It might not happen overnight. You will most likely realize some time after the symptoms started occurring and this could be days, weeks, or even months after the problems started to manifest in the ways I’ve detailed below. There are similarities in this regard to the outgoing signs that we show when we’ve been affected by something, that’s usually out of our control.
There are actually only two things that we owners need to do when it comes to dogs and depression. Firstly, identify the change of personality and make the association with depression. Secondly, do something about it. It’s actually the former point that can take the time and is actually the most important part as once we understand what’s going on we can move on and try and fix the problem.
Further issues, both mental and health-related, can arise when the depression hasn’t been noticed. Which is why I am hoping this post will help. It will assist you in identifying the more obvious observable behaviors that dogs exhibit when they are depressed. Once you’ve noticed them, it’s up to you to fix it!
So, here are the best ways to tell that your dog is depressed.
1) They Walk With Their Head Down
Similar to how we walk when something is weighing us down, your dog may walk around with his head facing down and an obvious unwillingness to look up and around. There will most likely be other symptoms on display as well as this.
2) Your Dog Doesn’t Want to Play
Probably one of the biggest symptoms that makes us sad is when they no longer want to play the games they used to. You grab a ball, show it to them and throw it but they couldn’t look less interested. Instead of a tail wagging as soon as you get close to them, they barely raise their head and look like they want to be left alone.
If you manage to get them outside for exercise, which may be very difficult – they won’t show any enthusiasm for it and as hard as you might try to get them interested in playing, they really don’t care. This behavior can manifest in different levels of severity – for instance, they might initially wag their tail but after a few seconds it will stop. It’s as if they briefly forget how sad they are, just for a few seconds.
3) They Just Look Sad
The way a dog holds itself when it is depressed is just different from how it will appear normally. Its movements will be slower and if you look into their eyes you won’t see that old sparkle that you used to love.
This won’t be the only sign of depression they will show and will usually be related to a lack of energy and desire to play also.
4) Lack of Appetite and Loss of Weight
An obvious one this but the thing most dogs have in common is that they will eat anything that’s put in front of them, regardless of how hungry they are! So, for a dog to refuse food or not show any interest in food is unusual. They might approach it, which is more habit than anything else but as soon as they smell it you may see them turn around slowly and walk away.
This is an important point and an area which can impact the health od the dog quickly. You must ensure they are getting enough fluids and if you believe they are not or if they have not eaten for a couple of days then you really need to see help from a professional. Never just assume they will be fine in the morning and if you’re worried then call the vet.
5) More Tired Than Usual
If you notice that your dog is more tired than usual then this can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. This may not happen overnight and you might suddenly realize that they are not as energetic as they were a few weeks (or even months) ago.
You need to be careful here and don’t just assume that the reason they are tired is because of depression. There could be many reasons why they are sleepy and it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored as it could point to other health issues.
6) Hiding Away
Dogs usually like to be in the same room as their owner. Okay, they aren’t always on our laps but they like to know where we are as much as we like to know where they are. Which makes it odd when we can’t find them. After looking around you may notice them in the corner of a room or hiding under a table or something else. This is not normal behavior for a dog and should not be ignored. Actually, none of these points should be ignored, of course.
They may not want to come out and although it’s tempting to try and move them, caution is advised as they may just not want to and could possibly become aggressive (see point 8). This behavior is more common with cats but it has been seen with dogs that have anxiety or depression-related problems.
7) Licking or Chewing Paws
You may notice your dog licking or chewing its paws, or alternatively scratching for no apparent reason. Particularly with the licking, this can become almost obsessive and their paws can become quite raw because of this. Often this is associated with separation anxiety and depression. Don’t ignore this behavior as it may not just be related to depression but other health issues.
This is where we need to be careful and especially when children are involved. If a dog is feeling ill (either physically or mentally) then it can show signs of aggression. Even your typically placid little harmless dog can become vicious when unwell. Especially if provoked. It’s easy for us when we see our dog lazing around to maybe try and coax it outside
9) Howling or Making Unusual Noises
This may be totally out of character to your dog but if in pain or depressed you may hear them making some strange noises. This could happen at any time of day or night and appears to be an almost involuntary reaction to how they are feeling.
10) Going to the Toilet Inside
This may be related to the fact that they don’t feel they have the energy to actually go outside, they don’t care about where they go or they simply don’t know they are doing it. Your dog should not be punished for this as you will find that this only pushes them further into depression. This behavior is most likely (but not always) a symptom of the underlying problem and will most likely go away once they are better.
There are other reasons why your dog may not be able to control its bladder or bowel movements though. Don’t take chances with this and speak to your vet if it persists.
11) Destructive Personality
A sure sign of separation anxiety is a destructive personality. I have a couple of friends who have two wonderful Siberian Huskies. These guys are the absolute best owners you could imaging and give these Huskies exactly what they need – exercise, and a lot of it. However, one day they had to go out for a couple of hours without the dogs so naturally thought it would be okay to leave them in the conservatory for a couple of hours.
On their return, the first thing they noticed was all the windows had condensation on them, which was a bit odd. When they got inside they discovered that all their lovely plants in the conservatory had been completed obliterated. It was the moisture from these ex-plants that had created the condensation!
My point is, although the amount of time you can leave a dog alone can vary from breed-to-breed and also dog-to-dog, none of them enjoy being alone for extended periods of time. Some dogs, even after just 30 minutes alone can start to show signs of separation anxiety which often leads to a destructive personality. This can mean anything within biting range in your home may be chewed and dribbled over by the time you get back.
Some people have found that crating your dog can really help with this so if you’re considering this then do take a look at my article here. There are many you need to avoid and within that post (on my site) I’ll show you which ones I recommended.
12) Ignoring You and Instructions
It’s almost a stubborn behavior but shouldn’t be confused with this, which can occur in dogs that are perfectly healthy. Your instructions for them to Sit, Stay, Walkies, etc. will fall on deaf ears. Whether they can actually hear and process what you’re saying and choose to just ignore it or whether your instructions are being processed properly by their brain, who knows. Either way, it can be a sign of depression when they choose to ignore your orders. This will most likely be accompanied by other symptoms, especially being tired.
Why do dogs get depressed?
There are three main reasons why dogs get depressed, so let’s take a look at these now:
Being Left Alone
This is the point that most owners need to focus on as it’s often the reason why dogs start to show signs of depression. The simple fact is that a dog should not be left alone all day. Dogs are sociable animals and need attention from us (or possibly another dog) to keep it healthy. Without this, and it doesn’t always take long, a dog can quickly show signs of separation anxiety which can lead quite quickly into a destructive personality and other health problems.
Don’t leave your dog alone for long periods of time. If you know you’re not going to be around for several hours, try and get someone to look after them (that they like!).
Lack of Attention / Bored
Sometimes things take over in our lives and our concentration is diverted onto other things. This is only natural and happens to all of us. However, if you no longer pay attention to your dog and you don’t play with it or spend time with it and don’t exercise it – then this is only going to go in one direction.
Remember that your dog is part of your family and needs to be treated as such. They only get one life and it’s a lot shorter than ours, give them the best life you can.
Horrible to think about, I know, but if a dog is abused in its early life then it can cause problems in its later life. Maybe it went to a rescue home and you saved it. The good thing is there are things you can do about it – you need to have patience though. If a dog has been abused it can take a very long time for it to
What can you do about depression?
Fortunately, all is not lost. The vast majority of times, depression in dogs is short-lived because their owners realize what’s going on, identify the root cause and fix it. It doesn’t have to be permanent.
The first thing to do is get them checked out by a professional, your vet, and make sure they are healthy and there aren’t any other underlying issues.
If they are, then your job is relatively straight forward. You need to spend time with them. As much time as you can. Sit with them, be happy and try and get them out of the house at least twice a day for some fresh air and some exercise.
Don’t leave them alone. If you really want to fix these problems you’ll spend as much time with them as you can. Just lying with your dog, making physical contact will help, you just need to give it time.
In extreme cases and assuming the above isn’t giving you the results you need (which is extremely unlikely) then your vet may be able to prescribe medication. It doesn’t usually come to this but it’s worth discussing with your vet if you’re out of ideas.
This was a difficult article to write. I hate the thought of any animal in distress and particularly man’s best friend. As common as depression in dogs (and other animals) is, it is reassuring to know that it is usually only temporary and it is fixable.
However, it is up to the owner to do this. If you recognize these symptoms in your dog, and I hope you don’t – then you know what to do 🙂