Dogs can suffer from Depression, just like humans. This depression usually comes about as a result of a change in routine, such as the loss of a companion, moving house or a new addition to the household. It manifests itself both through behavioral changes such as loss of energy, pacing, and lack of appetite, and through changes in body language like a drooping tail and ears. It is important that owners recognize the signs of canine depression, so that they can take steps to improve their dogs’ mental health.
EditIdentifying Changes in Behavior
- Think about whether your dog has become withdrawn. Most healthy, happy dogs are highly sociable creatures. If your dog is not greeting you as excitedly when you come home – less of a tail wag, less energy and movement – or loses interest in activities he once enjoyed, he may be depressed.
- Instead of running to the door to greet visitors, a depressed dog may slink away and find an out-of-the-way corner to curl up and go to sleep.
- Be particularly concerned if your dog hides from you. Dogs that hide are usually injured, sick, or depressed.
- On the other hand, depressed dogs sometimes follow their owners around everywhere they go, yet show no desire to interact.
- Look for a change from active to inactive. Happy dogs have seemingly endless energy. For every mile you walk, he goes four – out-and-back, and out-and-back again. He nags you to throw the ball repeatedly, and your arm grows tired before his enthusiasm runs out.
- However, when depressed, your dog no longer pricks his ears up when you get his lead, and instead of charging off across the park, he trudges head-down at your heel. When you stop to talk to friends, he may sit, or even lie down.
- This change from active and energetic to inactive and lethargic may indicate depression.
- Watch for pacing. If your dog wanders from room to room and can’t find a place to settle down, he may be depressed.
- Observe any changes in your dog's sleeping patterns. All dogs sleep a lot, particularly when their owners are gone. However, you should be concerned if your dog continues sleeping when you get home, or if he stays curled up instead of coming to the window or door for things that once attracted him, like the mailman or a passing dog.
- Note changes in your dog’s diet. Most dogs will eat less and lose weight when depressed. On the other hand, just like humans, some dogs may eat more as a form of comfort. Watch for:
- Refusing treats that he once loved.
- Weight gain or weight loss.
- Consider whether destructive behavior or accidents in the house might be due to depression. Tearing up shoes or chewing on walls, books, furniture, or pillows are often signs of lack of exercise, which may lead to depression. Depressed dogs may also be more prone to have accidents in the house. Try not to be angry. Take them out more to ensure they have plenty of time to pee or poop outdoors.
- Watch out for aggression. If your dog begins to growl, snap, or otherwise act aggressively when you try to interact with him, this may be a sign of depression.
EditObserving Your Dog's Body Language
- Pay attention to your dog’s eyes. Dogs squint, making their eyes appear smaller, when they are in pain, stressed, or depressed. Depressed dogs may also be reluctant to make eye contact with anybody, even you.
- Of course, some dogs have "sad" eyes at the best of times, due to naturally droopy eyelids rather than depression, so exercise a little common sense when interpreting sad eyes as a sign of depression.
- Observe your dog for droopy or pulled back ears. Depressed dogs tend to display a lack of responsive ear movements to noises going on around them. For example, your dog may fail to prick up his ears at the sound of things that normally interest him, such as you calling his name, or his collar and lead being fetched prior to a walk.
- Watch for paw licking. Licking or chewing their paws is a comfort mechanism for dogs, and can be a sign of depression.
- See if your dog hangs his head. Depressed dogs tend to keep their heads lowered when standing or sitting. When lying down your dog prefers to rest his chin on the ground, and rarely raises his head in response to activity going on around him.
- Monitor how your dog carries his tail. When a dog is depressed, the tail is held down or between the legs and doesn't wag as readily. When you encourage your dog to wag his tail, the motion is subdued and half-hearted. 
- Be aware of your dog's overall body position. Depressed dogs tend to stand in a passive way, with their heads down and tails lowered, barely reacting to encouragement. Your dog may give the impression of feeling sluggish, and will lack interest in what's going on around him.
- Watch for extra shedding. When dogs are stressed, they tend to shed much more heavily. If you pet your dog and your hand comes away covered in hair, or if you are suddenly having to vacuum much more often, your dog may be depressed.
EditKnowing What to Do Next
- Ensure that your dog is not sick. If your dog is behaving in an unusual manner, it is wise to get him checked out by a vet. There is often a cross over in symptoms between depression and sickness, and it is not always easy to tell the difference because both sick and depressed dogs tend to be off their food, and are reluctant to exercise.
- Understand what may have triggered the depression. A healthy dog is unlikely to become depressed for no reason, therefore it is helpful to know if a recent event has impacted your dog's mental well-being. Dogs are routine driven, so the most common trigger for canine depression is a change of routine. Changes in routine that can trigger depression may include:
- Stress: In doggy terms stress includes anything that stops him from getting the attention he is used to.
- A stay-at-home owner who now goes out to work.
- A new baby, or puppy, in the household.
- The sudden loss of a companion (human or canine).
- Moving house.
- Being re-homed.
- Major building work or renovations in the home.
- Spend more time with your dog. Go for more walks, play games your dog likes (fetch, tug-of-war), try a canine sport like agility, train your dog to do tricks, head to the dog park. When you watch TV, sit on the floor at your dog’s level instead of in a chair. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is fun for both you and your dog. Spending enjoyable time with you is the best way to help your dog overcome his depression.
- Socialize your dog more. If your dog has recently lost a canine companion, consider getting a new one. If your dog is home alone for long hours, try daycare a few days a week or having a walker come by. Also plan trips to the park so that your dog can socialize.
- Reward your dog's positive behaviors. The mistake many owners make when dealing with a depressed dog is that they fuss over them when the dog is behaving abnormally.
- For example, if you make a fuss out of your dog when he doesn't eat, you inadvertently send him the message that he is doing a clever thing by not eating.
- A much better way of handling the situation is to put the food bowl down and ignore the dog until he decides to eat. Then once he takes a mouthful, heap him with praise.
- This reinforces positive rather than negative behaviors and will help to lift your dog from his depression.
- Make your dog feel more secure by maintaining a normal routine. Try to keep a depressed dog in his regular routine, since this helps him feel secure, and reassures him that all is well with the world.
- See a veterinary behaviorist if your dog’s depression continues. It is possible that your dog has a chemical imbalance and may need drugs like Prozac, as well as a behavioral modification program, to overcome his depression.
- When looking for signs of depression in your dog, keep his usual body language and habits in mind. A dog who is usually submissive may not get up to greet strangers, so this behavior is not out of the ordinary for him and should not be a cause for concern. On the other hand a generally outgoing and sociable dog that refuses to get up could well be depressed.
- A canine that is depressed while you are home is not a good sign. Lack of attention, Walks, Leaving him/her alone in the yard may suggest you don't know what's in their best interest. Canines are pack animals; leaving them alone days,weeks, months, a lifetime alone, could be considered abusive.
- Recognize Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
- Keep Your Dog Happy