8 Signs Your Dog is Sad or Depressed and How to Cheer Fido Up

By: Nathan Grant

Is your dog acting weird, sleeping all day, or lethargic? Does he have a sad puppy dog face? He may have canine depression. Let's talk about the signs and symptoms of dog depression and learn how to make your pooch happy again...

One in four dogs suffers from dog depression (1).

When I read that statistic, I instantly started thinking about my own little Kate.

How could I tell if my puppy dog was sad or depressed?

Could she be suffering without me knowing? I’m sure you’ll agree that these are scary questions!

I decided to do some research about depression in dogs.

In this article, I’m going to share what I found with you.

By the time you finish reading, you’ll know the signs that your dog is depressed, some common causes of depression in dogs, and how you can make your dog happy again!

Ready to find out how your dog is feeling?

Watch Out for These 8 Signs and Symptoms That Your Dog is Feeling Depressed!

Wouldn’t it be great if you could ask your dog how he’s feeling?

Of course, you wouldn’t get a verbal reply—but that doesn’t mean your dog can’t communicate his feelings. If you want to know how your furry friend is feeling, all you have to do is pay close attention to his behavior.

Keep an eye out for these signs that your dog is depressed:

  • Appetite changes. Dogs love their food, as you surely know, so if your four-legged friend changes his feelings about food, he might be expressing deep emotions (even deeper than his passion for bacon treats)! This could go either way. Some dogs eat less because they can’t work up their usual level of excitement about food. Other dogs eat more, trying to use food to lift their low spirits (2).
  • Weight loss or weight gain. If your dog’s new eating habits stick around, you might begin to see weight change too. This is a double red flag. Weight change doesn’t just mean your dog is feeling down; weight change means he’s been feeling down for a while! (3)
  • Apathy. Next to food, what does your dog love best? That’s right, play time! But when your dog is down in the dumps, you might not be able to reach him with his favorite toy or with an invitation to go for a walk (4).
  • Oversleeping. It’s normal for dogs to sleep a lot (14-18 hours per day, to be exact), but if your dog snores through things that would normally excite him—like the moment you arrive home from work, a steak sizzling on the grill, or the mailman dropping by—he might have a serious case of apathy (5); check number and link to previous article about how much dogs should sleep?)
  • Withdrawal. Dogs are social and loving creatures, but when they’re depressed, they might not be so keen to hang out with other people. Maybe they’ve lost interest in socializing, or maybe they don’t want you to pick up on their heartache. Remember, dogs are masters of hiding pain. Avoiding friends and family members might seem like the best way to keep their pain under wraps. (link to previous article about signs of dog pain? (6)
  • Hiding. Hiding might seem like an extreme example of social withdrawal, but it’s not unheard of in dogs who are feeling truly blue! (7)
  • Clinginess. On the other hand, your best friend might turn into a velcro dog when he’s feeling emotionally unstable. Your presence makes him feel better, and he doesn’t want to lose that! (8)
  • Paw licking. Dogs lick their paws to soothe themselves when they are in pain, stressed, or—you guessed it—depressed (9).

These red flags can clue you in to your dog’s feelings, but remember, all dogs are one-of-a-kind. You know what’s normal for your dog and what’s not. Any major shift from normal behavior to weird behavior is worthy of investigation!

What’s Behind the Gloom of Canine Depression?

Identifying the reason your dog is depressed is the first step towards cheering him up! Remember, dogs are sensitive and emotional creatures, so there are lots of things that could put a damper on their spirits. But if you really think about your dog’s life, you’ll probably be able to figure out what’s wrong.

Pay special attention to these three categories:

Physical discomfort

Staying cheerful when you’re physically unwell is hard! Dogs are much better at it than humans, but if they feel bad enough, even dogs will get a little mopey. Remember, if your dog is showing signs of lethargy, there could be underlying health conditions or physical pain from arthritis.

Any of these canine health ailments could explain your dog’s depression:

  • Infection. Many bacterial and viral diseases can take a toll on your dog’s appetite and energy level—and when your best friend isn’t able to enjoy his food or play time, he might slip into depression (10).
  • Aging. Sure, dogs don’t have to worry about retirement funds or the music their grand-kids are listening to, but that doesn’t mean getting old is easy! Arthritis, vision loss, hearing loss, and digestion problems can all limit your best friend’s activity as he gets older. Those limitations can be hard to accept for a dog who loved to run and play in his salad days! (11)
  • Surgery. Many dogs get depressed after surgery since surgery has multiple impacts on heir physical and mental health. First, your dog might be in pain from the surgery. Second, he might be on painkillers or antibiotics that reduce his energy and appetite. Finally, he might be traumatized by the experience and fear another surprise trip to the veterinarian! (12)

Luckily, most of these ailments can be fixed with the right medical care, and your dog should start to perk up as soon as he is feeling better!

Family Changes and your Dogs Environment

Over the years, dog’s have earned their title as man’s best friend with their loyalty and unconditional love. But what happens when a dog is separated from someone (or something?) he loves?

Any of these changes could send your dog into mourning:

  • The death of a dog owner. You’ve probably heard stories of dogs who laid on their owners’ graves or kept a lookout for their owners to return after they died. Obviously, these dogs were grieving for their lost loved one, right? Actually, psychologists debate whether or not a dog can “grieve” for his owner since dogs don’t understand the permanence of death. Still, “grieving” dog stories from all over the world have shown that dogs are frightened and depressed by the loss of their owners (13).
  • The death of another pet. If losing a human companion can send a dog into depression, what about losing another dog—or even a cat? Research has found that over 60% of dogs show signs of stress after another pet dies. The most common behaviors are looking for the missing pet and clinging to the other loved ones! (14)
  • Changes in the family. Death isn’t the only thing that can disrupt a family. Kids go off to collar. Soldiers are sent overseas. Couples get divorced. These family changes are similar to deaths for a dog; they mean that a loved one is suddenly missing, which is stressful stuff for a dog! (15)
  • Moving. Saying goodbye to familiar sights, sounds, and smells is tough on your dog, as is adapting to new territory. When you move, your dog is expected to make both of these transitions fast, which could lead to a stressed, overwhelmed, and unhappy pooch (16). It’s clear that separation anxiety is a problem for dogs just like it can be for humans.

The good news? Most dogs are able to adjust to these changes, given a little time and LOTS of TLC. Eventually, your dog will accept that life goes on and will return to his normal self.

Lifestyle and day-to-day life

Sadly, the way most dogs live today is far from ideal! Many dogs spend large portions of their day inside, alone, without mental stimulation—and that’s a recipe for gloom!

  • Boredom. The most common culprit behind doggy depression? Boredom. Remember, most dogs were bred to serve a purpose: herding sheep, retrieving ducks, hunting rats. But today, the majority of dogs are unemployed. They have no way to exercise their brains, and day after day of boredom eventually leads to the deepest kind of depression: a generalized loss of interest in living (17).
  • Loneliness. What about lap dogs, you say? Surely they are okay with sitting around all day? Maybe—but they still need company. Dogs are social animals even more than they are working animals, and all dogs can get downhearted when they are forced to spend 8 hours a day (or more!) alone (18).

Changing your lifestyle is a tricky business, but if you care about your dog’s happiness, finding ways to entertain them is essential!

How can you cheer up a Depressed Dog? Establish a Dog Routine:

Have these signs and causes led you to think your dog might be depressed? Then it’s time for you to step up and help!

Try going down this list of doggy mood-boosters and set a daily dog routine to avoid lethargy:

  • Exercise. A nice trip to the dog park can help a lethargic dog get some exercise as long as there is not an underlying health problem. Walking, jogging, frisbee, and fetch can all get your dog’s heart pumping and trigger the release of mood-altering chemicals called endorphins. These are the same chemicals that are responsible for giving humans a “runner’s high,” and they are sure to make your dog feel great! Remember, your dog’s breed will determine how much exercise he needs, so do your homework and make sure your furry friend is getting his exercise fix! (19)
  • Mental stimulation. Your dog’s brain needs exercise too! Hiding toys or treats for your dog, using interactive toys (20), teaching your dog new tricks, or simply running errands with your dog so that he gets to discover new people and places are all great ways to engage his brain power! (21)
  • Homeopathic remedies. Certain herbs can relieve stress and boost energy in dogs. Lavender, a soothing herb, and peppermint, an invigorating herb, are a great one-to-punch to treat depression in dogs. Some products also use dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) to regulate your pet’s mood. This pheromone is produced by mother dogs when they are nursing puppies, and it is believed to make dogs feel more safe and secure (22).
  • Medication. If nothing else works, prescription medications like Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft can be given to relieve depression in dogs. These medications are strong, so they should be used as a last resort. The good news is that, unlike humans, most dogs do not require anti-depressants for life. They might only need the drugs for 6-12 months (23).

Now You Know What To Do If Your Dog Is Sad All The Time!

I hope you didn’t find all this talk about doggy depression, well, depressing!

For me, learning about doggy depression was a relief. I now feel comfortable that Kate isn’t among the 25% of dogs who suffer from depression. And I also feel confident that, if she ever started to feel sad, I would recognize the signs!

Remember, you’re watching out for:

  • appetite changes
  • weight loss or gain
  • apathy
  • oversleeping
  • withdrawal
  • hiding
  • clinginess
  • paw licking

Especially when your dog could be physically ill, when there’s been a change in the family, or when your dog is spending lots of time home alone!

What did you think about this list? If you have comments or questions, feel free to leave them below, and don’t forget to share this article if you think more people should know how to tell if a dog is depressed what to do if a dog is depressed!

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