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Depression in Dogs| Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Published on 24 September 2021 at 11:36

Dogs & Depression

People suffering from depression will exhibit cognitive and behavioral signs. They will sleep more, be less active or inactive, and show little to no interest in doing the things that they previously enjoyed. They appear sad, tired, and have a decreased appetite. They have trouble thinking clearly and problem solving.  


People can also verbalize when they are feeling unhappy. Unfortunately, dogs cannot tell us when they are feeling lonely, sad, or yes, even depressed. Looking for effective ways to treat dog depression? That’s what we’re going to talk about today!


Do Dogs Get Depressed?

There is evidence that dogs can experience depression, especially if there has been a stressful or traumatic change in their lives. However, some dogs may experience depression relating to the worsening of an anxiety disorder. 


Exposure to people, other animals, situations or environment that increases the dog’s overall level of stress can cause depression. Depression is typically seen in middle-aged to senior dogs. For some dogs that suffer from an anxiety disorder, depression may be the result of their coping mechanisms failing. 


Maybe you just moved, or you brought a new baby home with you. Out of nowhere, your usually energetic fluff is withdrawn and listless. Can your dog be depressed? Yes, experts say so. And, depression in dogs is not that different from depression in humans.


When Jodie Richers' dog, Bada, died in 2002, her two other dogs, Terrace and Pumba, went through a period of mourning. "We were all sad, but we got through it," Richers said. We made a lot of car rides and dog parks; everything they liked".


But when Pumba died in 2007, Terrace wasn't happy anymore. "It just got worse and worse," said Richers. "At first, she was just in shock. After that, she didn't go hiking anymore. Then she stopped eating. Then she stopped drinking. She spent all her time hiding in a closet or behind a big mirror in my bedroom." Richers' vet diagnosed the fluffy, mixed breed of 15 kilograms with a dog depression.


What Causes Dog Depression?

Beaver said major changes in a dog's life can lead to periods of depression. Those include moving to a new house, a new spouse or baby in the household, or adding another pet. Even a change in the dog's schedule, for example a landlord taking a job, can cause a dog to go down.


But the two most common causes of severe dog depression are the loss of a companion animal or the loss of an owner. And be careful, the dog reacts to the reactions of other people in the house.


"Dogs absorb our emotions, so if the owner has died, the dog might react to the grief of others," said Beaver. "Or the dog might not get the attention he is used to, which causes him stress."


Driving a car can also lead to stress in a dog, so always use a dog car seat for the dog to ride in the car without stress. This can also combat car sickness.


If you suspect your dog is suffering from depression, consider what has changed or is changing in their life, such as changes in their environment or social situations. Any significant change in a pet's normal routine can cause stress and/or depression. This is not an exhaustive list, but depression in dogs can be caused by:


#15 Causes Depression in Dogs

  1. Chronic pain or chronic illness;
  2. Trauma (such as an injury or abuse);
  3. Isolation (such as a pet sitting alone in a crate after surgery or injury);
  4. Lack of mental or physical stimulation, especially in energetic or working dogs;
  5. Changes in the household;
  6. The addition of a new family member (human or pet);
  7. A change in work or school routines, such as a parent returning to work after an extended stay at home;
  8. Loss of a family member; 
  9. Loss of another animal housemate (dog or cat);
  10. Recent move;
  11. Change in lifestyle;
  12. Being rehomed to a new family;
  13. Being abandoned;
  14. Increasing levels of stress and anxiety;
  15. Underlying medical condition.


#11 Symptoms of Depression By Dogs

Symptoms of the dog's depression are very similar to those in humans, said John Ciribassi, DVM, the former president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. "Dogs will withdraw. They become inactive. Their eating and sleeping habits often change. They no longer participate in the things they once liked."


But vets warn that those symptoms can also mean that a dog has a medical problem. A pet that noses around and doesn't want to go for a walk can just have pain from arthritis, says Beaver. Arthritis (or osteoarthritis) in dogs is a painful, progressive inflammation in the joints usually associated with degeneration (wear and tear) of the joint cartilage. It is the most common cause of lameness in dogs: 1 in 5 dogs is affected.


Symptoms of depression in dogs:

  • A decreased appetite;
  • Sleeping more than usual or appearing listless;
  • Demanding more affection or being affectionate/needy for their owner;
  • Frequenting parts of the house where their companion spends most of their time;
  • A change in vocalisation (meowing, barking, whining, etc. more than normal);
  • Unusual aggressive behaviour towards people or other animals;
  • Inappropriate elimination (urinating or defecating) in the house;
  • Withdrawal from social situations;
  • Hiding;
  • Increase in destructive behaviour;
  • Unwillingness to participate in normal play activities.


Treatments For Depression By Dogs

Most dogs bounce back from depression within a few days to a few months. Keep them busy, do more of the things they like to do, get them a bit more exercise, and they should be fine. And reward them when they show signs of happiness.


If the only thing that gets a little tail out of your dog is a car ride, take him for a series of short rides a day, praising and rewarding him when he seems happier. And be careful not to encourage negative behaviour by lavishing a depressed dog with attention and treats while they sulk. The dog will think you are rewarding them for that behaviour.


Sometimes, if the dog is depressed because of the loss of a companion, getting another pet can help. But it should be done carefully with both the family and the dog's needs considered.


Treat dog depression:

  • Organise play dates. If your pet misses a furry friend, interacting with another dog can help fill the void. Adopting another dog can also help, but you should not make this decision just to cheer up your dog. Bringing home a new pet should be a good fit for both you and your pet;
  • Increase mental and physical stimulation. This could include extra or longer walks with your dog, consistent fetch, giving him a new enrichment or puzzle toy, or encouraging him to do some of his favourite activities;
  • Make sure he eats. Temporarily adding a topper to the food can encourage your pet to eat. A sudden change in diet can lead to digestive problems, so don't change the diet completely or abruptly;
  • Give them some time to themselves. This is not time in a kennel or alone at home, but time when they can enjoy a mentally stimulating game or activity.
  • Respond appropriately. If your pet's depression is causing them to behave, you need to adjust your behaviour so that you don't unintentionally reinforce bad behaviour. Reward appropriate behaviour with attention, treats, etc. You shouldn't generally punish undesirable behaviour, and it especially doesn't work with pets suffering from depression or anxiety.


Medication for dog depression

If nothing else works, medication can help dogs get over their depression. Medication for depressed dogs can be the same as the medications used by depressed people - Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft or Clomicalm, an FDA approved drug for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs.


It is important that people address the problem before it gets too bad.  But most cases can be successfully treated at an early stage with behavioral change and environmental enrichment, so we don't have to get to the point where we need to use drugs".


Beaver said it can take up to two months for drugs to become effective. But unlike people, who often stay on antidepressants for years, most dogs can get better in six to twelve months and then be taken off the drugs, she said.


The most common medications used to treat depression in dogs are human antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCA). Pet owners should not give their pets these medications unless instructed by a veterinarian to do so.  


The most commonly used SSRIs used to treat depression in dogs are: 

  •     Fluoxetine (generic Prozac)
  •     Paroxetine (generic Paxil) 
  •     Sertraline (generic Zoloft)


How to Prevent Depression in Dogs?

Depression is a complicated condition, and it cannot always be prevented in dogs. Certain life changes or circumstances may cause your dog to feel sadness or stress. But ensuring that your dog is medically healthy, active, and enriched may help prevent the onset of depression. 


Pet parents should exercise their dogs daily, going on walks together or dedicating time to play. Keep these activities new and engaging by switching up walking routes or incorporating new toys. Continuing to teach your dog new cues and tricks can keep him mentally stimulated. 


Additionally, you can provide new and interesting smells in your home to enrich your dog’s environment and keep it exciting. Sheep wool or rabbit fur might be welcome scents for your dog, or you can purchase deer musk from hunting supply stores.  


If your dog is not fearful of the car, take rides to expose your dog to new sights and sounds. This can keep his mind active and engaged. 


In addition to staying active and using enrichment tools, it’s important to take your dog to see a veterinarian for annual check-ups. During his appointment, your vet will ask you questions about his mood and behavior and look for any underlying medical conditions that could be causing pain, discomfort, or stress. Yearly veterinary visits can help catch potential issues early and may help your dog avoid depression. 


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