How to Tell if Your Dog Is Depressed

A dog looking out of a window

If you're like most dog owners, your dog is usually pretty cheerful about life in general. You can see it when they excitedly greet you at the front door when you get home from work or bound around when they know it's time for a walk. Sometimes, though, you might notice your normally upbeat pup seems a little downcast. Let's take a look at how to tell if a dog is depressed.

How To Tell if Your Dog Is Depressed: Potential Signs

First, trust your instincts. If you can tell your dog looks unwell or is acting considerably less enthusiastic than usual about activities they used to enjoy, it's probably worth a quick trip to the vet's office. If you're not sure, run down this checklist for how to tell if your dog is depressed.

Lethargy or Restlessness

A lethargic dog will sleep a lot more than usual and won't be as interested in playtime. If your dog is usually quite active but suddenly doesn't seem to want to engage with you, your family or your other pets, it could be a sign of dog depression.

The opposite issue is worth paying attention to as well. Sometimes, your dog seems completely unable to calm down when it's time to sleep. This inability to settle might also be a sign of depression.

Keep in mind that like most of the other potential symptoms on this list, unexplained lethargy or restlessness can be a sign of a different issue entirely. For example, an active dog who usually loves chasing birds around your backyard might just have something stuck in their paw if they're refusing to move from the porch. A restless dog who won't lie down for an extended period of time might be suffering from joint pain.

Lack of Appetite

Dogs love to eat, so if you notice a significant change in your dog's eating patterns or they seem to have lost interest in food entirely, it's a major red flag. Always consult a vet in this situation.

As with lethargy, this symptom can be a little tricky to properly gauge when it comes to depression. There are many other reasons your dog's appetite might not be as large as usual. For example, dogs tend to eat less when the weather is hot. A dog suffering from tooth pain is also likely to be less interested in eating than usual. 

Unexplained Changes in Behaviour

Any other behaviour that's significantly out of step with your dog's normal personality could potentially be a sign of depression. Examples of such behaviour changes include repeatedly attempting to escape areas they know they're not supposed to leave, relieving themselves in inappropriate places, obsessive chewing and showing unusual aggression.

Potential Causes of Dog Depression

Once you've noticed potential signs of dog depression, it's time to consider what actions you can take to perk up your pup. Fortunately, dog depression isn't quite as complex as it is in humans. Once you've figured out what's bringing your dog down, a quick switch in their environment or lifestyle can work wonders.

Change in Physical Environment

Like most humans, most dogs enjoy having a reassuring routine and being comfortable in their environment. And just like most humans, dogs can become anxious, irritable or depressed when dealing with the uncertainty caused by moving to a new home or renovating a current one.

If you've noticed a significant change in your dog's behaviour following a move, they might just need a little time to adjust to the new surroundings.

Change in Social Environment

This one is closely related to changes in the physical environment. A dog who's bonded to an owner or an entire family unit is likely to experience strong emotional reactions to changes in the makeup of the household. A divorce, graduation, birth or death or the addition of a new pet can all distress your dog in a way that manifests as dog depression. 

Even small changes in their social environment can affect dogs' emotions. If you change your work hours or start a new job, it can confuse and potentially depress your dog, particularly if you're the dog's only caregiver.

Lack of Excitement 

Dogs are usually awake for over 12 hours a day and can get very bored when there's nothing to do. Some breeds of dogs are unbothered by a lot of downtime. Working breeds such as Doberman pinschers and German shepherds, though, tend to suffer from emotional problems if they're not allowed to get out and about. 

Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression in humans that crops up in the cold, wet and dark months of the winter, can also indirectly affect dogs to an extent. Freezing weather and dangerously icy walking conditions aren't much fun for people, so dogs tend to get fewer opportunities for walks with their owners in the winter. The reduction in exercise and stimulation can result in dog depression. 

Make sure you're playing with your dog and taking them for regular walks to head off boredom-related depression.

Previous Training Methods

A dog that's been trained by punishment-based methods in the past may suffer from low confidence and an unwillingness to act in an expressive manner since they've learned that being quiet and docile is safer. This kind of depression can be particularly hard to spot since to the untrained eye it looks like remarkably good behaviour. 

It's best to use reward-based training methods that focus on giving your dog positive feedback for good behaviour. Avoiding unnecessary punishments can go a long way in reducing this kind of dog depression.

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