Can Dogs Have Depression? What to Know About Your Pup’s Mental Health

If you have a sad dog who seems to have a loss of interest in life or very low energy for a prolonged period of time, it might cause you to pause and wonder: can dogs have depression?

When you love your pet like a family member, you are able to notice changes to your dog’s mood just like you would for a person in your family. They have good days and sometimes they have bad days. Sometimes they can be hyper and excited, and sometimes they are very mellow.

Many dog owners have already asked this question, and experts have done research on the topic. According to renowned dog psychologist Stanley Coren, dogs (as well as other animals) can experience depression, anxiety, and many other mental and emotional states, just as people do. 

Can Dogs Have Depression? This Behaviorist Says Yes.

dog next to pills. is human medicine safe for dogs

Dogs cannot express their feelings in the same way that humans are able to. It is becoming apparent, however, that animals are more emotionally intelligent than some would give them credit for.

Dog depression has been studied since the 1980s when dog behaviorist Nicholas Dodman began experimenting with giving antidepressants to dogs who were displaying some typical symptoms of depression that we see in humans.

Some of the symptoms Dodman saw included loss of appetite, lethargy, not enjoying the things that they normally would, and other abnormal behavior.

Dodman was curious if these dog’s lives and moods could be improved with the same hormonal supplements that help people with depression, the assumption being that both come from the same root cause: the chemical balance (or imbalance) in the brain.

Thanks to these studies, today we know that canine depression can be treated with drugs such as Prozac. Just like with depression in humans. This tells us that the chemistry inside of a dog’s brain and the emotions that are linked to them are indeed the same as the human brain. 

Knowing and accepting that dogs can have depression and other mental abnormalities is the first step towards helping your dog get back to its happiest, healthiest self. 

What are the Causes and Symptoms of Depression in Dogs?

dog on a cozy dog bed. do dogs cry

Dog depression is caused by a variety of things, both internal and external. The arrow can point both directions as far as causality; external changes can create the internal shift in chemistry. Sometimes the internal shift can happen first, manifesting in the external changes later.

Internally, it is a chemical imbalance of the hormones. This may explain why some dogs develop depression with no clear trigger externally that led to the problem. Obvious external causes are things like a major life change, like a new home, a new baby, or a new pet being introduced to the family. It could also be the loss of a companion.

Depression can also be triggered by things that only last certain periods of time, such as seasonal affective disorder or separation anxiety after a change to your regular work or life schedule. 

With such emotionally intelligent animals, it is hardly surprising that the causes of depression in dogs are similar to those triggers that can cause depression in humans. 

Signs of Depression in Dogs

In addition to being aware of some of the things that can cause depression in dogs, knowing what dog depression symptoms to look out for can help you to identify problems early and implement solutions quickly. 

With or without an obvious external cause, signs of depression in your dog can include:

  • Changes to activity level, sleeping habits, or appetite.
  • Changes in their body language (things like subtle changes like fewer tail wags or excessive licking).
  • Shifts in their overall mood as they go about their day. 

Having an off day here or there isn’t necessarily a sign of depression. Everyone goes through ups and downs in life. However, if you notice these symptoms persisting over a long period of time, investigate further with the help of a professional.

What Solutions Are Available for Your Dog’s Mental Health?

a sleepy beagle on the couch. can dogs have depression?

As a pet parent, you want your pooch to live their happiest, healthiest life possible. It is obvious that their overall wellness includes a positive mental state just as much as a physical one.

Your dog needs regular checkups for their physical and mental health. You should schedule an extra checkup if your notice changes to your dog’s behavior that aligns with the symptoms listed above for a notable period of time.

Of course, if you think you have a depressed dog, you should discuss with your veterinarian for an official diagnosis of their medical condition, possible causes, and a treatment plan. 

At the discretion of your veterinarian, they may implement changes to their diet. They may also recommend an exercise routine in addition to potential prescriptions for the long or short term.

Additionally, that plan should always include extra attention and love. This might mean more playtime with you at home or extra time at the dog park.

The root of the problem could potentially be separation anxiety. If so, you might have to consider taking them to doggie daycare. You could also hire a pet sitter to stop by if you are not able to be there with them more often. Enrichment games can also do wonders for dogs who are bored and in need of physical and mental stimulation. 

dog lounging with his human

Give It Time

When it comes to your pet’s health, the combination of love and proper medical treatment can help to make your dog’s life the best that it can be. Understanding mental health and finding the right treatment plan can be a slow process, so don’t expect overnight results. 

An important step in the process is allowing space and time for healing and rest. Attempting to coax your pup right back into their usual rough romps and playtime isn’t so effective. Perhaps spending more time snuggling and in a mellow environment will help them more.

Just like people, sometimes it’s alright to stay lowkey for a while after feeling down. There is no need to rush back to that high-energy state of being. Your dog will return to its happy, healthy self in its own time.