Depression in dogs, symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention


Dogs are very empathetic and sensitive animals, capable of experiencing strong emotions. Whoever has a dog knows that they also have better and worse days and, just like a human, they can be sad, happy, scared and angry. They can react to weather changes, sense our moods, and suffer from a lack of concern. Therefore, we should not be surprised that with such a wide range of emotions, our dogs experience their deep sorrows and, like us, are plagued by diseases related to mood disorders. More and more boldly some of the symptoms manifested by pets are referred to by specialists as – depression!

What is depression?

… is defined as a disordercharacterized byvarious symptoms that occur over a period of at least 2 weeks in the form of: changes in mood consisting of plunging into sadness, depression, anxiety, loss of interest, loss of the ability to feel pleasure and psychomotor disorder.

Is dog depression the same as human depression?

According to the conducted observations and cynological research, this disease is diagnosed not only in humans but also in our pets. There is, however, a difference in its etiology; While in humans, the underlying cause of depression may be situational (social or psychological) or biochemical and genetic causes, in the case of dogs the last two factors are not taken into account. The main reason for the development of depression in a dog is considered to be unfavorable environmental factors that negatively affect the animal’s psyche, causing depressed mood. Unlike humans, states of chronic depression do not occur in pets.

Causes of depression in dogs

The causes of depression can vary and they often occur collectively. It is believed that the primary causes of canine depression are factors affecting external animals, significant changes in their lives that lead to imbalance, homeostasis that gives a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.
In order to properly understand the etiology of canine sorrows, it is necessary to refer to the genesis of the species!

The most frequently identified causes of canine depression are:
1. Somatic diseases

Physical malaise easily leads to psychological disorders, therefore, in the event of symptoms of depressed mood, it is worth examining the dog in order to exclude them.

2. Changes in the dog’s life
  • Change of residence
  • The emergence of a new household member – human or animal, who is perceived as an intruder or a competitor for the Lord’s favor
  • Changing the rhythm of a dog’s life, directly reducing the amount of attention and time devoted to him by the owner – also related to the changes of seasons, when the number and duration of walks drastically decreases!
  • Separation from the owner
  • Loss – of a household member or other animal to which the animal was attached.
3. Manifestations of violence and aggression in the environment.
4. Lack of activity, insufficient amount of exercise, boredom.
5. Long-term failure to meet the needs resulting from the specificity of the breed
  • No games or spending time together with the owner, no interest from the Lord, etc.
  • Tracking, utility activity, dog sports – e.g. in the case of utility breeds
  • Biting (chewing)
  • Rest
6. Incompetent application of the system of punishments and rewards

If the dog does not understand the validity of the punishments applied, lives under stress and loses the will to take up activity.

7. Loneliness, isolation, a sense of uselessness.


Symptoms of dog depression

Diagnosing depression in animals is a much more complicated process than in humans. Since one of the diagnostic methods of depression is an interview with the patient, which is not possible in the case of tetrapods, the first research tool is the careful observation of the animal.
It should be emphasized that a number of symptoms may indicate the occurrence of both somatic and psychiatric diseases. Due to the specificity of the diagnostics of the latter, the diagnosis should always be started with basic tests performed on the dog in order to exclude any health abnormalities, and in the next step the diagnostics should be focused on monitoring for mood disorders.

Our attention should be drawn to every significant change in the pet’s behavior, deviation from the ritual or favorite behaviors he has undertaken so far, and in particular such symptoms as:

  • Eating disorders; marked increase or decrease in appetite
  • Apathy
  • Reluctance to go for a walk
  • Increased or significantly lower motor activity
  • Increased reactivity, e.g. barking, reacting to noises that have been ignored so far
  • Sleep disturbances (excessive sleepiness or, conversely, insomnia)
  • Depression, lack of reaction to stimuli that have so far resulted in an increased reaction
  • The emergence of timidity, panic attacks, fear-based aggression, growling for no reason


Prevention of dog depression

Since the main causes of emotional disturbances in dogs are situational factors, and not, as is the case with humans, resulting from disturbances in chemical processes in the body, we have a much greater possibility of preventing undesirable conditions in them than in the case of humans. According to the rule – prevention is better than cure, our relationship with the dog should be good enough and the amount of time devoted to it large enough to meet all the needs of the pet on an ongoing basis. Therefore, we should focus on:

  • providing the dog with an appropriate dose of physical activity
  • taking care of proper relationships with people – household members and strangers
  • ensuring contact with other dogs
  • avoiding radical changes in the dog’s life that are a consequence of changes in our life; let us pay attention to the fact that the dog experiences the revolutions that take place in our life as little as possible, let us divert his attention from stressful situations with increased physical play, activity, etc.
  • selection of the breed according to our predispositions, preferences and, above all, possibilities – not only financial; First of all, take into account the innate needs and predispositions of a specific breed (for example, do not buy a hunting dog if you lead a lazy lifestyle and have a small apartment in a block of flats, without the possibility of a dog running out)


Treatment of depression in dogs

Before making a decision regarding treatment, it is always necessary to thoroughly diagnose and confirm the ailments by specialists – both in the field of treating diseases of the body (veterinarian) and spirit (canine behaviorist psychologist). If we have no doubts as to whether we are dealing with canine depression, we should start „treatment” as soon as possible, or rather a cycle of actions aimed at restoring our pet to balance.
As in the case of humans, the treatment of canine mood disorders should take place on two levels:

  • pharmacological – administering drugs to the dog and
  • behavioral – organizing time for him. Just as in the case of preventing mood disorders, the adage that always prevents rather than cure works, so when you need therapy for depressed mood, the saying – „in a healthy body, healthy mind” is perfect!
Actions to be taken in order to reduce the undesirable manifestations of behavior in a pet:
  • take your dog for long walks
  • break the routine, that is, make changes to the hiking routes
  • make contacts with other dogs and people
  • make the games more attractive by using prizes, gadgets and treats
  • organize active leisure activities, e.g. dog sports (agility, etc.)
  • encourage the dog to take up activity, oblige him to move even in spite of the obvious lack of willingness to be active
  • keep your pet safe, give it your attention, pet it often and let it be close, which is generally speaking – pamper as much as it is reasonable
  • during our long absence from home, it is worth providing a person who will accompany our pet, go for a walk or play with him
  • Often times, a second dog will be an effective mood enhancer; remember, however, that this method is not effective for all dogs and it may happen that the effect is counterproductive. This mainly applies to dogs focused on people, whose company meets their social needs and the appearance of another dog at home can be a stressful factor for them!

Only comprehensive and quick measures will be able to stop the development of the disease; neglecting them may cause irreversible changes in the dog’s psyche. So if your pet’s „lack of humor” lasts longer and is accompanied by the disturbing symptoms mentioned above, do not hesitate to help !!!


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