Depression In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

A cute British Bulldog resting in a dog bed.

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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 have in common with our dogs.

As humans, we can rationalize our feelings, try to understand them, and seek treatment. Our dogs aren’t so lucky. They often need our help, love, and involvement to break out of the cycle.

If you see signs of depression in your dog, you should consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment. Many medical issues can cause a dog to seem down or show other similar symptoms, and your vet can treat or rule out other causes.

Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for depression in dogs.

Symptoms Of Depression In Dogs

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 may include:

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

Causes Of Depression In Dogs

Sad dog waiting alone at home. Labrador retriever looking through window during rain.

(Picture Credit: Chalabala/Getty Images)

Many medical conditions can lead to depression or similar symptoms in dogs. For this reason, you should visit your vet so they can rule out these causes. However, dogs do not necessarily need to have an underlying condition to experience symptoms.

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 because they’re so attached 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 sibling 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, for example — can be a large emotional hurdle for a dog.

Experiencing a trauma, such as an injury or an attack by another dog, can also trigger symptoms. 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 their ability to cope. Just like us, right?

Treatment For Depression In Dogs

If your dog isn’t bouncing back from depression, and if they’re losing weight or acting generally unresponsive to play and activity, then it’s time for a checkup with the vet.

Your vet 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. Vets may also consider prescribing dietary or lifestyle changes to improve your dog’s mood and energy.

It sounds trite, but what your dog may need is love and affection. They may not just snap out of it on their own, but given a little effort and patience, they can regain their emotional footing.

Here are some things you can do to help at home:

  • 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 puzzle toy 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, then obviously this might not be a great choice.
  • If your dog has lost a pet companion, consider adopting a new furry family member. 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 doggy daycare, or hire a dog sitter to walk your dog.
  • Sit on the floor at night while you watch TV, rather than in a chair. Getting down on your dog’s level could be just the interaction they’re looking for.

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

Has your dog ever suffered from depression? How did you treat them and help them feel better? Let us know in the comments below!

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