10 Silent Signs Your Dog Is Depressed
While dogs can’t tell you exactly what they’re feeling, they can still show behaviours similar to human depression. If your vet has ruled out other health conditions, you might have a case of doggie depression on your hands.
1. Ignoring Playtime
A depressed dog won’t have the same energy levels that it used to, and its usual playtime and exercise won’t excite your pet as much. “It could be that their favourite thing in the world was to throw a tennis ball, and all of a sudden they don’t want to do that,” says Virginia-based veterinarian Katy Nelson, DVM.
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2. Losing Interest in Favourite Activities
Not every dog loves throwing a Frisbee or going for walks, so lack of exercise might not be the only telltale sign. The key is to notice if your dog has an unexplained behaviour change or stops enjoying other activities it used to love, says Kelly Ryan, DVM, director of veterinary services at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “Maybe every day your dog waits by the door for your kid to come home from school,” she says. If your pet is still moping in its bed after the bus drops your kid off, it might be depressed.
3. Leaving Food in the Bowl
Just like how you might lose your appetite when you’re feeling down, your dog might not feel like eating either. If your dog doesn’t show its usual eagerness for its favourite food or even loses weight, it might be experiencing depression, says Russell Hartstein, celebrity dog trainer with Fun Paw Care Los Angeles.
4. Sleeping More Than Usual
Every animal is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all number of hours of sleep that would signal dog depression. Just pay attention if your dog is spending more time in bed than usual. “If your 15-year-old dog normally sleeps 14 hours a day and now it’s 20, that would be a big difference,” says Dr. Ryan.
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5. Experiencing a Death in the Family
You’re not the only one mourning the loss of a family member or another pet—your dog needs to grieve, too, and might go through a blue period. “You can’t really speed up that grieving process,” says Hartstein, “but you can comfort them and be sensitive to their needs.” Give your pooch some TLC with extra cuddles and treats while it gets used to the loss.
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6. Spending Too Much Time Inside
Dogs need space to run around and might become sad if they haven’t been given the chance. “If you were locked indoors all the time and not exposed to the outdoors except the immediate yard and around the block, you would not be fulfilled and would be depressed,” says Hartstein. Same goes for dogs, so take time to bring your dog on long walks or to the park. Once it starts getting the freedom it craves, your pet might slowly get its energy back.
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7. Showing Sudden Aggression
A dog with depression might start tearing up the couch or growling when you touch it. “It’s not always the sad, forlorn basset hound-looking face you think of as the face of depression,” says Dr. Nelson. Depression shouldn’t be your first thought if your dog has always been aggressive, but a cuddly pooch that suddenly snaps might be telling you something’s wrong.
8. Being Alone in the House
Your dog probably gets lonely when you’re gone, so if your job constantly keeps you out of the house for long periods of time, your pet might stop jumping up to see you the minute you come home. “Dogs are social beings, and they’re not content with just being alone for many hours like that,” says Hartstein. Hire a dog walker or ask the usual walker to add another walk to your pet’s schedule, suggests Dr. Nelson.
9. Moving Houses
Don’t be surprised if your dog has been acting strange ever since you moved homes. Change can be tough for animals, and your dog might feel depressed while it gets used to its new environment, says Hartstein. With a little time and attention, though, your pet should snap out of it and warm up to its new surroundings.
10. Licking Constantly
Animals don’t just lick themselves to get clean; sometimes they use the action to make themselves feel better. While it’s not a common symptom of dog depression, it isn’t unheard of, says Dr. Ryan. “If dogs have anxiety issues, they could be doing more compulsive-looking behaviors that can be self-soothing,” she says. “They pick a spot and keep licking it.”
What Should You Do?
Before you blame your dog’s behaviour on depression, its vet will need to do a full checkup to rule out any other health issues that could be bringing your dog down, like pain or a thyroid problem. For instance, look for these 53 secrets your pet won't tell you. If everything else checks out, your vet will likely recommend giving your dog more exercise, a healthier diet, and extra attention to lift your pet’s spirits. As a last-ditch effort, a vet might prescribe one of the same depression medications humans would use, such as Prozac or Zoloft. “We don’t want all our dogs walking around on Zoloft if we don’t have to, and oftentimes we don’t need to,” says Dr. Nelson. “But if giving that little something to take the edge off helps them live a more comfortable life, there’s no shame in that game.”
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