Just like us, dogs can have days when they are down in the dumps. They may be lethargic, less willing to play than usual and may even ignore you when you call them. If this goes on for longer than 24 hours, it’s possible they’re not just having an ‘off’ day and may be depressed.
So why would your dog be depressed? There are all kinds of reasons ranging from on-going illness through to the loss of someone special to them. There are other reasons your dog could appear dog-tired though. Pain, infection and poisoning can all lead to languid lounging. Help get your furry friend feeling like their old self with our quick guide. You’ll find out how to recognise depression in dogs, other issues to look out for, possible causes of depression and ways you can help.
A significant change in circumstances is a common trigger for dog depression. The arrival of a new baby, changes to household members or a house move all have the potential to set off the blues. In fact, any change to their daily routine has the capacity to make your dog gloomy. However, the biggest causes of depression in dogs are the death of an owner/companion or an undiagnosed ailment. Dogs grieve too and if they’re not given the right support, they can slip into depression. Dogs are emotionally intelligent creatures and tune in to the subtlest of cues.
Some dogs suffer from separation anxiety when they’re away from their owner. This might be seen as barking, destructive activity and anxious behaviour when you prepare to leave the house. Separation anxiety can lead to depression if the separation is frequent and for long periods of time.
Did you know that dogs even pick up on our low mood? So if something major has happened in the household and your own mood is out of kilter, your dog is likely to sense this. If for any reason they are receiving less than their usual share of attention, they can start to mope and this may well lead to depression if not addressed. An on-going illness is, of course, another potential cause of depression so it’s important to consider your dog’s overall health when figuring out why they’ve lost their mojo.
So how can you tell when the ‘Black Dog’ is paying a visit to your four-legged friend? When a dog’s depressed, they can start to withdraw from family life, taking themselves off to snuggle up somewhere undisturbed for hours on end. Their appetite can be affected so they may eat less than normal or even start to want to eat far more. Just like in people, depression in dogs affects individuals differently. If your dog doesn’t eat or drink anything at all, this could indicate a more serious problem and they should be taken to a vet. An incessant licking and chomping of the paws is another tell-tale sign of low mood.
Depression makes a dog extremely lethargic and tired, it’s normal for dogs to sleep for around 12 hours a day and spend the rest of their time playing, walking, eating and relaxing. When they’re depressed, you’ll notice them sleeping a lot more and they’ll lose interest in the things they usually enjoy. Be careful not to confuse a rogue ‘duvet day’ for depression though. Dogs can spend the odd day sleeping more than usual-perhaps they were particularly active the day before or maybe it’s a hot day?
Some of the signs of depression can be similar to symptoms of certain illnesses. Take a dog with osteoarthritis, for example. This painful condition of the joints can make a dog appear out-of-sorts and reluctant to exercise. A lethargic dog could be suffering from an infection like parvovirus or they may be anaemic (loss or destruction of red blood cells, the things that carry oxygen around). One of the symptoms of poisoning is listlessness so it’s critical to be aware that depression isn’t the only cause of a dozy dog.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t suffer from complex clinical depression so lifting their spirits isn’t as tricky as you think. With your patience and time, a dog in the doldrums will soon have that tail wagging again.
Firstly, it’s important to get your dog checked over by their vet. Some of the signs of depression can be symptomatic of certain illnesses and conditions so it’s vital to check their health is otherwise OK. If everything else is ruled out and it’s confirmed that your dog’s depressed, you’ll need to give them extra attention but make sure you praise and reward them when they’re responding positively. Resist the temptation to make a fuss of them when they’re acting miserable, as this will reinforce the behaviour. Look out for little signs of happiness, a wagging tail, an improvement in appetite, and give them some positive feedback.
Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh air and exercise. They may need a bit of extra persuasion to get out and about again, reward and encourage them for doing this. Engage with your dog through play: throw a frisbee, play chase, have a game of ball with them. All of these things reaffirm that all-important dog-owner bond and this helps your dog feel secure and happy.
Depression is sometimes triggered by boredom and lack of stimulation. If you think your dog’s grey matter needs a little more challenge, invest in some toys that encourage lots of interaction. Kongs, puzzles and maze balls are all great for keeping a dog occupied and stimulated, especially if left at home alone for an extended period of time. As separation anxiety is a potential trigger for depression, providing these types of distraction whilst home alone is a great way of looking after your dog’s mental wellbeing.
Dogs are sociable animals, after all, they’re designed to hang around in packs. A bit of socialisation with other dogs may work wonders for their spirits. If their lack of joy is due to the loss of a furry companion, consider getting them another friend when you feel the time is right.
If your dog isn’t interested in their usual diet, you could try making a change but make sure you still stick to the same mealtime routine. Ensure they’re getting a high-quality diet containing plenty of fresh, naturally sourced nutrients. Low blood sugar can send their mood plummeting so choose a diet containing slow-release, complex carbohydrates. Fibre in the diet will also deliver a slow and steady trickle of energy.
Just like with humans, a healthy diet and plenty of exercise is crucial for keeping lots of different illnesses at bay, including depression. Food is definitely an important preventative factor and can help your pooch out of the doldrums.
Because doggy depression is often a symptom of other health problems, you must check for other conditions that could be the cause of your dog’s low mood. Equally, it makes a healthy diet all the more important to prevent illness.
The best dog food for depression will contain fresh, healthy ingredients and provide a balanced diet to make sure they have all the nutrition they need to stay healthy mentally and physically. Quality nutrition that includes natural vitamins and minerals like B-12 and choline are vital for healthy hormone production and brain function, which will help to improve your dog’s mood and overall wellbeing.
Not to mention, a comforting bowl of fresh food is sure to lift your pooch’s spirits. As depression causes many dogs to go off their food, a fresh food can help to entice them back to their normal eating habits and help lead them back to their normal routine. Some dogs might even seem sorry to see the same boring, brown biscuits every day and a change to their dinners can work wonders for their mood.
Another foodie factor im-paw-tent for your dog’s mental health is their blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar can make your dog listless, so they should eat plenty of protein and slow-releasing carbohydrates to keep their blood sugar levels steady and ensure they have enough energy to enjoy life. Kibble foods contain a lot of sugar and simple carbohydrates which can cause spikes in blood sugar levels that are followed by crashes. Avoiding kibble and keeping your pup’s energy levels stable will not just help their mood, but prevent them from becoming hyperactive or lethargic. (It will also help protect them from diabetes.)
Pure is made using only natural ingredients to deliver complete nutrition to keep your pup healthy in body and mind. This includes complex carbohydrates that deliver slow-releasing energy to keep your pup’s energy levels steady and return their lust for life. Plenty of pups like Buddy who have been ill and depressed are “loving life again” thanks to Pure. Another pleased pup, Buzby, is “one happy doggie & one very happy owner” all thanks to a natural, healthy diet of Pure. A pack of listless pups have been encouraged to eat and lick their bowls clean thanks to our tasty dinners, and have seen all aspects of their health improve.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.