Doggy depression: It's a real thing

Most dogs look a little sad on occasion. Perhaps this only happens briefly, when left alone for the day or when you are on holiday and board your dog in kennels. Or perhaps it is more of a long-term state of sadness and you wonder if your dog may actually be depressed.

Most of us feel alarmed when we see our precious pooches in this state. This is because we are used to seeing them enjoy their day-to-day lives. Simple watching their owners step out of the bed in the morning has most dogs excited. And their energy levels go through the roof when you mention the word “Walk”! Our dogs are such experts at sensing when we feel down so, it becomes so much harder when the tables are turned and they have the blues.

Why so sad?

What can cause depression in dogs? There are many reasons that dogs may appear depressed and be lacking in energy. Illness can have this affect, as can injury, arthritis and other symptoms of advancing canine years.

We will probably never understand the exact mechanisms of depression but there may be an underlying genetic predisposition for it. There may be an imbalance of the chemicals of the brain or even the circumstances the dog experiences in its environment.

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Many animals exhibit what is termed learned helplessness, when they cannot control their surroundings and the events they experience in life. Others may develop repetitive, stereotypic behaviour to help them cope with reduced welfare. Even when their situation improves, these behaviours continue.

Depression can be accompanied by anxiety too. Some dogs, as they experience ongoing stress may exhibit hair loss, a loss of appetite or changes in their toilet habits.

Then there are some dogs who are naturally pessimistic. Pessimistic dogs are much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs and will avoid repeating tasks. Not everyone wants an optimistic dog, however. Imagine if your dog thought they could cross a road successfully without you on the end of a lead!


How do we deal with depression in dogs?

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Treating depression and ongoing apathy in our dogs may require veterinary medication to help them begin their recovery process. A vet check can rule out any underlying physiological causes and help treat any ongoing medical issues.

Some owners have success with the use of complementary therapies and there are vets who can prescribe these. The use of stress-relieving scents such as lavender can help some dogs while others may prefer pick-them-up rosemary. The dog appeasing pheromone, Adaptil, may help some stressed individuals or the use of Rescue Remedy, for both dog and owner.

Most dogs will also need some understanding help from their owners. Many dogs respond to a change of routine, a new hobby or a different walking route. Those who live in a stressful, noisy environment, however, may respond better when a more structured routine is offered. Owners need to understand what is causing their dog to be depressed and work on this. Common causes are separation anxiety and the loss of a family member, human or animal.

Offering an animal a choice in life can be a powerful and easy way to ensure that their welfare is maximised. Letting your dog choose their toy, for example, can be a simple way to allow your dog some control over their environment and experiences. Providing their food in a food-releasing toy can give them something to occupy their mind.

If your dog appears to dislike certain environments or experiences, you may need to desensitise them to these events by gradual positive introductions. This may require the help of a trainer or behaviourist.

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If your dog seems a little blue, then try to bring a little canine joy into their life but also keep an eye on their health and behaviour and do seek further help if no improvement is seen.


Tell us, is your dog depressed?