Is My Dog Depressed? 5 Symptoms to Look Out For

There’s evidence that dogs can alleviate depression in humans, which is great news for canine lovers. Well, buckle up, because this is a two-way street! Dr. Zac Pilossoph, consulting veterinarian at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, told us dogs get depressed too, and it can look a lot like people depression. Dogs who have no appetite, don’t get excited about their favorite things, display low energy or sleep all the time may be depressed. Dr. Pilossoph offered up some insight on what can cause this and how to spot it, so you can help your pup through. 

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What Causes Depression in Dogs?

As people, sometimes we don’t know why we feel sad. Trying to figure out why dogs experience depression is impossible, but we can guess based on context clues. We may notice our dogs expressing disappointment or frustration when they have to come inside or lose a toy. But true doggy depression comes on after more significant events like losing a pack member. “Since dogs are naturally family-oriented via pack mentality, the loss of a close family member could be enough to severely damage a dog's emotional state,” Dr. Pilossoph said. He added being left alone for longer stretches than normal, whether due to a schedule change or new family member, can also bring a dog down.

Some breeds, especially from herding and working groups, will become depressed without enough mental and physical activity. These dogs need stimulation to maintain healthy mindsets (which works well for us since physical activity is good for human mental health, too!).

Depression isn’t contagious, but sometimes misery loves company. While science hasn’t proven that dogs can actually take on their human’s depression, Dr. Pilossoph said that canines do pick up human emotions. “There is absolutely a subjective correlation in many situations to a dog feeding off an owner's energy and becoming sad or even depressed,” he said. “However, there are also many situations where a dog becomes the human's ‘antidote’ to their sadness, and they remain happy and positive, uplifting many humans.”

Are dogs the best or what?

How Can We Treat Depression in Our Dogs?

Treating dog depression totally depends on the cause - which, as we now know, isn’t always immediately clear. It may require a combination of treatments and some trial and error. One key difference between human and canine depression is vets typically do not prescribe antidepressants for dogs. Dr. Pilossoph said meds are more often used for anxiety disorders in canines, not sadness. Treatment for depression in dogs would more likely be targeted to understanding the cause of a dog's depression onset and trying to find direct solutions to the problem.”

For instance, dogs who lack mental stimulation should be challenged more through training techniques, learning new tricks and interactive toys. Dogs depressed over alone time may need an extra walk during the day or longer stretches outdoors.

Losing a family member—whether it’s another pet or a person - is very difficult to treat, as anyone who has grieved loss knows. Sometimes, simply being present with your dog and cuddling them to let them know you’re on their team is a good tactic.

5 Signs Your Dog Might Be Depressed

1. Low Energy
As with humans, depression in dogs is often caused by changes in serotonin levels. This manifests in lethargy and what may appear to be laziness. If your dog quickly goes from loving walks and leaping at any opportunity to fetch a tennis ball to showing disinterest in his favorite activities, he may be down in the dumps. Don’t brush this off as lazy dog behavior (unless of course, you own a basset hound, in which case Netflix and chill is very much the status quo).

2. Change in Eating Habits
Canines live for meal time. PetCareRx, a pet pharmacy that deals with nearly every canine medication on the planet, states dogs who are feeling low typically eat less or show only mild interest in their food. This symptom can be easier to spot since—hello!—there’s tangible evidence left over after dinner; so pay attention to these habits.

3. Change in Sleeping Habits
Again, lethargy that turns into 24/7 naptime should ring alarm bells. According to Stanley Coren, PhD, who has written almost a dozen books on dog behavior, a canine retreating to his bed or snoozing instead of playing is often an indicator something isn’t right. This could certainly be a sign your pup has hurt himself physically, but pain is often paired with yelping or a change in movement, not sleep. If nothing on the surface looks wrong, your dog could definitely be feeling depressed.

4. Anxious or Obsessive Behavior
While some breeds are more anxious and alert than others (hello, Boston terriers), any dog suddenly fixating on a certain behavior could be exhibiting symptoms of depression. Often chewing constantly on a single paw or nail can indicate dogs are upset or feeling low. If your typically friendly Goldendoodle stops greeting you at the door and starts hiding in the living room, something is definitely off internally.

5. Aggression
While aggression is rarer when it comes to depressed dogs, it can happen. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, and if a pup lets that anxiety take over, it can come out as scary, mean behavior. On the other hand, some pet experts like Iain Booth, founder of VetUK, believe dogs who feel ignored will act out for attention. A combination of these factors can make for a very moody pup.

6. Disinterest in Activities
If your dog’s favorite thing in the world is the dog park and suddenly they show no interest (or develop disinterest over a period of time), they may be depressed. The same goes for excitement over certain people. Dogs who normally get up to greet everyone (or their favorite person) may decide to stay put if they are feeling very low.

If a dog displays any of these behaviors, consider whether a recent event could be contributing to this shift in temperament. It’s worth a visit to the vet to verify what’s really going on and get the best treatment possible for the symptoms. 

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...