Yes, Your Dog Can Get Depressed — Here Are the Signs to Watch Out For
Yes, it's possible for dogs to get depressed — and they often exhibit similar signs to humans when they're not feeling their best. And while you probably can tell when your dog is feeling off, how do you know if it's just a bad mood or something more serious? If your dog is battling depression, they might not exhibit the same energy, appetite, or playfulness as they once did. So if something seems "off" with your dog (maybe they're not greeting you at the door, covering you in kisses, or engaging with their favorite toys), you'll want to check in with your vet to get down to the bottom of it. Once pinpointed, with a little help, your furry BFF can get back to their happy, loving selves. Read on for some common indicators that your dog may be depressed — and what to do to help them get through it.
Any Significant Change in Behavior
It's broad, but one of the biggest indicators that something isn't right with your pup is a departure from their "normal" behavior. If your dog starts engaging behavior they've never done before, or just doesn't have that same spunk, it could be a marker of depression. "Dogs can exhibit symptoms of unhappiness in a variety of ways," said Kayla Fratt, certified dog behavior consultant and owner of Journey Dog Training. It's hard to predict how your dog will respond to stress, but the biggest thing to look for is a change from "usual" behavior, which varies from one dog to the next.
Sleeping Too Much
When you're feeling rundown, you may oversleep — and dogs are the same. "Many dogs sleep an average of 18 hours a day," Fratt says. "But if your dog is slower to rise than normal or is less excited about walks than normal, you might have a problem." Again, this is partially about knowing what's typical for your dog. If a dog who loves to take a nap and then run outside and play seems lethargic after a nap (and maybe even takes another nap shortly after), that could be a sign of depression.
A Change in Appetite
"Dogs may be 'off their food' and eat less when they are feeling bad, or they might be extra-interested in food," Fratt says. Sometimes, a stressed-out dog might have an achy stomach, or just might not feel like eating. On the flip side, other dogs find comfort in food (just like people) and will eat more when they're stressed, Fratt explains. Either way, try to encourage your dog to eat a normal, healthy amount of food. If the problem persists, see your vet for help.
Your dog might want to snuggle up and steal some attention (which is normal and enjoyable for you, too!), but excessive neediness is a problem. "Many dogs love human companionship all the time, but they might get all-out clingy when they're stressed," Fratt says. "If normally your dog likes to sleep at your feet, but one day he's trying to climb in your lap and won't let you out of his sight, that might be a cause for concern." From here, maybe consider giving adding an extra walk a day, some games or toys, or treats and see if they perk up.
Spending Time Alone
While some dogs may be extra clingy, some prefer isolation when depressed. If they avoid social contact, whether with humans or other animals in the house, when they've always loved being around others, that's a red flag, says Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA of Camp Bow Wow. After speaking to a vet and ruling out medical issues, try and bring some fun back into their lives, like fresh air or a new type of treat, she suggests, to ease them back into better spirits.
Whining, Panting, or Pacing
Think about when you whine and pace around nervously. That's often due to stress, and dogs react the same way. "Dogs also yawn, shake off, and freeze in motion when they're stressed out," Fratt says. "Each of these body language cues can be normal (yawning after a nap or shaking off when wet), but if they're excessive or out of context, you might want to seek help from a professional."
How You Can Help
If you talk to your vet and the issue isn't medical, you can look to some lifestyle tweaks to provide your pup some more joy throughout day. "Get outside and change up your routine — go on a walk in a new neighborhood or trail, let your dog sniff and explore," Askeland says. You can also try some puzzles and games. "Teach your pup fun tricks or consider attending a group dog-training class with a certified trainer," she says. "Look for tricks, agility, nose work, or other fun and engaging activities." See what works for your dog, and go from there!