How To Manage Your Dog's Depression
Can Dogs Be Depressed?Depression is something we usually think of as being a "human" problem, and a far too common one at that. However, what people may not know is that our pets are able to get depression just like we are, including dogs.
While it may be a little harder to tell if your dog is depressed than other people the signs are still there.
While we see our dogs as being goofy and silly most of the time, dogs are actually some of the more intelligent and emotional animals around. They miss you when you're gone, get excited when you return, will comfort you when you're sad, and love to get new presents and toys.
But dogs can be depressed as well, and it can be hard to experience as an owner. Although many owners may ignore their dog's symptoms of depression, veterinary behaviorists have been diagnosing depression in dogs for several years now, and it can be a serious condition for your pet.
Can Emotional Support Dogs Be Depressed?
It might seem strange that emotional support dogs can get depressed. Their job is to help their owner through depression and anxiety, right? This is true, however, it doesn't change the fact that they are still dogs and therefore still susceptible to being depressed.
In fact, emotional support dogs could potentially be more likely to be depressed than other dogs. This is because all dogs build a close emotional bond with their owner, and tend to feel whatever their owner is feeling. So if an emotional support dog is assigned to someone with depression, spending so much time with a depressed owner can lead to depression in your emotional support dog.
However, that doesn't mean that you are doing your dog harm by being depressed! In fact, being bonded to a human at all is a major benefit to your dog's health. Just as you need to rely on your dog for emotional support, your dog will need to rely on you. So as long as you are both there for each other, you aren't being a bad owner by being depressed.
Depression In Dogs VS. Depression In Humans
While dogs and humans can both develop depression, the condition doesn't quite look the same in dogs as it does in humans. The biggest difference between the two is the level of complexity. In people, depression can be broken into a variety of subcategories - situational, chronic, chemical, seasonal.
Not only that, but each of these kinds of depressions can be experienced in varying degrees. The kind of treatment a person undergoes for depression will depend on the kind and severity of their depression. As it is understood now, depression in dogs mainly relates to a lack of interest in their typical activities, as well as symptoms of lethargy. Dogs don't experience the same level or complexity of depression as people do.
Depression in dogs is also unique from depression in humans in that dogs are not able to verbally express their depression the way we can. When you are feeling dejected, you can talk about it with trusted friends, seek help in the form of therapy and medication, and so on. While your pet, on the other hand, has no means of helping themselves through depression.
What Causes Depression In Dogs?
Lack of activity
One of the more common causes of depression in dogs is a lack of activity. Not all dog owners realize just how important exercise, play time, and going outside are for pets. These may feel like chores to us, but for your dog, that may be the time they value the most.
Taking your dog out for activities can also help them socialize with other dogs, which is extremely important as well. Not all dogs are equally social, but they are still social animals. Letting your dog play with other dogs at the dog park is a great way to improve their mood.
Physical activity plays a big role in dogs' mood just as it does in people. Physical activity can provide boosts of adrenaline and dopamine, as well as keep your dog healthy and fit.
Lack of attention
This is generally a less common cause of depression in dogs since most owners are extremely affectionate with their pets. However, not all pet owners are as adept at expressing their love for their pet as others. While other animals may have a sense of independence about them, dogs have evolved alongside humans for tens of thousands of years.
As a result of this evolution, dogs are wired to be partnered with loving and affectionate human families. Without this connection, dogs can become dejected and aimless. Dogs that are left outside with little human interaction, or those that are left at home alone for long periods of time, can develop depression and anxiety from a lack of human contact.
Not to mention that dogs with minimal contact with their owners have a harder time having their needs met. They might not have easy access to a bathroom, food, or a space to play. This can leave them feeling isolated and trapped.
Change in environment
Just like in kids who unexpectedly move to a new city, dogs can become depressed when their environment changes drastically. This can be as major as a move into a new space or as minor as a change in furniture and room layout.
Unlike the other causes of canine depression that we've mentioned, you as an owner can't always control changes in their environment. Oftentimes these kinds of changes happen due to work, new family members, and so on. A change in environment could even be a couple splitting up, leaving the dog with only one of its original owners.
Dogs can also be affected by the weather, just like us. So if it's particularly cold or dreary outside, your dog may become more morose and lethargic than usual. Unfortunately, when it comes to changes in their environment, the best you can usually do as an owner is be supportive of your pet and give them time to adjust to the changes.
A more serious cause of depression in humans and dogs alike is a chemical imbalance. This is when the chemicals in your dog's system that control their mood aren't properly balanced. This can leave them feeling agitated, impatient, and, yes, depressed.
The chemical primarily responsible for your dog's happiness is serotonin. Serotonin - also known as the happy hormone - is one of the chemicals in your pet's body that fills them with joy and excitement. It's what triggers a happy emotional response in your pet.
When your dog's hormones are out of whack, your dog can end up feeling depressed. Because this is a chemical change within your dog, there is little that can be done to resolve the issue other than medication. Anti-depressants may be the answer to your dog's depression woes, as well as mood-boosting supplements like CBD.
Death of a family member or pet
If you've ever lost a family member or pet, you know how heartbreaking the experience can be. While it would be nice if our pets could be spared from the pain of grief, they are able to experience this intense emotion and struggle with feelings of loss.
Veterinary specialists agree that this is one of the most common causes of depression in dogs, and one of the hardest to manage. This is because the source of the problem is irreparable. Like humans, the best thing you can do for a dog struggling with grief is to be supportive of them and give them as much time as they need to heal.
According to research, the bond between a dog and its owner is similar to the bond between a parent and their child. So when a family member who was close to the dog passes on, it is helpful for your grieving pet for one of the other family members to fill in the hole left by the deceased family member. This can give your dog an anchor through the grief.
One of the best aspects of owning a dog is how trainable they are. Because they are domesticated to such a high degree and have a high level of intelligence, they can be taught to perform tricks, routines, and even jobs. Training a dog is no easy task, though, and requires patience as well as discipline.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows where to draw the line when it comes to disciplining their pet. If punishments are too harsh and frequent, it can leave your dog feeling unwanted. Dog's are wired to want to please their owners, and if they feel like they aren't capable of doing this, it can cause them to become depressed.
Dogs can also become depressed from over-discipline if they don't understand why they are being disciplined. This can happen when your dog does something wrong but isn't punished for it until much later, or if the discipline is unpredictable. In these situations, your dog - not understanding what behavior is causing them to be disciplined - can avoid displaying any kind of behavior as a safety mechanism.
Lastly, depression in dogs is often the result of an underlying medical issue. Lethargy is a particularly common symptom of medical issues in dogs, as are a lack of appetite and excitement. If your dog has been struggling with depression for some time and nothing seems to resolve the situation, their depression could be a symptom of a more serious health problem.
Certain medications can also cause your dog to fall into a depression. If your dog is on any medications or has any existing medical issues that you are aware of, check to see if depression could be related to their medication or condition.
Arthritis, thyroid issues, and dental problems are all common medical problems that can cause depression in dogs.
Can Dogs Get Depression From A Depressed Owner?
As we've mentioned throughout this article, one of the most important components of a dog's emotional health is their relationship with their owner. The loss of an owner, the attention of an owner, and the bond with an owner can all be the cause of and solution to your dog's depression.
And as such, dogs can be become depressed in response to their owner's depression. It isn't contagious since depression isn't a physical illness. However, as dogs are extremely empathetic and emotional creatures, they can sense when their owner is depressed and become depressed themselves as a result.
However, that isn't to say that being depressed means that you aren't a good owner for your pet. Being bonded to a human is a huge benefit to your dog's health, and having each other gives each of you a support system to rely on. If you feel like your mood is affecting your dog's mood too severely, consider seeing a mental health professional alongside your dog to help both of you improve together.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction And Depression
As humans get older, they tend to experience issues with things like memory, energy, and attention span. In severe cases, this can even be linked to dementia. As dogs age, they can experience similar issues with their memory, mood, and energy levels as well. This is known as canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD.
The majority of dogs will experience CCD as they age to varying degrees. The earliest signs tend to show up around 11-12 years of age, while the most severe tend to take place around 15-16 years of age. CCD is essentially the canine equivalent to dementia in humans.
Unfortunately, the issues that lead to CCD - causing damage to certain areas of your pet's brain - can also damage the areas of their brain responsible for their happiness. This means that some dogs with CCD will have a harder time experiencing happier moods, leading to a condition resembling depression.
Symptoms Of Depression In Dogs
While your dog may not be able to tell you how they're feeling, the symptoms of depression in dogs are pretty easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. Even if you aren't familiar with the symptoms of depression in dogs, keeping a close eye on your dog's behavior and interacting with them regularly will help you spot when something is off with their emotions.
The obvious signs of depression in dogs are a lack of energy, a reduced appetite, a lack of interest in the activities they usually enjoy, lethargy, a lack of movement. Your dog may be more irritable, less enthusiastic. They may be less likely to want to go on walks or follow commands.
None of these symptoms is particularly serious on their own and for a short period of time. However, if you notice your dog experiencing these symptoms, seeming mopey and dejected, for longer stretches of time with no obvious cause or solution, depression could be the underlying issue.
Diagnosing Depression In Dogs
If you believe that your dog is experiencing depression, you don't necessarily need to take them to the vet, especially if you can easily pinpoint the cause. For example, if a family member or pet has recently passed, or you've recently moved, this is more than likely the cause of your dog's sudden change in behavior.
However, if you can't think of a logical reason why your dog would be feeling depressed, or you aren't able to relieve their symptoms of depression, then taking them to a vet is highly advisable. This is because depression - while usually a standalone condition - can often be the result of a more serious medical issue just below the surface.
Any change in behavior in your pet for an extended period of time is a reason to seek vet attention and get a concrete answer as to what the cause is.
How To Treat Depression In Dogs
While watching your dog go through a bout of depression can be hard as a pet owner, there is good news! The majority of cases of depression in dogs is very short lived. Dogs are naturally very happy-go-lucky creatures and aren't as susceptible to long term depression as humans are.
Most of the time, all you'll need to do for your pet is be supportive and extra affectionate. Buy them their favorite treats, take them on special trips, bring home new toys, and so on. If you are able to pinpoint the cause, like over-discipline or a lack of exercise, do your best to resolve this issue, if possible.
If none of this seems to be working, and you have spoken with your vet and determined that there isn't an underlying medical issue, then it may be time to start your pet on medication for their depression. Antidepressants are available for dogs, as are mood-boosting supplements like CBD.
CBD For Depression In Dogs
CBD is a supplement that can be given to dogs as a treatment for a variety of health issues, including depression and anxiety. It works by stimulating your pet's ECS system, which is critical in keeping their mood, appetite, and sleep cycle in check.
Regular dosages of CBD will help your pet recover back to a healthy state of mind, as well as provide other health benefits and preventative effects against other medical conditions. It's also helpful for treating chronic pain, epilepsy, and IBD in dogs.
If your pet has been struggling with depression for a longer period of time, consider picking up CBD oil as a treatment option. It's all-natural and non-toxic, so there's no risk of harmful side effects. Dogs also have a high tolerance for CBD, so it's extremely safe.