The awareness of depression and mental illness in people is finally getting more attention in humans but we are often asked the question – is my dog depressed?
The suggestion of a dog being clinically depressed is likely dismissed by many, after all, dogs are the wagging tail and friendly face we all love to see?
But give it a second thought … Is the idea really that unexpected? We share so much in common with our social canine counterparts, why wouldn’t they also suffer from some of the same mental issues which we are so easily challenged by?
What are the signs of dog depression?
Well unfortunately they can be rather vague and many of the clinical signs are also seen with plenty of other fairly common diseases. So just because your pet may be doing one or more of the things below doesn’t instantly mean you have a depressed animal. Speak to your vet and see what steps you could take to narrow down what may be the problem. This could include ruling out depression.
- Behaviour change – no longer interested in previous enjoyable activities – playing, exercise. May start to have urine/faecal accidents in the house.
- Appetite change – picky eating/loss of appetite
- Sleeping more than previously
- Hiding – no longer interacting with owner/other animals in the household
What causes dog depression?
Many factors play a role in a dog’s mental well being, including changes to their environment, social interactions and routine.
- Environmental changes – most dogs are at their most confident in their own environment. Changes to this including moving house, building work etc can make your dog less certain of their environment. This can cause them to feel anxious and uncertain.
- Social changes – dogs are pack animals, so changes to their social group (human/animal pack) can affect them significantly. This can include a bereavement, divorce/separation, or children leaving home. Changes in work hours meaning your dog spends less time with you than usual can also affect them significantly.
- Boredom – Some dogs, particularly working breeds, need mental stimulation/physical exercise.
- Physical illness – importantly, certain conditions, particularly those that cause your dog to feel painful or nauseous can have an effect on their mental wellbeing. This can result in signs of depression.
What other things can make my dog look sad?
It is important to note that many other conditions can cause your dog to look sad. Don’t assume they are just depressed! Multiple medical conditions can cause your dog to have appetite/behaviour changes. These include:
Often animals who are in pain will choose to reduce their level of exercise to reduce discomfort. This is often seen in pets with arthritis, but any cause of pain can result in behaviour changes in your dog.
A hormonal condition where the thyroid glands produce less thyroid hormones which are important in controlling your dog’s metabolism. This is more common in certain breeds (Golden retriever, Cocker spaniel, Irish setter amongst others) but any breed can be affected. Affected dogs tend to become more sluggish/lethargic, gain weight (often despite a reduced appetite) and often have thinning of the coat on their flanks.
Other hormonal conditions including Addisons, diabetes and multiple other hormonal conditions can also be seen in dogs. Often they initially present with vague clinical signs that can include appetite changes and loss of energy. Importantly, these two can both be potentially life threatening if untreated.
Just like us, if your dog has a fever due to infection, this will often cause them to be less active and have a reduced appetite.
Weight gain has a number of negative effects on your dog’s health and wellbeing. For some animals, carrying the extra weight makes it harder for them to exercise. This means that they are less keen to go for walks/play.
Both the liver and kidneys play an important role in removing toxic substances from your dog’s blood stream. Disease of the liver or kidneys can result in these toxins accumulating. This causes what can initially be quite vague signs of listlessness and reduced appetite.
Insufficient red blood cells or haemoglobin in your dog’s blood means that they are less able to provide as much oxygen to tissues and organs around the body. There are multiple causes of anaemia. Often mild anaemia may not cause any obvious clinical signs. However, as anaemia progresses, you may note that your dog is quieter/more lethargic amongst other signs.
In the early stages of heart disease, your dog’s body is often able to make adjustments to compensate, meaning that minimal clinical signs are seen. However, as heart disease progresses into heart failure, the body’s ability to compensate is overwhelmed and you will start to see clinical signs. These can often be vague – reluctance to play/exercise, sleeping more, reduced appetite. Other signs may be seen which are not associated with depression – coughing, increased breathing rate, swollen belly.
What can I do?
If your dog is low in energy and not quite themselves, get your dog checked out by a vet for underlying medical conditions that could be causing their behaviour change.
Thankfully, most dogs are resilient and will bounce back from depression with a little extra fuss. Once you have ruled out a health condition, try to consider what may have brought on this episode of depression and whether a solution can be found for this (for example, would taking your dog to doggy day care be appropriate if you have had to increase your hours in work?). Try to engage your dog in activities he previously enjoyed – exercise, treats, games. Try and create a regular routine as this can increase your dog’s sense of confidence.
It is natural to want to make a fuss of your dog when he appears depressed, but remember, too much attention can reinforce this behaviour. Try not to treat your dog when they are showing their sad behaviour, but instead reinforce any sign of happiness – a tail wag, running to the door for a walk.
If none of this is successful, referral to a dog behaviourist may be recommended. After all, a happy dog is a happy owner and vice versa.