A once perky pooch may now be listless and withdrawn. Or a dog who previously had the tolerance and patience of Job might have turned aggressive, snapping at the kids or destroying furniture.
Could these be signs of depression?
â€śItâ€™s hard to know for sure because we canâ€™t ask what theyâ€™re feeling, and have no tests to specifically gauge depression in dogs,â€ť says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. â€śThatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to see a vet whenever your dog experiences any sudden change in behavior â€” to rule out a possible medical condition ranging from GI upset to cancer. But certainly, there are situations where depression seems to be the only explanation.â€ť
Leading the list, perhaps to no surprise, is loss of a family member. â€śWe definitely can say we see depression in dogs when thereâ€™s a death of a person or another pet in that household, or someone moves out,â€ť notes John Ciribassi, DVM, of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and co-editor of the book Decoding Your Dog. ?
But donâ€™t dismiss seemingly small changes in everyday routine. â€śThe trigger for depression in dogs doesnâ€™t have to be something we consider to be drastic or life-changing. If a dog always lays on the couch and suddenly itâ€™s replaced with a new [couch], that dog could become depressed because itâ€™s a life-changing event for the animal,â€ť said Mark Verdino, DVM, chief of veterinary staff at North Shore Animal League in New York, which is billed as the worldâ€™s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization.
6 Symptoms of Dog Depression You Shouldnâ€™t Ignore
Depression affects different dogs in different ways. Here are some common indicators:
Being down in mood and body. â€śThe most common symptom is sadness â€” a lack of joy or interest in what the dog used to look forward to,â€ť says petMD blogger Jennifer Coates, DVM. This is usually displayed by lethargy, inactivity and moping. Other clues-to-the-blues include a hanging head, tail down or between the legs, or usually perky ears appearing to be droopy or â€śpulled back.â€ť
â€śYou want to get the dog back into the routine before the life-changing event,â€ť advises Victoria Shade, noted dog trainer and author of Bonding with Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship. â€śAnd when you see any spark â€” a tag wag, a pep in his step â€”? definitely make a fuss to reinforce positive behavior.â€ť
If the dog is â€śmourningâ€ť a playmate, a substitute should step up: â€śIf Dad had walked the dog or played fetch and now has left the environment,â€ť says Dr. Verdino, â€śMom or another family member should take over â€” and maybe go for longer walks than before.â€ť
Change in eating habits. Most depressed dogs eat less; some refuse food or, occasionally and more dangerously, water. Itâ€™s rare, but dogs who previously were â€śgrazersâ€ť might become more aggressive eaters or beg for more food.
â€śTry to stick to their feeding schedule as much as possible â€” give them a finite amount of time to eat and remove the bowl,â€ť says Shade.?â€śBut in desperate times, you might want to sweeten the pot with some wet food or another food incentive. Just be mindful that the dog may want to stick with it, so you have to be careful.â€ť
Oversleeping. Although dogs average about 14 hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle â€” much of it in a series of naps â€” some depressed dogs may find it hard to get out of bed. â€śThis usually goes with inactivity, so try to keep the dog as active as possible,â€ť suggests Dr. Ciribassi.
Destructive and/or aggressive behavior. Usually affecting normally calmer dogs, this usually suggests the pet isnâ€™t getting enough exercise, says Shade.
Seeming â€ślostâ€ť at home. Particularly following the loss of a family member, some depressed dogs pace from room-to-room â€ślooking for that individual,â€ť says Dr. Ciribassi. â€śOthers no longer engage in normal 'greeting behaviors' when family members come home. These behaviors may be accompanied with more whining or sighing."
Household accidents. Pets without their usual get-up-and-go are less likely to get up to go, especially when theyâ€™re not eating and drinking normally, notes Dr. Coates. Itâ€™s nothing personal, so be patient, and spend more time outdoors.
â€śAs long as theyâ€™re eating and drinking, peeing and pooping, and still want to take walks, itâ€™s not really a problem. Just like people, depressed dogs donâ€™t just bounce back after a week when theyâ€™re grieving,â€ť says Dr. Coates.
Patience or Prozac for Depressed Dog?
With attention, activity, and a reconnection with previously enjoyable routines, most dogs tend to overcome depression on their own, sometimes within a few days, but as long as several months. In extreme cases, however, antidepressants such as Prozac may be used, typically for the short-term and usually following the loss of a family member, which tends to trigger the most serious cases.
â€śIn my experience, I donâ€™t see a difference among breeds, but older dogs are more prone to depression than younger [dogs] because they have had more time to develop those deep, deep bonds â€” and they arenâ€™t as a resilient to change,â€ť notes Dr. Coates.
But no matter the age, any indicators of depression are cause for concern. A checkup with the veterinarian is essential; not only because depressive symptoms can mask an existing physical condition, depression may also cause them.
â€śStudies suggest, and Iâ€™ve seen it myself, that stress alone is enough to bring on physical illness in dogs â€” just like in people,â€ť adds Dr. Coates. â€śAnd depression is a huge stressor.â€ť
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