Dog Depression

If there’s one thing dog lovers recognize, it’s that our best animal friends–while very different from us–are strikingly similar to people in many ways. A case of the blues, and even outright depression, is but one more malady we share. As humans, we can rationalize our feelings, try to understand them, and seek a way out. Our dogs aren’t so lucky. They often need our help, and our love and involvement, to break out of the cycle.

Causes

Dogs live extraordinarily emotional lives. You can see this demonstrated in many ways, from good and bad behavior to affectionate play to the “Velcro dog” syndrome, in which your pet will not leave your side, so attached is she to your presence.

When pets experience a sudden change, it upsets the balance in their lives, just as it does in ours. The loss of another dog (whether it’s a “sister” dog in the house, or the dog next door who moves away) or of a beloved human (your son or daughter who has grown and left home) can be a large emotional hurdle for a dog. Experiencing a trauma, such as an injury or an attack by another dog, can also be a trigger.

Even a change in the weather can set off a mild bout of the blues, especially for a dog who loves to play outside. The severity of the depression can vary greatly, depending on the dog and her ability to cope. Just like us, right?

Symptoms

Every dog has lazy or bored days–and friends and family may be convinced that nothing more serious than that is at issue. But you can tell when your own best friend is showing signs of a deeper problem.

Signs of depression include:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive sleep
  • Clinginess
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in personality
  • Whining
  • Weight loss

Dealing with depression at home

It sounds trite, but usually what your dog needs is love and affection. She may not just snap out of it on her own, but given a little effort and patience, she’ll regain her emotional footing. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Set aside more time together for play. If your dog isn’t normally an active player, take more frequent walks outside, or devote more time to another favorite activity.
  • Buy some engaging new toys–a cube that releases dog food when played with, for example.
  • Take a trip to the park to see other dogs, or go for a ride in the car. (If your dog’s a nervous traveler or only associates the car with a trip to the vet or the kennel, obviously this might not be a great idea).
  • If your dog has lost a pet companion, consider getting another. Another option is to call a neighbor with a dog and set up a playdate.
  • If you leave your dog home alone during the day, consider a cage-free daycare (if she’s normally sociable), or hire a dog sitter to walk her.
  • Sit on the floor at night while you watch TV, rather than in a chair. Getting down on her level could be just the interaction she’s looking for.

When it’s time to see a vet

If your dog isn’t bouncing back, and if she’s losing weight or acting generally unresponsive to play and activity, it’s time for a checkup with the vet, who may run some blood work to be sure there’s not an underlying medical condition. Or your vet may prescribe an antidepressant, either for a short time or long-term (some animals remain on antidepressants indefinitely). Many dogs respond well to medical treatment, and these drugs are generally very safe.

What’s next

Don’t expect miracles. Be patient. It may take a few days, or it may take considerably longer for your dog to return to her normal self. One thing is certain: you are the best companion she has, and the most important one during this time.

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