Dog Depression: How to Tell If Your Dog Has the Blues

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The mood-boosting power of dogs is well-documented. If you've ever spent time petting a dog and gazing into his eyes, you've probably been lucky enough to experience that mood boost yourself.

But what if it's the dog who needs his mood lifted? Is depression in dogs real?

Warning Signs of Dog Depression

Some warning signs that your dog might be depressed look remarkably similar to a human's. Here are three signs to look for:

  1. A change in sleep patterns: Just like humans, dogs tend to sleep more if their spirits are down. If you find your dog doesn't want to get up, it might be a sign he's depressed.
  2. Loss of interest: If your dog doesn't seem eager to go on walks, run laps around dinnertime, or come over to you when you get home, he might be depressed.
  3. Excessive licking or other types of manic behavior: Did you know many dogs lick their paws to soothe themselves? If you notice your dog excessively licking himself it might be a sign he's upset.

Visiting a Veterinarian for Help

Black lab dog lies on the ground looking depressed

If you think you're dealing with dog depression, the first thing you should do is see a vet. Symptoms of dog depression could also mean a dog is in pain. A dog experiencing discomfort might eat less, sleep more or show a change in energy level. A vet can help you determine if depression or illness is to blame for the change in your dog's temperament. Make sure you're clear with the vet on how your dog has altered his behavior.

"As with many other aspects of caring for your dog, these signs will be more obvious to you (even when they are subtle) if you have a good idea of your dog's 'normal.' This includes his normal attitude, energy level, gait, appetite, thirst, sleep patterns and other physical and behavioral patterns. After all, if you don't know what's 'normal,' it's much more difficult to recognize what's not," Dr. Jason Nicholas writes in Preventive Vet.

Depression Due to Boredom

What can you do if your dog is depressed? First, determine if he is bored. Most often, a dog is simply depressed because he is bored, says Marty Becker, an Idaho vet and author.

"A dog was not meant to be born retired," Becker told ABC News. "Most dogs have a genetic exuberance. They want to do something. The modern dog is bored out of his skull."

You can keep your dog from getting bored by providing him with daily exercise, whether that be walking, running, or throwing a tennis ball in the backyard.

You can also keep your dog mentally stimulated even when you're away by providing him with a puzzle feeder. Puzzle feeders may curb behavioral issues and keep your pup's mind sharp—which comes in handy especially when you're at work or if he's feeling anxious.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Another reason a dog might be depressed? Seasonal affective disorder. Psychology Today reports a survey conducted by The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals discovered about 40 percent of dog owners saw a considerable downturn in their pet's moods during the winter. In addition, half of the dog owners felt that their dogs slept longer, with about two out of five reporting their pets to be less active overall even while their appetite increased. Psychology Today recommends boosting light exposure to help your dog get through seasonal affective disorder by placing your pet's bed under a skylight or close to a window or glass door, and by taking walks during the brightest part of the day.

Depression Due to Loss

The last thing that can cause your dog to become depressed is something that affects humans alike, and that is the loss of a loved one. Dogs can get attached to people and other pets much the same that humans do, and when a family member is lost due to death or moves out due to divorce or going to school, it can affect your dog. If you notice a big change in your dog's mood after a human or pet is no longer in the house for whatever reason, make sure to give him extra love. Show him that you're here for him to help comfort him.

Dogs can have bad days, just like their humans. It might take someone who loves him to notice he's not feeling quite like himself, and help guide him back to the grinning goofball he used to be.


Kara Murphy

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