Do Dogs Suffer from Depression?

Sad Pug

Pet parents have asked me if dogs can experience depression. In almost every case, the question is prompted by troubling behavior and not just simple curiosity. Well, dogs can most certainly exhibit obvious signs of depression, such as loss of appetite or declining interest in previously enjoyed activities. And then there are symptoms not readily recognized as depressive: anxiety, fearfulness, aggression, various destructive behaviors and even hiding from people. Are these last signs indicative of depression, a complicated emotional disturbance, or do they point to something else altogether?

In humans, depression ranges from temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent clinical depression, which persists for significant periods of time. Both are marked by a depressed mood and a loss of interest and lack of pleasure.

Dogs are highly intelligent, emotional creatures. We know that they can read our facial expressions, learn complex commands, express fear and joy, and can get stressed, but can they be depressed? Behavioral scientists not only say ‘yes’, but are surprised by how prevalent depression is among canines. In fact, in a 2013 British study, scientists discovered something shocking … nearly one in four dogs in the UK was suffering from some form of depression.

Because we cannot simply ask our dogs if they’re depressed, how can we know for sure what’s going on? Well, the experts say, look to sudden changes in behavior which cannot be attributed to a medical problem. In such cases, depression offers the most logical rationale. But, on an emotional level, we also have our own sense of empathy as a guide. As pet parents, we often just intuitively know something’s up.

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Canines often express signs of depression after loss of a family member, whether it’s a human or another animal. When someone close to a dog is no longer around, they can be listless, lose their appetite, be cranky, pace frantically, regress in house-training, sleep for even longer periods, and even develop destructive behaviors such as digging or chewing. Some dogs can develop anxiety-ridden behaviors, such as prolonged trembling, while others experience a significant change in personality (outgoing, becoming withdrawn and distrustful).

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Some dogs can exhibit depressive behaviors if they don’t get enough exercise or attention. Even changes in routine, ranging from serious (loss of a caretaker) to the seemingly harmless (changing a pet’s bed) can result in the symptoms listed above.

Unfortunately, changes in behavior can signal an underlying medical problem. Painful conditions such as arthritis, pinched nerves, bladder infections, or gastrointestinal inflammation can elicit behavioral changes, and hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism can mimic the signs of depression in dogs. If you notice any sudden changes in your dog’s behavior, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. With a physical exam, and any necessary tests administered as warranted (such as blood work, urine testing and x-rays), your vet will be better equipped to determine potential causes and likely treatments.

Sad Shaggy Dog

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR DOG’S DEPRESSION

If your dog seems inordinately sad or becomes listless, you do have some options for home therapy.

Be intentional about the time you spend with your dog. Be prepared to dote on your pup, (yes, even more than usual!), and shower them with attention, like you would with a newly adopted dog.

Renew your commitment to exercise with daily walks … sunshine and fresh air can do wonders for both you and your dog. Plus, you’ll be adding a little adventure to your dog’s day. By taking long but unhurried walks, you allow your dog the time and space to roam a bit and smell all the scents. Remember, they can detect a whole host of odors, building timelines and creating mental maps of previous activity in any given spot … think of it like canine storytelling.

While at home, make sure your pup has plenty of good chew toys, and engage in some training sessions to stimulate positive mental activity.

In spite of all this, if your dog is still experiencing chronic depression, your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate medication to help manage, possibly even resolve, the illness. Your vet may recommend a consult with a board-certified veterinarian behaviorist. Certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, these experts are especially good at understanding such situations and knowing which pharmaceuticals will be most effective.

Have you ever known a canine who suffered from depression? How did you know? And what, if anything, were you able to do to help alleviate the condition? We’d really like to know about your experience, so please submit your comments below. You never know … something you share might mean the world to a pet parent searching for a solution, even if it’s simply the solace of knowing others have dealt with similar issues.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks

REFERENCES:

In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding, by John Bradshaw, 2011, ISBN: 9780141046495.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10251465/One-in-four-dogs-suffering-depression.html

Comments (16) -

  • Jen Correa

    3/22/2016 2:24:05 PM |

    My dog lost her sight for the most part.  COuld that depress her?

  • Megan Smith

    3/23/2016 4:38:33 AM |

    This was so interesting.  Thank you.  Now that I have read it I'm fairly sure my little terrier had depression for a few months after he lost his sight.  I think he was also scared.  However, a little focus on his diet, and some extra love and encouragement from the family, has brought him out of it.  He's now going on long, off-leash walks in the woods with us, and is much happier.  The only thing he doesn't do now is run.  I really think it was the getting back out in the woods that brought him out of the depression.

  • Patrick Harris

    3/23/2016 6:07:41 PM |

    Great value Dr. Jane! As an animal lover, my whole life has seemed to revolve around animals in some form or fashion. This article certainly affirms what I have always believed with respect to depression in dogs. As a child I grew up in the country and an older brother had 3 hunting dogs(racoons). I always thought it was a barbaric form of entertainment but that's beside the point. Anyway those poor dogs were each kept chained to a post with maybe 5 feet of chain with their own dog house to sleep in. One of my chores was to go out and feed them when I got home from school. They were usually very happy to see me but it broke my heart to see them chained up. I would spend as much time with them as I could just sitting on the ground and petting them and I could tell that they were slowly losing interest. I never once doubted that they felt depressed because I could sense it. It is nice to know there is science to back it up...

  • Shannon

    3/24/2016 7:46:14 AM |

    I'm happy to see this subject written about as many people don't realize that pet's can feel depression too.  As a former Vet Tech for many years, I've seen it show up and can be treated.

  • Kelly

    3/24/2016 12:08:23 PM |

    My little dog suffered depression after we lost his playmate standard poodle passing away at the age of only 7.  It was very real and very sad.  And then in about a month he snapped out of it with lots of love and decided that I was his new best friend instead.  

  • Teri Landry

    3/24/2016 1:29:10 PM |

    Informative and easy to read. Thank you for including references.

  • Debie

    3/25/2016 1:41:13 PM |

    Nice article.   We moved to AZ a year ago and Ruby was sad for a little while because it disrupted her routine.  She likes to be active and social.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Marcia Marker

    3/29/2016 2:30:51 PM |

    Last summer, I used an overnight boarding service for my 7 year old dog Sugar and the 3 year old Shortcake.  Shortcake did fine, but Sugar was definitely depressed for several days even after I got home.  Poor little thing, it was the first time we had ever been apart.  

    But with extra loving, she came out of it and is her usual sweet happy self.  

  • Erica Greubel

    3/30/2016 7:07:23 AM |

    It was very interesting that the U.K. study found 1 in 4 dogs were depressed.  I didn't realize it was so prevalent.

    2 of my dogs sleep together and if they are apart they are very sad and miss each other.  It's for a very short time but it amazes me how emotional our animals are.

  • sue michaud

    4/5/2016 3:36:44 AM |

    I think Taz was depressed after getting sick, he couldn't move because he lost the use of his legs, and that made him frustrated.

  • Rebecca Forrest

    4/18/2016 2:23:32 AM |

    We’ve definitely seen depression in our greyhound, Zelda. We lost her best buddy, our senior greyhound Logan, about 15 months ago. Then about three months ago, we lost her other buddy, our greyhound Jordie.

    We didn’t realize how depressed Zelda was until we got a new boy for her, greyhound Barney. With Barney around, she perked up big time. She runs a lot more, gets a lot more excited, and is far more responsive to life in general. After we’d had Barney for a few weeks, we realized that we hadn’t seen this kind of behavior in Zelda since Logan died.

    We had thought that her slowdown was just natural aging. After all, she’s nine years old. But now she’s active like she was years ago.

    Thanks for the insightful article, Dr Jane!

    Rebecca Forrest

  • Alice Byrom

    4/29/2016 4:47:52 PM |

    Great article! I have seen dogs exhibit the signs of depression that you mentioned here, especially over the loss of someone close to them. It's sad to see them go through this. Thank you for the helpful tips on how to deal with the symptoms and support our pets through rougher times.

  • Lisa Altman

    5/4/2016 1:16:22 PM |

    My current golden retriever mourned over loosing another golden retriever pet family member.  It was heart braking.  

  • Christy moder

    5/28/2016 1:29:02 PM |

    Our little man became depressed when his girl went to college

  • Jan Mayr

    5/30/2016 1:37:04 PM |

    I have always believed that dogs suffer from depression and grief, especially with the loss of a family or pack member. Thank you for this article and insight.

  • Deborah

    6/3/2016 11:33:37 AM |

    Very good article, did not know Dogs could suffer like humans do, shows how close connected we are in the natural.  Will be using this to help others to see what could be happening with their pet.

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