from case to case. Some dogs will simply seem to be a little flat, whereas others will exhibit a wide range of symptoms and their feelings will be quite clear. Be on the lookout for a combination of several of the following signs:

  • Lack of interest in food, which can range from a mild disinterest right up to a refusal to eat
  • Slightly slow reactions?
  • Not as keen to go for walks
  • Disinterested in play
  • Sleepy and listless
  • Clinging to their favourite person or toys more than normal
  • Not keen to leave the home
  • General flat mood

It is important to note that any of these symptoms may also be symptomatic of any one of a variety of physical ailments or illnesses, and in fact, depression itself can be symptomatic of something bigger too. So it is still important to talk to your vet and ask them to check your dog over for physical problems before reaching a diagnosis of depression yourself.

Causes of depression in dogs

Depression in dogs really mirrors that of people- or at least, what we understand of it does. There may be no underlying root cause for depression in your dog that you can pinpoint, however a variety of factors and life events can potentially lead to your dog becoming depressed and unhappy for a time. Key triggers to look out for include:

  • Loss of a family member (human or animal) can affect dogs and other animals just as much as people. Your dog may be grieving.
  • Moving home
  • Introduction of a new pet or person into the home
  • Other changes to their general routine
  • Empathy for an owner who is depressed or unhappy themselves

All of these potential triggers can lead to your dog becoming depressed for a time, as can anything else that in some way changes his routine or otherwise impacts in a meaningful way upon his day-to-day life.

What can you do about dog depression?

The key to resolving a bout of depression or other unhappiness in your dog often comes from finding the initial cause and addressing the issue. Even if the cause is clear, you may find that you are limited in terms of what you can do about it, for instance, if the family grieving from the loss of another pet or person. All you can really do is try to spend as much time with your dog as possible, make them feel loved, and wait for them to deal with things in their own time. Its very important to stick to your dog’s normal routine at this point also, and not overfeed treats or start letting them get into bad habits because you feel sad for them. Your dog’s routine is part of what provides his stability in the world and how he will eventually get back onto an even keel, and changing this routine or the rules he has always lived within is counter-productive. If you do find that the cause of your dog’s depression is something that you have some control over, or you’re not sure what to do, bringing in some outside professional help from a canine behaviourist or expert (your vet should be able to recommend one to you) can give you a head start. Generally nothing is prescribed for dog depression in the UK, although off-label use of human medications including diazepam and fluoxetine has been tried in some animals suffering from depression for long periods of time, with some positive results. Regardless of your feelings on medicating dogs in this way- whether it is something you would be willing to try or would flatly refuse to consider- don’t forget to talk to your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health, moods or general wellbeing. Your vet is your first port of call in getting the help and advice you will need to help them to get better. Stay happy!


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