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Depression is a common disorder in people. But what about our furry friends? Most pet parents instinctively know that their dog can feel sad, bored, or lonely, but do dogs get depressed just like us?
Depression is a disorder characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest in previously rewarding or pleasurable activities. While being sad and feeling low from time to time is considered normal, the word “depression” can also mean sadness that persists, affecting concentration, energy, appetite, and sleep.
Many pet parents know the answer to the question: “Do dogs get sad?” — it’s a clear yes. Even the waggiest of tails can droop if a dog has to stay home when everyone else is going out or he has to wear the cone of shame. There’s no mistaking those eyes and those deep sighs. But can dogs be depressed? According to experts in animal behavior, the answer is yes. And while depression in dogs is a lot less common than in people, it can still happen.
How to tell if a dog is depressed can be tricky because dog depression symptoms are vague. Pet parents need to understand that it’s much more common for a dog to be feeling ill or in pain rather than depressed. So, it’s essential to rule out any medical causes before assuming your dog is depressed.
If your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms, please have him checked by your veterinarian without delay. Signs of depression in dogs are, to some extent, quite similar to those in people:
- Lacking in energy, withdrawn, and moping
- Changes in sleeping patterns; often sleeping more than usual
- Decreased appetite and sometimes even reduced drinking
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, such as walking, car rides, chasing a ball, playing with other dogs
- Hiding under the bed or in a closet
If there’s been a big recent change in your pup’s life and your dog is displaying a combination of these symptoms — especially without any other specific signs such as vomiting and diarrhea — then your furry friend may be showing signs of depression. However, many other medical conditions manifest in the same way, so it’s best to check with your veterinarian right away if you notice any of these behaviors rather than assuming that your dog is depressed.
This is especially true of puppy depression. If your puppy is acting depressed and listless, he’s very likely feeling sick, not just sad. If he’s refusing food, it’s important to have him seen by your veterinarian quickly because his blood sugar can drop over the course of a few hours, which can be life-threatening.
In people, depression is frequently the result of complex interactions between social, psychological, and biological factors. And while we don’t know if dogs suffer from depression in the same way we do, in some cases, depression is the only explanation for their symptoms.
First, ask yourself, is my dog depressed or sick? The answer usually is that dogs are feeling unwell rather than being depressed. There’s usually a physical reason for their symptoms, like pain, nausea, fever, or just being generally unwell.
This being said, dogs can become depressed, especially after a big change. This period of feeling a bit low is sometimes self-limiting and improves after a few days. But on rare occasions, dogs can indeed suffer from long-term depression.
Let’s explore a few reasons why both short-term and long-term depression might occur in dogs and what pet parents can do about it.
Short-term depression in dogs usually results from an unsettling or life-changing event, such as:
- The arrival of a new baby, a new spouse, or a new pet
- A modification in their pet parent’s lifestyle and schedule, such as returning to the office after working from home, or if a pet parent is unwell or recovering from surgery
- Kids starting school or moving out to go to university
- Moving houses
- If the dog has to stay in a crate after an injury or surgery or has to wear a cone
- As a response to a pet parent’s grief
Your dog is most likely adjusting to emotional and physical changes around him, mirroring the feelings he’s picking up on in his human counterparts. Your pup could also be getting used to having less attention than he’s used to. This can lead pet parents to wonder, is my dog bored or depressed? The answer is probably a bit of both. Some dogs are more sensitive to these differences than others, and just like us, they adjust at their own pace, with a bit of help.
Long-term depression, however, is usually brought on by grief or separation, for example:
- Losing or being separated from a bonded companion, littermate, or regular playmate
- Losing or being separated from their pet parent or another beloved member of the family
Most severe and lasting clinical cases of depression diagnosed by a veterinarian are related to this sort of loss.
Can Dogs Die From Sadness?
You may have heard of “broken heart syndrome,” a temporary heart condition in humans brought on by extreme emotions such as grief. The heart muscle weakens due to severe stress, causing heart failure and death. People can recover, but it’s a powerful illustration of how grief and sadness affect our physical bodies. While there’s no current evidence in the veterinary literature suggesting that something this specific happens in dogs, there is little doubt that a prolonged period of stress can take its toll on their bodies.
Beyond just feeling out of sorts and in pain, prolonged periods of separation anxiety, loss of appetite, and altered sleep can all lead to the deterioration of any animal’s health, especially if they have an underlying medical condition. If you think your dog is struggling after losing another pet or are worried about how sadness might be affecting his health, please talk to your veterinarian about it.
What can you do if your dog is depressed? Most dogs showing signs of depression find their way back to a waggy tail with a bit of extra attention from their pet parents or caregivers. Taking dogs out on walks or car rides, engaging in play (with an interactive toy), giving them more attention, and bumping up the TLC at home can make a big difference when adjusting to a major life change, like a baby joining the household. This is called “environmental enrichment” and is usually how to treat dog depression rapidly and successfully.
If a dog seems to be struggling with depression after losing a companion, it might take a while for him to recover. As long as your pup is still eating and engaging in some life-giving activities, it’s okay to give him time to adjust. A vast majority of dogs improve with time. Most experts do not recommend jumping right into providing a replacement companion, as another significant shift can have additional unforeseen consequences. However, over time, this can be part of the solution for some dogs if they are suffering from long-term depression over time.
Finally, if environmental enrichment isn’t enough, and your dog’s grief symptoms persist or include other problematic behaviors such as anxiety, self-mutilation, or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), then you and your veterinarian might decide to take the next step in your dog’s depression treatment and trial medication. The medications used in veterinary medicine are very similar to those used in people.
Grief and prolonged stress can take their toll on a dog’s health, so it’s worthwhile for pet parents to know how to recognize signs of dog depression and anxiety and seek veterinary help early on. Learn more about how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs and how to help dogs with anxiety, including clomipramine as a possible solution.Tagged With: Mental Health