Saying goodbye to a pet is one of the most difficult moments you can have.
Then you go home to explain it to your other dog. Only he doesn’t understand what you’re saying or why the tears are streaming down your face.
Then he gets it…
You left with Minnie, but you came back alone.
Days go by. Then it’s weeks. Milo can’t be left alone for an hour without howling.
Your dog is seriously depressed.
If you’re anything like me, your dog’s wellbeing is one of the most important things in your life.
Depression can hit your dog at any time. It doesn’t have to be the result of a devastating loss.
So what do you do when your dog is down in the dumps?
I’m going to cover some signs to help pinpoint when your dog is depressed, but you should always trust your instincts.
No one knows your dog like you do. No one.
What Does a Depressed Dog Look Like?
In a word: Sad. Especially if you know the dog well, you may be able to tell whether your dog is depressed based on a facial expression alone. If you miss this sign and notice others, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad owner or out of touch with your pet. Dogs are individuals and some are more likely to show emotion than others.
What Does a Depressed Dog Do?
In order to tell if your dog is depressed, pay close attention to how he acts. Any sudden changes in behavior or mood could be a sign that there’s something wrong. But there are specific things you can look for in your dog’s behavior that almost definitely indicate depression. And if it’s not depression, it’s still a problem that must be addressed.
You can be especially sure that there’s a problem if your dog is showing three or more of these signs.
Appetite changes – A depressed dog may stop eating or eat like her life depended on it. It all depends on the dog. Again, in this situation, it’s always best to look for sudden and/or extreme changes in appetite.
Sleeping often – The average adult dog sleeps about 12 to 14 hours in a 24-hour day. Puppies sleep 18 to 20 hours, so it would be difficult to notice an increase here. However, if your adult dog starts sleeping like a puppy, he may be depressed.
Paw licking – That incessant licking may be a sign that your dog is down in the dumps. Keep in mind that there are also physiological reasons for your dog to chomp at her paws too, including bacterial infections, eczema, joint pain and dry skin. However, if your dog is licking at his paws and exhibiting other signs on this list, it may be due to depression.
Hiding – If your dog never seems to be around the family anymore, this may be a sign of depression. Dogs are pack animals, so family is important. When they retreat and begin spending more time alone, it is never a good sign.
Why Do Dogs Get Depressed?
Dog personalities are as individual as human personalities, so their reasons for feeling upset or depressed may vary. However, there are some common triggers that may or may not lead to depression in your dog. If your dog is dealing with any of these changes and exhibiting the signs listed above, depression is the likely culprit.
A physical move – Like so many of us, dogs are creatures of habit. Even if you move to a bigger house with an even bigger yard, your dog may long for her old bone hiding places. If this is the cause of your dog’s depression, you should take comfort in knowing that it’s not likely to last long.
Loss of a loved one – Dogs can grieve just like the rest of us. If a dog’s owner or a close companion pet passes away, you may notice signs of depression in your dog. But if you don’t see these signs after a major loss, don’t worry. Not all dogs grieve in the same way. One dog may roam the house crying while another may give you more doggie kisses to help you feel better.
New family member – If you bring home a new spouse, roommate or baby, you may notice a change in your pooch. Your pup may be jealous of the time you spend with this new person and become withdrawn. This type of depression should be temporary as your dog forms a relationship with this new person.
New pet – Just like when you bring home a new family member, bringing home a four-legged family member can have an impact on your dog’s mood. Your pup may get depressed about any time you spend with the new pet. In this situation, again, it may be temporary. Your dog will likely form a relationship with the new pet and this will improve his mood.
Change in your schedule – Accepting a job with drastically different hours can affect more than just your sleep. Going from the day shift to the night shift also means that your dog won’t get her regular 6 a.m. walk. Even if she’s still going out at the same regular intervals, timing shifts mean new and new friends. The same exact route at a drastically different time can mean big change for a dog!
New Ownership or Temporary Home – There are those tragic moments when pet parents have to find new homes for their furry kids. And there are times when it’s only a temporary situation, like vacation. The thing is, your dog doesn’t know the difference. If you leave your pooch for an hour, five days or forever, it feels the same in the moment. Your dog is likely to become withdrawn in his new environment until he gets more comfortable or you return.
Your Own Depression – This last one doesn’t even occur to many pet owners, but dogs can feel our pain. They are actually empathetic beings. Dogs pick up on our sadness and depression and may mimic our sentiment. A joint Sao Paulo and Lincoln University found that most dogs were able to match a person’s tone of voice with the mood displayed in their picture. They know what it looks like when we’re angry, sad or happy – and they’ll change their mood to suit ours.
What to Do When There’s a Problem
If you’ve been nodding your head along to the list of symptoms above, you may be surprised to learn that it’s not time to diagnose your dog’s depression yet. Here is where we come to a fork in the road…
Because our dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong, the symptoms you’re seeing could be from depression or a physical problem.
So what do you do about it?
After identifying a problem, some pet owners jump into action taking measures to alleviate things that may be causing depression.
Others will first rule out any health issues that could be causing similar symptoms.
The path you choose is a personal one and will depend on your gut feeling. If you’re sure your dog is depressed because someone just passed away or you brought a new baby into the home, it’s a safe assumption.
However, if the cause of depression-like symptoms isn’t as obvious, a physical ailment may be more likely.
What to Do When Your Dog’s Symptoms Aren’t Really Depression
There are a few things you can do if you think your dog’s symptoms may be the result of a physical ailment.
One option is to take your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup. Your vet will do a thorough examination and take your dog’s vital signs. From here, he or she should be able to give you some indication of whether your dog may be dealing with a physical issue.
Another option is to take the natural route.
We’ll cover the specifics on how to treat your dog’s depression naturally soon, but homeopathic remedies, tonics and probiotics can also work to bring your pet back to an overall state of wellness.
Give us a call to discuss your pet’s condition and we will recommend a treatment plan that addresses his or her specific condition.
How to Comfort a Depressed Dog
For the first time ever, you walk through the front door after a long day of work and your dog doesn’t greet you. Your heart sinks.
Could she be hurt? Or worse?
No, that’s right. She’s still depressed.
You thought it would pass, but it’s only getting worse. You know this isn’t going away on its own, but what do you do?
Anyone who has ever had a depressed dog has struggled with this question.
Fortunately, there are good answers. Although they do have emotions, dogs are not complicated beings. Their needs are simple, and it’s usually not too difficult to turn their mood around. Usually.
Try one or all of these four things to help your depressed dog feel better.
Increase Cuddle Time
You don’t have to be a canine behavioral therapist to know that your dog craves your attention. If possible, give your dog more positive feedback and relaxed cuddle time.
But whatever you do, don’t overdo it! Your dog needs space too.
Dogs are cursorial animals. This is a fancy term to say, “baby, they are born to run!” The feeling of being held down can cause anxiety, which is the exact opposite of your desired reaction. A hug may make you feel better, but it will surely make your dog feel worse.
A few pats on the head and scratches behind the ear will go a long way.
Up the Entertainment Value
When you’re feeling down, it may help to get your endorphins up by going for a jog or a bike ride. The same holds true for your dog – he just can’t reach the peddles.
A Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science study found that dogs who played games with their owners were less likely to experience separation anxiety than those who didn’t. The study suggests that playing with your dog may increase your bond, which can help your dog through a difficult time. It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to a heart-to-heart with your pooch.
Rock Out to Some Reggae
Good news… information from the Scottish SPCA indicates that dogs may really like music! Results from a study found that dogs respond differently when exposed to certain types of music. Their responses indicate that dogs taste in music may vary as much as ours, but they seem more likely to enjoy reggae and soft rock over other types of music. So throw on some Bob Marley and spend some quality time rocking out with your pooch.
Fill the Void
If your dog is depressed about losing a companion animal, you may be able to help fill the void by getting another companion animal. Of course, you should only do this if it makes sense for your personal situation. And a companion animal will never replace the one you lost, not even for your dog. However, it may provide a distraction, and eventually, a new bond that can help make your dog feel better.
More Natural Remedies for Dog Depression
If you’ve tried everything above and your dog still seems depressed – or if you’re looking to add to this approach and address your dog’s overall wellbeing – you may want to consider homeopathic remedies.
Unfortunately, many of the dog owners we meet are dealing with doggie depression. Throughout the years, we’ve found that our custom remedy package works best to bring the dog back to a state of wellness.
Each custom remedy works at the deepest level of the dog’s body to treat emotional and physical issues. The precise formula is tailored to each dog, so we can be sure it is addressing that pup’s needs.
Here’s how it works:
You’ll fill out a questionnaire about your dog’s health, behavior and mood. This will include questions about family history, current medications, vaccines and more. It is a comprehensive questionnaire that covers everything we need to know about your dog in order to make the most efficient remedy possible.
From here, our homeopath will spend 1-2 hours on an in-depth analysis to find the best possible combination of ingredients for your pet.
The resulting remedy package may include a custom formulation for depression and specific physical ailments along with tonics and probiotics to improve your dog’s overall health.
Even if you are sure your dog’s symptoms are connected to an emotional event, a homeopathic remedy can help.
Think about it this way, when you’re feeling healthy, aren’t you better equipped to handle emotional challenges? The same holds true for your dog.
Prescription Medications for Dog Depression
Some people prefer to go the traditional-medicine route and opt for prescription medication for dog depression. Studies have shown that the following medications are relatively safe and effective, but be aware that they may have unwanted side effects.
Vets will often prescribe this medication to treat anxiety in pets. It works by adjusting serotonin and norepinephrine levels in an effort to restore balance.
Common side effects: Drowsiness, dry mouth, decreased urination, increased heart rate, constipation, vomiting and hyperexcitability.
Doxepin is used to treat depression, certain phobias and OCD behavior in dogs and other pets. It can also be used as an antihistamine to treat allergies.
Common side effects: Drowsiness, lack of energy, vomiting and hyperexcitability.
Your vet may prescribe fluoxetine to treat depression, OCD or panic disorders. This is a generic alternative to Prozac.
Common side effects: Sedation, anorexia, GI upset, anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity and insomnia
Getting a Depressed Dog Happy
Turning your dog’s mood around isn’t always as easy as waving the ball around, but with a little investigation and time, you can treat your pet’s depression.
This time for you and your dog is a season in life. Once you solve the underlying issues, you can get back to those sunshiney days of worry-free romping around the park.