Depression is a condition that seems to surround humanity, even more so lately. It seems that as the world plunges further into crisis surrounding environmental issues and animal cruelty, living beings are responding accordingly. Over 40 million adults in the US are affected by depression each year, which is why many of us are extremely familiar with the telltale signs that a loved one is suffering from depression. But what about our dogs? Is it possible that our beloved furry friend can experience depression and, if so, how would pet owners know?
When a person becomes depressed, there are all sorts of signs to look out for in order to give a diagnosis or at least consider that depression is a strong possibility. And while there is no official research that confirms whether or not depression in dogs exists, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence that suggests that if a dog is experiencing a bout of depression, such as separation anxiety or even certain levels of mental health, they will demonstrate very similar symptoms to a human. If a dog is depressed, the symptoms can include:
The tricky thing about depression in dogs is that sometimes the warning signs and triggers will be blatantly obvious—the death of a family member, for example. Other times, it can creep up subtly and you may notice that your pet is moping for no apparent reason.
So, how can a pet parent actually tell if their dog is going through a bout of canine depression? Here are some common symptoms of depression that you should look out for in your pooch if he is being morose.
Changes in Appetite
Just like humans, when dogs feel sad or out of sorts the biggest telltale sign is a total lack of interest in food. Most healthy dogs look forward to mealtime as if it is the first time that they have ever seen food. So suddenly not wanting to eat anything means something is not right. Weight loss can also occur and if you notice that your otherwise happy-go-lucky pooch is shedding the pounds, then you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. On the flip side, dogs can also turn to anxiety eating when they feel low, as just like humans—they seek solace in eating their feelings away. The latter scenario is far less common and any dramatic changes with regards to your dog’s temperament or weight should be checked out by a professional before any diagnosis is made.
Wanting to Sleep all the Time
Dogs always love a snooze and tend to sleep a lot, especially if they are lucky enough to be allowed up onto the couch or your bed. However, a dog will normally sleep when they are tired after a long walk and also when their owners are out. This is perfectly normal and absolutely nothing to worry about. The problem comes when your dog seems to want to sleep all the time, even when you have just got home after not seeing him for a few hours. If your dog barely reacts to you when you are around, or when you walk in the door then it could indicate that something is wrong and he is feeling especially low. You should never just assume this is down to canine depression, but have him checked for any physical injuries or issues first. If you can’t find anything wrong and his symptoms continue, then it is possible that he is experiencing a bout of depression.
Disinterested in Everything
The word “walkies” is one that many dog owners do their utmost not to mention unless they are just about to take their dog outside for a walk or playtime. Because dogs lead simple lives compared to ours, they spend all their time desperately waiting for food, walks, and attention. If your usually spritely and excitable dog suddenly loses interest in going for walks or other outdoor activities, then this could be a warning sign that he is feeling depressed. This is especially true if he is usually sociable around other animals and loves to play with them but, all of a sudden, he seems to want to be left alone. As a dog ages, they will naturally slow down, but this tends to happen very gradually over a period of time. So be aware of any dramatic changes in attitude that seem to last a few days or longer.
Constantly Chewing or Licking Their Paws
A dog will take great pride in meticulously grooming himself, especially his paws. But if you notice that he is excessively chewing or licking his paws, this can be an indication of anxiety and/or sadness. They engage in this compulsive behavior as a way of self-soothing and if this symptom is ignored, your pup could end up with sore and swollen feet that can be prone to infection.
Hiding and Withdrawing
If a dog is feeling fearful or anxious, he will often seek an enclosed safe space to hide away like in a closet or under furniture. And, of course, many dogs are susceptible to loud noises like thunder, shouting, or fireworks, so it makes sense that they want to hide away. However, behavior that focuses on avoidance and hiding can be an alarm bell that signals your dog is feeling unwell or he is injured. Canine depression falls into the category of feeling ill, so if your dog suddenly starts hiding away from you or avoiding interaction, he is likely feeling sad. Coaxing him out of his hiding place with treats and affection can work to help shake him out of his slump. However, should the behavior persist, he could be feeling depressed.
Depression in canines should not be overlooked or taken lightly. They too have feelings and emotions that we need to be aware of, otherwise, the feelings of sadness can sometimes manifest as aggressive or destructive behavior. Often, a dog’s behavior will be closely linked to physical illness, so always take the necessary steps to rule out injuries or illness if you notice persistent strange behavior in your canine companion.
Jennifer is the voice behind the FOMO Bones blog. She's pretty sure in her past life, she was a Great Dane. However, we peg her as more of a labrador. Regardless of her breed, she's a dog enthusiast who has 15 years experience training dogs and owners.