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Depression in dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and more

Published on 25 September 2020 at 10:00

Maybe you just moved, or you brought a new baby home with you. Out of nowhere, your usually energetic fluff is withdrawn and listless. Can your dog be depressed? Yes, experts say so. And, depression in dogs is not that different from depression in humans.


When Jodie Richers' dog, Bada, died in 2002, her two other dogs, Terrace and Pumba, went through a period of mourning. "We were all sad, but we got through it," Richers said. We made a lot of car rides and dog parks; everything they liked".

But when Pumba died in 2007, Terrace wasn't happy anymore. "It just got worse and worse," said Richers. "At first, she was just in shock. After that, she didn't go hiking anymore. Then she stopped eating. Then she stopped drinking. She spent all her time hiding in a closet or behind a big mirror in my bedroom." Richers' vet diagnosed the fluffy, mixed breed of 15 kilograms with a dog depression.


Can dogs be depressed?

Bonnie Beaver, DVM, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, said vets don't really know if dogs suffer from depression the same way people do. "It's hard to know because we can't ask them," Beaver said. 

Beaver said that while it's not uncommon for pets to be sad for a while, especially during periods of change, it's rare for dogs to suffer from long-term depression.


What are the symptoms of depression in a dog?

Symptoms of the dog's depression are very similar to those in humans, said John Ciribassi, DVM, the former president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. "Dogs will withdraw. They become inactive. Their eating and sleeping habits often change. They no longer participate in the things they once liked."

But vets warn that those symptoms can also mean that a dog has a medical problem. A pet that noses around and doesn't want to go for a walk can just have pain from arthritis, says Beaver. Arthritis (or osteoarthritis) in dogs is a painful, progressive inflammation in the joints usually associated with degeneration (wear and tear) of the joint cartilage. It is the most common cause of lameness in dogs: 1 in 5 dogs is affected.

What are the causes of depression in a dog?

Beaver said that major changes in a dog's life can lead to periods of depression. These include moving to a new home, a new husband or baby in the household, or adding another pet. Even a change in the dog's schedule, for example a landlord taking a job, can cause a dog to go down.

But the two most common causes of severe dog depression are the loss of a pet or the loss of an owner. And be careful, the dog reacts to the reactions of other people in the house.

"Dogs absorb our emotions, so if the owner died, the dog might respond to the grief of others," said Beaver. "Or the dog might not get the attention he's used to, which gives him stress.

Depression treatments in dogs

Most dogs bounce back from depression within a few days to a few months. Keep them busy, do more of the things they like to do, get them a little more exercise, and they should be fine. And reward them when they show signs of happiness. Read here how to recognize a happy dog. 

If the only thing that gets a little tail out of your dog is a car ride, take him for a series of short rides a day, praising and rewarding him if he seems happier. And be careful not to encourage negative behavior by overwhelming a depressed dog with attention and treats while they're moping. The dog will think that you are rewarding them for that behavior.

Sometimes, if the dog is depressed because of the loss of a companion, getting another pet can help. But it should be done carefully with both the family and the needs of the dog taken into account. 

Medication for dog depression

If nothing else works, medication can help dogs get over their depression. Medication for depressed dogs can be the same as the medications used by depressed people - Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft or Clomicalm, an FDA approved drug for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs.


It is important that people address the problem before it gets too bad.  But most cases can be successfully treated at an early stage with behavioral change and environmental enrichment, so we don't have to get to the point where we need to use drugs".

Beaver said it can take up to two months for drugs to become effective. But unlike people, who often stay on antidepressants for years, most dogs can get better in six to twelve months and then be taken off the drugs, she said.


Source: Dog depression. (s.d.). Consulted on September 24, 2020


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