Just like one in five of their human owners, dogs too can suffer from mental illness. Depression, diagnosed anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more can impact the quality of life for our four-legged friends profoundly.
But how do you recognize these things as their owner and caretaker? No matter your level of expertise in dog health and dog body language, nobody is going to be able to keep a better eye out for your pet’s mental health than you.
“The thing with dogs is that they don’t talk to us, so it makes better sense to concentrate on their behaviors,” says Nicholas Dodman, veterinarian and author of Pets on the Couch. “There’s a condition called Canine Compulsive Disorder; it’s very common and it can take different forms. That’s why the most important thing for an owner is that they know their dog,” he continues. “Owners know when a particular behavior is normal or when it’s not. In the case of a dog who chases their tail—that can be a perfectly happy thing to do or it can be a compulsion, which is a problem. But the owner is usually the person to notice a behavior, they know their dog's routines, so if something becomes a problem, owners will generally see it and then reach out to a veterinarian for advice.”
With that in mind, here are a handful of signs dogs sometimes display that can turn out to be markers of mental health. Some may even surprise you, like…
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Chasing Their Tail Could Be OCD
2. They Sleep More Than Usual
3. Food Doesn’t Excite Them
4. They’ve Licked Themselves Raw
5. They Hate Traffic
6. They Don’t Respond to Thundercaps
7. They Have a Limp Tail
8. They Chase Shadows
9. They Eat Towels or T-Shirts
Chasing Their Tail Could Be OCD
Watching a dog chase their tail can be pretty darn entertaining. It’s endearing to watch your pet at play, it certainly gets a laugh or two out of many of us, and it’s a fairly common behavior of all dogs, right?
Well, to a point.
Just about every dog does chase their tail from time to time. And their success rate isn’t typically through the roof, either, but every once in a while a pup does, in fact, catch what they’re after. Usually, once they’re bored or tuckered out, they’ll give up. But sometimes those pups do keep chasing their tail for hours, which can actually be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder or even anxiety.
They Sleep More Than Usual
Some signs of mental health problems with dogs mirror those of their human counterparts, like sleeping more than usual as a symptom of possible depression.
Now, for an aging dog, lethargy is very common. But if your dog is still very healthy and otherwise young this can be a sign of canine depression or even other health problems like diabetes or a disease. In either case, a young pup that oversleeps is something you need to be aware of and consult a vet for.
Food Doesn’t Excite Them
A dog that’s not excited about food just doesn’t sound natural and the truth is losing their appetite actually is a good indicator of a health problem. This is typically going to be marked by a significant change in their appetite, not just simply eating a little less here or there.
They’ve Licked Themselves Raw
Dog’s lick themselves. It’s just what they do. But compulsive licking to the point of raw and chafed skin actually often indicates anxiety. More often, their licking is actually a result of an injury to whichever body part they’re giving obvious attention to, just like your own temptation to scratch a rash. But if you’ve ruled out an injury there is a very good chance this is actually a mental health problem for your dog.
They Hate Traffic
Nobody really loves traffic but to a dog being surrounded by hundreds of cars packed onto one road, this can be sensory overload. There are horns, lights, a lot of people, and everything’s moving in a slow pack. If your dog can’t handle this and they’re more anxious than you are, it is sometimes a sign of deeper anxiety they are wrestling with.
They Don’t Respond to Thundercaps
They Have a Limp Tail
The tail is probably the thing human’s look at to interpret a dog’s body language more than any other body part. Perhaps nothing is more ubiquitous than the idea that a wagging tail is the sign of a joyful pup, but what about other things a tail can tell us about a dog’s temperament?
First off, many dogs easily experience what’s known as sprained tail syndrome, in which they more or less lose the use of the extremity. But that typically only lasts a couple days as it heals itself. So if your dog can physically wag his or her tail but won’t, they may actually be depressed.
They Chase Shadows
This behavior is similar in some ways to that excessive tail chasing, where it may be exhibiting signs of obsessive behavior. Be especially aware if they’re an otherwise intelligent dog yet seem to be more preoccupied with chasing their own shadow than other activities like going for a walk.
They Eat Towels or T-Shirts
Puppies chew on anything and everything they can get their paws on, but as they grow they’ll learn this isn’t the behavior you’re going to like and therefore they stop sooner or later. This means you should easily notice when they revert back to that old, puppy-like behavior later on in life. At this point, your dog may be struggling with some kind of obsessive behavior you’ll need to get treated.