Dogs, as well as humans, can suffer from depression. They can be very happy and joyful friends, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get bouts of depression from time to time. However, since their brains work differently, their depression is not the complex mental illness it is in humans.
It is very important for you, as their human, to be aware of any changes in behavior. Unlike us, they can’t tell you what’s wrong. It’s up to you to find out what’s going on and why your dog might be feeling this way.
There are some possible causes of depression in dogs, and, in most cases, they show similar symptoms and changes.
Let’s take a look…
Signs/Symptoms of depression in dogs
- Appetite Changes
- Changes in Sleeping Patterns
- Hiding and avoiding Contact
- Excessive and compulsive licking
When dogs get depressed, they usually change their eating habits. Commonly, they start eating less or they can even stop eating at all. On the contrary, some dogs can also start eating compulsively because food and the way it tastes can give them a sort of comfort. If you ever see a change in your dog’s appetite, he might be suffering from depression or even another condition. Also, it’s important to keep track of your dog’s weight; abnormal fluctuations in it can be a good indicator.
Hiding and avoiding contact
In general, dogs are not like most cats when it comes to physical contact. They love and enjoy playing and interacting with you. Hiding, acting scared or avoiding contact can be another sign of depression.
Excessive compulsive licking
Licking and biting their paws is a very common sign of depression. Dogs tend to do it when they are depressed to soothe themselves, and it becomes an anxious response.
Biting more than usual can also be a red flag.
Changes in sleeping patterns
Usually, the first thing you experience when coming home after a long day at work or school is your pup throwing itself at you with joy.
But, one day, you get home and your dog barely reacts. You check on him and he is sleeping or just doesn’t want to get up. At first, this could mean nothing, but it is a clear sign that there is something wrong with your furry companion.
Possible causes of depression in dogs
Loss of a family member, animal companion or even neighbor
This is one of the main causes of depression in dogs. Dogs are as sensitive as, if not more than, humans and they also grieve and go through mourning periods. Losing their human or animal companions, a close family member or a close neighbor, can psychologically affect your them.
According to Kathi O’Malley, dog behavior consultant, loss “is one of the most common reasons for depressive behavior in dogs, and is very difficult to deal with because the source is irreplaceable”.
Dogs can get depressed after losing another pet in the house (even if it was a different species). And adding a new dog or cat right away is not always the best idea. Some dogs might cheer up at having new company, but others will get even more depressed.
Although there is no current, official treatment, experts in dog behavior recommend that family members give extra attention to your dog. Spending more time with your dog and making him feel cared for and not alone is very important during this time
Lack of attention
It is important to think twice before getting another dog or adding a cat to the family. Dogs are extremely sensitive and, as we dog owners know, can be very jealous. A new pet might get all the attention, specially if it is a cute and chubby puppy. Even though you don’t mean for it to happen, your dog might start becoming depressed due to lack of attention and a little bit of jealousy. Likewise, a new baby can take attention away from your dog, which will probably make him a little blue.
In addition, leaving your dog alone at home for several hours, can be a cause for depression. Carol Sumbry, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, told PetMD that people tend to forget that dogs are very social animals: “Many are left alone long hours without access to human contact, access to bathroom facilities, or an outlet for their energy or natural instincts.”
Work schedules are demanding. If you work from 9 to 5, and if there is no one to look after your dog, it is very likely that your 4-legged friend will start becoming depressed. Maybe, when you get back home, you will find your apartment tore to pieces and all chewed up. This is a clear sign of depression and anxiety. If you don’t have a “dog friendly” office where you can bring your companion, try signing your loyal friend up for a daycare close to home at least three days a week. Your dog will get the attention he needs, use up all that energy, make friends, and it will definitely save you money on new furniture.
Moving to a new home… or other big changes
As we saw above, drastic changes are never easy for dogs. They are very territorial animals and a new home can trigger some depression symptoms. While getting used to the new home, you need to make this transition as smooth as possible.
For example, keep your daily dog-routine. If you are used to waking up at seven in the morning to go for a walk with your dog, keep doing that. And it’s just as important that don’t forget his favorites! His favorite toy, blanket, bed, or treats will make this transition easier. The smell of something familiar in the new environment can make him feel “at home”. This process takes time. So be patient with your dog, he or she will be thankful and less stressed.
Furthermore, signs of depression can be the only way for your dog to tell you there’s something else wrong.
If you your dog starts showing any of the signs that we previously listed, it’s better to rule out any physical health problems first. As soon as you notice the first signs of depression, take your dog to the veterinarian.
If the issue was physical, it is very likely that, after proper treatment, your dog will slowly regain his energy and depression signs will disappear. If your veterinarian rules out any physical problem, then you better start looking for emotional reasons why your dog’s behavior and habits are changing.
The reason is not always something directly related to your dog. Ever notice how your dog mimics your expressions? If you are sick, angry or sad, your dog might start responding to that in a similar way. Dogs are very receptive animals and they can pick up on your mood.
If you’re angry, they get scared and cower. If you’re sad, they might also get sad; if you’re sick, they might lie in bed with you all day.
And if you’re depressed… Well, you know where this is going.
Less Prozac more Cannabis
As depression and anxiety in pets get more attention, there is a growing tendency of pet owners and veterinarians using antidepressants, such as Prozac, as a treatment for dogs and cats.
Michael W. Fox, a veterinarian and author, wrote in The Washington Post regarding this practice:
“the trend of applying mind-altering drugs to help animals cope in stimulation-lacking and socially deprived domestic environments is an ethical concern that all responsible parties need to address.”
For instance, a 2017 national survey from Packaged Facts states that “8 percent of dog owners and 6 percent of cat owners gave medications to their pets for anxiety, calming or mood purposes within the previous 12 months”. That is a lot of medicated dogs and cats, taking into account that 60 million American households own dogs and 47 million, cats.
However, as it happens in humans, antidepressants like Prozac have side effects that can deeply affect the daily routine and health of your dog. Some of these side effects are loss of appetite, lack of energy, aggressive behavior, vomiting, seizures, itching and diarrhea, especially in dogs. If the dose is too high, your dog can even suffer from panting.
So, why put you dog through that? Isn’t there any other way?
Cannabis is a growing tendency when it comes to the treatment for anxiety and depression in our furry pals.
Cannabis for dog depression
Although THC can be deadly, or at least very damaging, for your dog, there is and increasing tendency of using CBD to treat behavioral and emotional conditions in pets. Robert J. Silver, a widely known veterinarian who specializes in cannabis for pets, explains how cannabis has a wide variety of uses in animals as well as humans:
“Terpenes and terpenoids exert strong biological effects by themselves, but have been found to interact synergistically with phytocannabinoids in the treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections”.
A study involving 60 dugs was conducted in Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis experienced a decrease in pain and increase in activity “after being given 2mg of CBD oil twice daily”. Blake Armstrong, owner of Cannabis for Pets, reviews some testimonies of owners who have used cannabis to treat anxiety and depression with great results.
Nevertheless, the Veterinary Medical Association states that further research is needed to fully understand how cannabis can be a treatment for several conditions in animals. As always, we do recommend that you check with your vet before giving CBD, or any other drug, to your dog, cat or other animals.
But, most importantly, always remember that dogs are social animals, and sometimes, affection and attention is all they need. They get very lonely and sometimes don’t know when or if you’ll be back to get them.