When we talk about depression in dogs, we’re not referring to the same type of mental illness that occurs in people. Human depression is a specific condition with a specific set of diagnostic tools and treatment options.
We say our dog is depressed when he doesn’t seem to have much energy, and he’s not interested in what’s going on around him. He may not want to play ball or go for a walk, or even get off his bed.
Depression is such a vague symptom in dogs. There is no single reason for this lack of enthusiasm. In fact, the cause could either be physical or emotional.
The first thing to do is to look for any other symptoms that have appeared at the same time as your dog’s depression. He may have stopped eating, or he may be drinking a lot of water. Both of these can indicate a physical reason for his lethargy, such as diabetes, kidney disease or an upset stomach.
Sometimes a dog is depressed and inactive because he’s in pain. Watch for any sign of a limp, or reluctance to jump or climb stairs. Both of these suggest that his back or legs are hurting.
Dogs can also feel down for emotional reasons. Think about any changes that have occurred in your dog’s life during the weeks before he started showing signs of depression.
Was there a death in the family, either human or animal? Dogs grieve just as we do, and it can take some time for them to get over their loss. Dogs are very social animals and can become depressed if they are lonely or bored. Make sure he isn’t spending too much time in his crate, or in the back yard without any companionship.
If his depression is not lifting, or if he appears sore or unwell, it’s time to visit your vet for a check-up. A full examination and blood tests will identify what’s wrong and start your dog on the road to recovery. If there is nothing physically wrong, then your vet may prescribe medication to help your dog feel better as you make some changes to his lifestyle.
Increased physical exercise and extra mental stimulation such as teaching him tricks or participating in dog sports can really lift his mood. You can also help him by taking him on outings to places that may be interesting to him, such as the dog park or the beach. Perhaps you can arrange a play date with another dog.
If there is a doggie day care facility nearby, he’ll enjoy spending a day or two a week there. He’ll have the opportunity to run and play with other dogs in a safe, supervised environment. If your budget and lifestyle allows it, you may even want to consider adding a second dog to your family so he has company and a playmate when you’re unable to be together.
It’s not fun when you feel down in the dumps, and it’s the same for your dog. When you figure out why he’s depressed, and deal with the problem, it won’t be long before his tail is wagging again.