Depression is common in humans and dog depression may be just as common. How common is depression? According to Healthline, it is estimated that 16.2 million adults in the United States suffer from depression. The CDC documents that approximately 9% of Americans report they are depressed at least occasionally, and 3.4% suffer from “major depression.” Approximately 6.7 percent of American adults have at least one major depressive episode in a given year. The definition of major depression in humans is “a mental health condition marked by an overwhelming feeling of sadness, isolation and despair that affects how a person thinks, feels and functions.”
Dog depression may be just as common but is harder to recognize.
How to Spot Signs of Dog Depression
Just as with people, every dog responds differently to stress. For example, a person that loses their job may become depressed while another person may see opportunity and be relieved or rejuvenated. One dog being rehomed may be withdrawn, less interactive, guarded, scared, nervous, aggressive, stop eating, or have a decreased appetite while another dog may be euphoric. Learn more about how to recognize depression in your dog.
What Causes Dog Depression
What causes depression in one dog can be entirely different than in another dog. Just as it is difficult to predict or generalize how people will respond to stress or what will make a person depressed, it is difficult to determine or predict what will make a dog depressed.
The most common things associated with dog depression are the following:
- Illness. Dogs that are sick and don’t feel good may be depressed.
- Loss of mobility. Just as illness can cause depression, loss of mobility can also cause depression in some dogs. For a previously active dog to not be able to run, play, walk, and exercise can really take an emotional toll on some dogs. This can be caused from a back injury, trauma such as a fracture, or from degenerative disease (arthritis) in older dogs.
- Loss of routine. Some dogs can become very depressed from a change in their routine. This can occur from when the kids go back to school, an owner loses a job or takes on a new job, or a change in work hours that leads to disruption in the dog’s day-to-day rituals.
- Loss of an owner or caregiver. A very common cause of depression in dogs is the loss of someone close to them. The loss can be death or from someone moving out or leaving the home. The death of an owner, a child leaving for college, or someone moving from a divorce can all create a profound sense of loss and void in a dog’s life.
- Loss of a housemate. Just as the loss of a caregiver can impact dogs, so can the loss of another pet in the home. Most commonly the pet is another dog but could also be a cat or other species. When you think about it, if a dog’s routine is to see the other pet, eat with it, walk, play and they suddenly aren’t there, they can become depressed. It is important to note that a change in your dog’s behavior can be from their depression or can be them responding to your sadness. If you are mourning the loss of a dog and depressed yourselves, this can affect them.
- Moving. Moving can be stressful for us but also for our dogs. They suddenly lose their territory and safety net. Usually, the move is a huge disruption in the routine and environment. Movers, moving boxes, packing, unpacking, etc. can all impact the daily walks and time spent with you. This can cause depression in some dogs.
- Rehoming. A new home and family can be exciting to some dogs but depressing to others. They may miss something from their prior life or feel displaced. On top of that they are trying to understand the new owners, new rules in the house, new routine, getting new food, new bowls, and well…new everything, which can be stressful. Stress can cause depression.
- New Pet or Person. Just as pet loss or human loss can cause depression, some dogs will become depressed when a new pet or person enters their life. This can impact their routine and day-to-day lifestyle. The new pet may take attention away from them.
What You Can Do for Dog Depression
Treatments for dog depression can be categorized into pharmacological (drug) treatments and nonpharmacological treatments.
The best recommendation to treat dog depression is to do the following:
- Figure out why. The best thing to do is to consider why your dog may be depressed. As you consider the possible cause, also consider what your dog’s life must be like on a day-to-day basis. Is there lots of stimulation? Playtime? Exercise? Attention? Or is it boring? Is he ignored? Even tied to a dog house or in a crate for hours?
- Optimize your dog’s life. Make sure your dog has a great routine consisting of plenty of exercise, daily walks, frequent opportunities to go to the bathroom, predictable meal schedules, belly rubs, and plenty of assurance that they are the best dog in the whole world. Here are some tips on how to help your dog.
- See your vet. Make sure your dog is healthy and that you are not mistaking symptoms of depression for symptoms of illness. They can seem similar and it can be hard to tell. Your vet may want to do a physical examination and run some routine blood work.
- Natural remedies. Some natural remedies that can help some dogs with depression include Bach flower, Ignatia, Spirit Essences Grouch
- Remedy, Green Hope Farm Grief, and Loss Remedy. Check with your veterinarian and see if they have a product that has worked well for them.
- Drugs. As a very last resort, you could work with your veterinarian to try pharmacological treatment for your dog’s depression. Most dogs respond to playtime, exercise, and quality time with you. To learn more about possible drug therapies.
- Give it time. It can take time for the treatments to work. Relax and enjoy being with your dog. Give it some time. Most times they will come around and return to their normal dog selves.