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How Do I Know If My Dog Is Depressed?

Written by FOTP Team


Depressed looking dog

How is your dog’s mental health? Experts say that post-pandemic, up to 74% of dogs are experiencing depression. If you think yours might be in that number, here are the signs of canine depression. Don’t worry – we’ll explore some remedies for it, too!

Do Dogs Get Depressed?

For many years it was believed that animals didn’t have feelings the way that humans do. But we know now that dog brains are structured in the same way and produce some of the same chemicals and hormones as humans. In the 1980s, one veterinarian treated a dog with antidepressants and changed his behavior immediately.

According to the British charity Guide Dogs, in 2022, 74% of dogs show signs of poor mental health. But only 36% of owners spot those signs.

Why might your dog be depressed?

After the pandemic, many people have returned to their places of work – leaving behind the pups that kept them company through periods of isolation. Having formed strong bonds with their owners, those dogs may struggle to adapt to the new working week. 

Left at home, dogs can get lonely and bored. 

Other life changes can cause depression in dogs. The arrival of a new baby, moving house, or the loss of another household pet (or an owner) can have significant effects. In fact, many things that cause human depression can also affect dogs.

It’s often linked to hormonal imbalance but they’ll pick up on their owners’ feelings, too. So if you’re struggling with your own mental health, your dog may reflect similar symptoms.

Spotting The Signs Of Depression In Your Dog

Some dogs may have persistent mental health issues; others may have temporary issues stemming from menstruation or abandonment. It’s important that we owners learn to notice the symptoms when dogs aren’t happy, because we can help them through it. These are some of the key signs of depression in dogs:

  • Restlessness. Pacing can be symptomatic of depression. 
  • Lack of motivation. Your dog might slow down and become apathetic, showing less interest in activities.
  • Sleeping more. Lethargy is a common symptom of depression.
  • Loss of appetite. Your dog may even lose weight. 
  • Accidents. If your dog is house-trained, they might start having accidents in the home. 
  • Excess barking. This is often used to get attention.

How To Help Your Dog Through Depression

German Shepherd running with stick

Spokesperson for Guide Dogs, Dr Helen Whiteside said, “It’s an outdated viewpoint to think that dogs just need a walk or two a day to be content.”

Much like a human who is depressed, your dog can benefit from extra exercise, social stimulation, or antidepressants. 

  • Exercise. Most dogs receive an average of around 40-60 minutes of stimulation per day, usually on a walk. They probably need more – but you don’t have to walk for hours. A short, 10-minute game with you will stimulate their brains and the production of oxytocin (the love hormone). You could try bringing home new toys (like a rope toy or a Frisbee) to see what your dog likes. Food puzzles (like a Kong) can be brilliant for dogs who love their treats! You might want to consider taking your dog to try sports or agility training. There are sessions all over the country – look up your nearest at the AKC website Even varying your daily walks can help. Drive out to the beach on the weekends. Plot a new route on the map. Mix it up: play hide and seek one day, and go swimming the next day. 
  • Remove positive reinforcement. Don’t reward depressed behavior. It’s quite natural to be drawn to stroke your dog when they seem to be depressed, lying on their bed or ignoring the squirrel they can see through the window. But attention comprises a “reward” to your dog, who might learn that “sad” behavior gets attention. They won’t be inclined to bounce around because they want love!
  • Don’t mirror depression. Dogs are incredibly empathetic. They are sensitive to your moods and will respond to sadness or stress in the same ways as humans. As their owner, modeling a motivated and energetic lifestyle will ultimately encourage your dog to do the same. (It’s not always easy. Taking care of yourself might involve seeking help.) 
  • Social stimulation. If your dog is grieving, a companion can help. Consider bringing in another dog. If your dog is lonely during the day, you could investigate doggy daycare or book a dog-walker to come and take them out. You can also increase their social activities by visiting local dog parks or planning play-dates with friends’ dogs!
  • Antidepressants. Veterinarians prescribe similar antidepressants for dogs as the ones taken by humans. These can be very effective in helping your dog to recover. Consult your vet, who’ll be able to make the best recommendation. 
  • .... or a herbal remedy. If you’d like to try a natural solution, your dog might benefit from one of the herbal remedies suitable for humans. You could try herbs such as Valerian, St John’s Wort, or even chamomile – brew a cup of tea and leave it to cool before pouring into your dog’s bowl. Note: Consult your vet before trying any remedies that are not specially produced for dogs.

Try introducing Harmony. We’ve created a supplement that targets mental health in dogs. Harmony/products/harmony contains a unique blend of ingredients, including Relora, which can calm the nerves and soothe anxiety.

Is Depression Curable In Dogs?

Canine depression is usually temporary. If diagnosed early, it can be tackled with some of the remedies listed above; even later, a dog shouldn’t need to stay on antidepressants for longer than a year. 

If you take steps to help support your dog’s mental health, you can prevent it from becoming a serious issue. There’s some more good news: looking after your dog’s mental health is likely to improve yours, too – so get walking, playing, and outdoor bonding with your best canine pal.