One day, you realize that your normally energetic dog is acting listless and withdrawn. Perhaps you’ve recently moved or brought home a new baby. Is it possible that your dog is experiencing depression? According to the experts- yes- and the truth is, depression in dogs is not that much different than it is in people.
If some major life change happens, such as the death of another pet or family member, or if you move to a new location, you may notice that your dog will stop eating and drinking. He may stop wanting to go on walks. He may even resort to hiding somewhere that he feels he is safe. If you notice that your dog is experiencing symptoms of what you feel is depression, be sure to speak with your vet.
According to the experts, they’re not exactly sure if dogs really suffer from depression the way that humans do. After all, since they can’t talk, you can’t really ask them how they are feeling. However, in clinical practice, there are some situations where depression is the only logical explanation. You must understand that while it’s not uncommon for your pet to go through a period of feeling down during changes, it’s very rare that they actually suffer from long-term depression.
Symptoms of Depression in Dogs
The symptoms exhibited by dogs who are experiencing depression are very similar to those exhibited in people, according to the experts. Dogs become withdrawn and inactive. They stop eating as much and start sleeping more. They stop taking part in activities they used to find pleasure in.
However, the experts also warn that some of these symptoms could indicate a major medical problem, so the best thing to do is take him to a vet for a complete checkup. For example, it could be that your pet is moping around and doesn’t want to go for walks because he is suffering from arthritis and walking hurts.
Causes of Depression in Dogs
According to the experts, major changes in the life of a dog could set off depression. This includes things such as moving to a new house, a new child in the household, a new spouse in the household, or even a new pet. Even a change in the typical schedule of the dog can set off depression, such as a formerly stay-at-home owner getting a job outside the home.
However, the two most common depression triggers in dogs are: losing a human companion/owner or losing a companion animal. However, you must be careful that the dog isn’t simply reacting to the behaviors of others in the home. After all, dogs are smart- they pick up on our emotions if someone has passed away and it could be that they are simply responding to the grief of the humans in the house. It’s also possible that he’s getting stressed out because he’s not getting the attention that he’s used to getting.
Treatments for Depression in Dogs
In most cases, dogs will bounce back from depression in a few days or months with just a little bit of extra love and attention. The key is to keep them engaged, keep doing the things they love to do with them, make sure they’re getting plenty of exercise and everything should be fine.
In addition, make sure that you are giving them rewards when they express happiness. If the only thing your dog gets even remotely excited about is going for a car ride, then load him up and take him out each day- and be sure to praise/reward him when he starts to seem happy again. Be cautious that you don’t encourage the negative behavior by giving a depressed dog lots of treats and attention when they are moping. The dog will believe that you are rewarding him for that behavior- and will continue to be that way.
In some cases, if your dog is depressed because he is mourning the loss of an animal companion, it could be that bringing in another pet can be helpful. However, you must be careful with this and keep the needs of your dog and your family in mind.
Medication to Treat Depression in Dogs
If you have tried a variety of treatments, and nothing seems to be helping to get your dog out of his depression, it may be necessary to use medication. According to the experts at the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, the same medications used for depression in humans can also be used for dogs. These include Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac. In addition, there is a medication that has been approved by the FDA for treatment of separation anxiety in dogs, called Clomicalm.
It is critical that you make sure to deal with the issue at hand before it gets too out of control. Unfortunately, in most cases, once they get to the vet, it’s pretty bad. Therefore, it’s necessary to treat it early on using treatments for behavior modifications and enriching the environment. This way, you don’t reach a point where you need to use medication.
Be aware that if you do need to use medication to treat your dog’s depression, it can take up to 2 months for it to work. However, unlike humans who often stay on the medications for years, in most cases, a dog will be better in 6 months to one year and can be taken off of the medication.
When you make major changes in a dog’s life, they are at risk at becoming depressed and will often act out in that way. They may stop eating and drinking, and even stop playing and doing the things they once enjoyed. If you notice your dog is acting this way and isn’t getting any better, it’s necessary that you take the time to figure out what is going on by taking him to the vet. It may not be depression after all, it could be a more serious medical condition. Always keep a close eye on your pets and if changes need to be made, they should be made gradually so that you don’t throw your pet into a tailspin.