When you think of dogs, it’s understandable to imagine a bouncy canine with a wagging tail. Dogs are usually happy and loving animals. However, like humans, dogs experience a wide range of emotions, from happiness, joy, fear, and anxiety to grief and sadness. As well as experiencing these feelings for themselves, they also pick up their humans emotions.
Dogs can be depressed, and this depression can be caused by various factors, including long dark winter days, much like the human SAD (seasonal affective disorder). If your dog’s behavior has changed, it is best to visit your vet for a check-up.
Not only can depression or depression-like symptoms be a sign of a medical condition, but your vet is also the best person to help you alleviate your dog’s depression. They can recommend a qualified behaviorist and provide any medication that may be needed. Your vet should always be your first option if you have concerns about your pet.
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Signs To Look For
All dogs are different and have their own personalities. Some dogs are calm, and some dogs are hyper and bouncy. You will know your dog and be aware of its usual behavior. Some common signs of depression include:
- Lack of interest in routine activities, such as going for a walk or playing
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping more
- Restless, unable to settle
Other changes in behavior to look out for are:
- Loss of toilet training skills, such as toileting indoors
- Excessive chewing on things, being destructive
- Being reactive to people or other animals at home or outside
- Trying to escape
As you can see by this list, a lot of these changes can also indicate a medical issue, which is why it is so important to have your vet check over your dog first. Rule out physical matters before moving on.
Things That Can Cause Depression and How We Can Help
Many things can cause your dog to become depressed, one of which is an underlying medical condition or being in pain. The common factors to consider first are:
Illness or pain
Being unwell or in pain can lower a dog’s mood. Visiting your vet should resolve any problems your dog is experiencing. Making the walks shorter but more frequent may help, as well as just spending time with your pup.
Stress or anxiety
Stressed or anxious dogs can experience depression as they constantly fear the next stressor, such as loud noises. Your vet can help you with calming medications or refer you to an appropriately qualified behaviorist with experience with stressed or anxious behaviors. And give you the best advice to help destress and alleviate your dog’s anxiety.
Change of routine
Dogs thrive on routine; regular walks, toilet breaks, and feeding all help your dog feel confident and safe. Of course, a change of working routine can’t always be avoided, but try to ensure that your dog has a regular daily exercise routine to help them feel safe and confident.
Change of environment
Moving house is not only stressful for us humans but can have a negative impact on your dog’s well-being too. An unfamiliar environment, disrupted routine, and picking up on your stress can cause your dog to feel overwhelmed or depressed.
It may be tiring and inconvenient, but try to spend some extra time with your dog, walking around the new neighborhood and allowing them to get to know the new layout. It will also let you get to know your new area.
Change of family structure
When a new baby comes along, there is naturally less time for anything else. As a result, dogs can often feel left out and get depressed. Especially as this usually means that the routine is disrupted and less time is spent on exercise.
The addition doesn’t have to be a baby, any change of the family unit can be difficult for a dog; this includes having someone come to stay for a while or even a new pet. Family dynamics are fragile and can easily change. Dogs pick up on the subtlest of changes and can quickly feel insecure.
If possible, stick to your dog’s usual routine and spend extra time with it. Reassurance is essential to help your dog feel confident in themselves again.
Loss of a family member
Most dogs are family orientated. The family unit is the most important thing to them. Like us, they grieve if a member of their family leaves, be it a human or another animal. Your dog will not understand why the family member has gone, but it will still grieve the missing family member.
Spending extra time with your dog doing activities they enjoy should help elevate the mood. Again, your presence will reassure your dog.
Boredom can lead to destructive behavior, trying to escape, and depression. As humans, many things are going on in our lives that fill our days, such as work, relationships, family commitments, and the neverending housework.
However, our dogs only really have us. If the exercise routine isn’t fulfilling enough, they will become bored. Day after day, an hour or two of lead walks isn’t enriching its life; boredom will lead to depression.
This is where training your dog is highly valuable. Working your dog’s mind and body will engage your pup. Although training doesn’t have to be complex, introducing new games to your dog will help spark an interest in them again. Dogs were bred to work and have a job. Yes, they like to sleep, but they enjoy doing something so much more!
Good recall training also helps your dog experience being a dog, exploring where they want to explore. Running fast and hard, playing with other dogs. It’s important to allow your dog to be a dog. Give them opportunities to express their innate traits. Let them experience activities that they enjoy regularly.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
During the winter months, when it’s dark in the morning and dark in the afternoon, dogs can become depressed. It may not just be the wet, dreary weather getting your dog down, but more likely that we humans are cutting the walks short due to the inclement weather. If your dog isn’t getting its entire exercise, it will feel short-changed.
The best thing you can do for your dog is to invest in some good weatherproof gear. I have a Siberian Husky, and she needs walking every day, no matter what the weather is doing outside! So good quality waterproofs, hats, gloves, and waterproof boots will be your best option to help keep your dog happy and avoid the winter blues.
Your first port of call should always be your vet if you have any concerns about your dog. For humans, medication is used in conjunction with therapy to treat depression successfully. In dogs, your vet will decide if medication is needed and if a behaviorist will also help alleviate your dog’s depression.
In many cases, it just needs you to look at your dog in its environment and see what changes are required. In many cases, spending time with your dog and reassuring them can be enough to lift the spirits. Mix up the walking and add playing games to your routine to help engage your dog more.
Humans have lots of things going on in their lives, but our dogs only have us; let’s ensure that their short time with us is well spent.
I hope you have found this article helpful.