How to tell if your dog is depressed, signs to look for

Dogs can be going through a ruff time, too.

Studies have shown a dog’s brain is similar to that of a human’s, and in the 1980s, Dr. Nicholas Dodman of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University discovered that dogs can experience the chemical and hormonal changes that bring about depression and anxiety in humans, reports the New York Post.

Unfortunately, dogs can’t talk or communicate their inner feelings with their humans, so dog owners should be on the lookout for signs their four-legged friend is suffering from depression.

How to tell if your dog is depressed

Many symptoms of canine depression could also be linked to chronic pain and poor health, so if you notice your dog has multiple symptoms, call your vet to first rule out any illness or underlying medical conditions.

Once those are out of the question, it can be assumed that your dog has depression.

The stress a dog can take on from depression can ultimately lead to medical conditions, so it’s important to seek treatment — whether it be behavioural or medical — as soon as you know the diagnosis.

According to Veterinarians.org, symptoms of depression in dogs include:

– Loss of interest in things that used to bring your dog joy

– Reduced activity levels and desire to play

– Oversleeping and sluggishness

– Loss or changes in appetite

– Increased irritability

– Inappropriate accidents around the home

– Low mood and sad body language

– Excessive licking for comfort

– Clinginess or social withdrawal

– Reduced vocalisation and boisterousness

– Uncharacteristic wining or howling (can also be signs of anxiety)

Causes of depression in dogs

Multiple things can trigger the onset of dog depression.

According to Veterinarians.org, depression in dogs is mostly related to their surroundings — but it can also be connected to old age.

Ageing

As dogs get older, they typically experience a decline in their ability to function as they used to, and their mental health and brain functionality age with their bodies, too.

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCD) is a condition related to the ageing of a dog’s brain — which has been compared to dementia or Alzheimer’s in humans — where the dog experiences cognitive decline, according to PetMD.

Dogs with CCD often show signs of depression and anxiety.

With the inevitable decline in their quality of life, our furry friends can end up experiencing depression in this stage of life.

Sadly, we can’t stop our pups from getting old, but there are resources to determine a dog’s quality of life in their last years and offer guidance on what to talk about with your veterinarian.

Illness or disease

Dogs can also experience illness before they get old, and these dogs often deal with depression. According to a 2014 study, dogs that are hospitalised have increased levels of stress.

Disease, chronic illness or pain, and hospitalisation can all trigger symptoms of depression.

Loss of a loved one

Dogs experience grief just as humans do, and the loss of a family member, owner or another pet in the house can lead to feelings of depression.

Empathy

A 2019 study found that dogs “mirror the stress levels of their owners rather than the owners responding to the stress in their dogs.” They can recognise their owner’s moods, which can affect them.

Environmental changes

Any sort of change in the home can trigger depression in dogs since they tend to thrive with routine, and disrupting that routine can upset your pet’s life.

Some examples of changes at home can include introducing another pet into the home or welcoming a baby, taking the human’s attention away from the dog and onto the newest addition to the family.

Moving to a new home is another environment change that can lead to depression — moving boxes, staying in a kennel, long periods of moving back and forth, and a change of physical environment can drive your furry friend to become closed off and anxious, Veterinarians.org said.

Certain environmental changes can also lead to separation anxiety, which can cause depression. For example, dogs might have experienced feelings of depression after people started returning to work in person following more than a year of staying at home.

Trauma

Dogs can experience trauma in ways their owners might not immediately recognise.

When a dog goes through surgery or has an injury, they’re limited in mobility, and a decrease in activity can trigger a decrease in mood.

Hand-in-hand with environmental changes, your pet can experience trauma from natural disasters that uproot their lives. If there’s a hurricane, fire, earthquake or other disaster, the chances that they will associate fear and anxiety with any similar noises or experiences are high.

Pets can also experience post-traumatic stress disorder from previous abuse. If you happened to adopt a dog with an upsetting past or a stray dog, they might be carrying a weight of depression due to their life before you rescued them.

Similarly, retired police dogs or military hounds can experience PTSD from their time in service.

How to help a dog with depression

Veterinarians.org shared some ways that can help manage your dog’s depression.

Create a routine

As previously stated, dogs thrive on routine, so creating a predictable schedule for your pup will help them feel more comfortable.

Part of the routine should include some playtime to help with loneliness and boredom.

Bond with your pet

Dogs are social and not meant to be reclusive, so putting aside some time for activities that call for quality time can be beneficial for their mental health.

A pet’s bond with their owners is the foundation of their trust and feelings of safety and comfort. This can include cuddling, playing catch, exercise, etc.

Give your dog a new friend

If your dog’s depression stems from grief, introducing them to a new pet sibling could help. But, of course, be sure you take the steps to introduce them carefully so there’s no rocky start to the budding friendship.

Make their meals exciting

Your dog might be experiencing a loss of appetite due to depression, and adding an exciting addition to their meals won’t only get them eating but will also boost their mood. New treats or additions to their daily routine can reignite their love for food.

If your pup needs a specific diet or is under- or overweight, be sure to contact your vet for recommendations before adding extras on your own.

Behaviour modification training

There are dog trainers specifically trained in behaviour modification to help pets with depression related to trauma.

According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, techniques most commonly used in behaviour modification include habituation, extinction, desensitisation, counterconditioning, response substitution and shaping.

Seek veterinary help

If you’ve exhausted all other steps and your dog remains depressed, seek help from your vet about a treatment plan to help diminish your pet’s cycle of depression.

A veterinarian might put your dog on medication, but only do so if instructed by the vet — don’t self-medicate your dog. Many dogs use the same selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression and anxiety in humans.

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission.

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