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Dog Depression

Dog depression can affect our canine companions at any age, and it can happen for a variety of reasons. The problem can range from a mild case of 'the doggie blues' to severe canine depression.

Fido can't tell you he's feeling down, but symptoms of depression in dogs are fairly similar to those shown by humans.

Treatment options are varied and things can often be improved by making a few simple changes in care and environment, and by doling out some extra TLC.

Vet prescribed medications are a possibility for extreme cases, and for short-term use, but there are lots of other avenues to explore.

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This page will help you to recognize dog depression symptoms and find the right care options to get Fido back to his happy self as quickly as possible.

Small black and white dog with sad expression

FYI... FYI...

Is the depression being suffered by YOU rather than Fido?

Did you know that 'Puppy Depression' or the 'Puppy Blues' is a fairly common experience for new puppy/dog owners who unexpectedly feel overwhelmed, anxious or are having the equivalent of buyers remorse?

Luckily, this is temporary condition! Check out this page to learn more: About Puppy Depression.

Causes of Dog Depression

Dog depression can be difficult to imagine when you're looking at a happy, bouncing, energetic, tail-wagging pooch.

But although dogs are naturally upbeat and don't worry about the past (or the future for that matter), they're also very emotional and sensitive creatures.

Most common causes of depression in dogs:

  • Loss of a Companion 
    Whether it's a canine companion or a human one (or even in some cases a feline or other pet), our dogs feel the loss of someone they loved. 

  • Loneliness 
    Dogs are also very social animals. Naturally evolved to live in a pack, they don't do well when left alone for long periods. Depression is just one problem that lonely dogs are prone to. Other behavior issues such as anxiety, shyness or aggression can also grow in a lonely, isolated dog.

  • Changes in Environment 
    Our dogs rely heavily on routine and habits for their sense of security. When something big changes (or there are several small ones at the same time) it can make them anxious and even depressed. This can include moving house, adding a new baby (or even a pet) to the home, being re-homes (even an 8 week old puppy gets lonely and sad), major change in owner's work hours/routine etc. etc.

  • Illness 
    A dog who is chronically sick, in pain,  or unable to enjoy a good quality of life can get depressed. It's also not uncommon for a dog to seem depressed after surgery or being hospitalized for a period of time. A dog who is in pain may appear to be depressed... but will bounce back as soon as he's feeling better.

  • Age 
    Elderly dogs can shows signs of depression (along with other symptoms) if they suffer from Canine Dysfunction Syndrome. Age itself isn't a cause of canine depression in an otherwise healthy dog.

  • Owner's Emotional State 
    Dogs are extremely sensitive and  'soak up' their owner's emotional state and frame of mind. If we're anxious and upset our dogs are antsy too. If we're sad they're sad and so on. If you're depressed chances are your dog will be suffering to some degree as well - even if you don't realize that you're depressed you may notice that Fido is!

  • Biochemical Changes in the Brain
    Studies have shown that a dog's brain and nervous system functions in a pretty similar way to a humans. Just as depression in people can be caused by a chemical or hormonal imbalance in the brain, so it can be in dogs too. Research into this area (called Animal Behavioral Pharmacology) is ongoing and these are helping veterinarian's to treat dog depression even more effectively.

Dog Depression Symptoms

The symptoms of depression in dogs can vary, and not every depressed dog will act the same way.

Depressed Pug lying on wooden floor

It's also important to point out that many of the signs of depression in dogs can also be symptoms of other diseases and conditions.

If Fido is acting in a way that is not normal for him, and showing signs of feeling unwell or depressed, it's very important to get him evaluated by a veterinarian right away.

In order to get the right treatment in place you need to be sure about the cause.

Most common dog depression symptoms include:

  • Lethargy, exhaustion, excessive sleeping
  • Loss of appetite (may result in weight loss)
  • Disinterest in things which he normally enjoys
  • Hiding or isolating himself
  • Obsessive behaviors such as excessive licking

A dog who is suffering from anxiety can also show some of the above symptoms.

It can sometimes be tricky to figure out whether Fido is anxious or depressed, but there is one simple word which can help you take a good guess at which it is... that word is 'activity'.

This is because a dog who is anxious and stressed is likely to be restless and on the move much more than a dog who is depressed or sad.

Dog Depression v Dog Anxiety

Some symptoms of both conditions are the same, but others show a clear difference, mostly in the amount of energy Fido is expending.

Dog Depression

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy or sleepiness
  • Hiding
  • OCD behaviors eg licking/chewing at himself
  • Loss of interest in life
  • Wants to be left alone

Dog Anxiety

  • Loss of appetite
  • Pacing, restlessness, jumpiness
  • Following owner around
  • OCD behavior (eg tail chasing, barking or whining)
  • Has bad dreams
  • Separation anxiety & clinginess
  • Potty accidents
Anxious Chihuahua

It's possible for a dog to be both depressed AND anxious, so if your pet is showing symptoms from both sides of the above table this could be what's  happening.

Dog Depression Treatment

Zeroing in on the cause of your dog's depression is key to getting the treatment he needs.

The earlier you can make a diagnosis the faster you can get treatment for your dog - and the sooner he will be feeling better.

Sometimes the trigger for dog depression is obvious. Maybe his long-time doggie companion has passed away, or he's lost the home he loved and lived in his whole life. Other times it's something that has passed you by unnoticed because you didn't realize how important it was to him.


The symptoms of dog depression can also be symptoms of illness or disease. If Fido starts to act differently, ALWAYS have your veterinarian examine him to make sure that there's no underlying health problem causing the problem.

Our dogs see the world differently to us and it's important to try to see things from their perspective sometimes.

Perhaps the children are all in school and mom has gone back to work, leaving him alone for hours in an empty house. Or you've been so busy with the new baby that you simply didn't realize that Fido isn't getting the cuddles and attention he used to and is feeling sad and left out.

Maybe it was only when you began to notice that Fido's behavior has changed that you realized there was a problem.

This is common, and not something to beat yourself up about because once you address the cause of the problem your dog's depression he will likely return to his happy self pretty quickly.

Of course, that doesn't mean quitting work or putting the baby up for adoption! It does mean minimizing the effect the changes are having on him by adjusting his daily life in a way that will help him realize that he is still safe and loved.

If your dog's depression is due to illness or pain, getting the best treatment for the health problem is your first priority.

Some conditions, like Canine Dysfunction Syndrome, don't have a 'cure' so managing the symptoms using the tips above,as well as advice from your vet, can help.

After surgery or a serious illness (like Canine Parvo for example) your dog may seem to be depressed for a while. This is usually just his body's way of giving itself a chance to rest and heal.

However, if Fido doesn't seem to be getting better (with something like Parvo this can take weeks or months) or is getting worse then have your vet examine him to make sure all is well.

Here are some ways that you can help your depressed dog:

Increase his Activity Level

Activity has a positive impact on both physical and emotional health, so getting your depressed dog moving can be helpful.

Golden Retriever jogging with owner

Light jogging is a great way to boost Fido's mood... and it can help yours too. If neither of you are up for a jog,  a couple of good walks per day and add some playtime in the yard (or indoors if the weather is bad) that's a great start.

Boredom and loneliness can lead to dog depression, so keeping Fido's body (and brain) active is important.

Training sessions may be too stressful for a dog who is feeling down, but play dates with friendly, familiar dogs and new toys which keep him entertained and busy are good strategies for dealing with canine depression.

Dog Puzzle toys are a great way to keep Fido's brain busy, so are super tough Dog Chew toysChewing is a big stress reliever for dogs, so these do double duty!

If your dog is usually friendly and well socialized and is depressed because he's spending too much time alone or has lost his best friend, visits to doggie daycare or a pet sitter who will take him for a walk and give him company can really boost his spirits.

Encourage Happy Behavior

As I mentioned earlier in this article, dogs soak up the emotional energy from the people around them.  If you can be be cheerful and upbeat, it helps Fido to feel that way too.

Dog and owner silhouette at sunset

Try to make it as genuine as possible, dogs literally feel our emotions and your pet will know if you're smiling on the outside but crying on the inside.

It's tempting to 'baby' a dog who is depressed, but those soothing words and gentle looks can be interpreted by your dog as validation of his depression.

He feels your sadness and concern, and that increases his emotional overload, possibly making him feel that there really IS a reason for him to feel so sad!

Of course this doesn't mean you shouldn't give Fido lots of love and affection, and certainly doesn't mean you should be harsh with him, absolutely not. But instead of babying him, jolly him along with cheerful words and tone, and show him love in a happy way.

Reward happy, positive behavior whenever possible. Behavior which is rewarded becomes a habit.

If you reward the negative behavior (even if it's due to dog depression) by giving it lots of attention, then it becomes the habit.

Show sympathy for him, but make your focus be on the happy side of the equation and make your interactions as fun and upbeat as you can.

Praise him if he runs after the ball you threw... if he's wagging his tail when you talk to him... if he eats his dinner... if he shows interest in his toys.... etc. etc.

Replace What Fido has Lost

In theory, helping your dog to recover from depression which is due to the loss of a companion or home should be able to be achieved by replacing the thing he misses so badly. Of course, this isn't always as easy as it sounds.

Two Chinese Crested dogs sitting side by side

If your dog has had a best canine buddy for years and suddenly loses him, offering a new puppy (or adult dog) as a replacement doesn't always go down well - at least at first.

A normally friendly and social dog will probably accept the newcomer given some time, and chances are they'll form a loving bond once they get to know each other.

Don't rush this, either by bringing in a new dog too quickly, or by expecting them to get along from day one.

However, a dog who isn't familiar with being around other dogs, isn't particularly social or dog friendly, or is anxious/fearful/aggressive or defensive, may not appreciate a new family member.

He may never accept him either - which can lead to the heartbreaking decision to have to re-home the new pup/dog even though he's found a place in the human hearts.

If the loss is of a home, or family, then finding another loving home where Fido can be safe and happy can put an end to the depression very effectively.

Dogs who are homeless, either in pounds or rescues, can easily become depressed, no matter how good the people caring for them are. A home of their very own is often the only cure for this.

Get Help if YOU Are Depressed

If you're in the depth of depression your dog is going to be depressed and sad too. The best way you can help BOTH of you is to get help yourself because Fido won't be fooled by you pasting a smile on your face.

Puppy with owner who is looking sad

Some of the tips for helping a depressed dog are also good remedies for a depressed human!

Exercise for example. The endorphins released when we exercise can help lift feelings of sadness and boost our energy (sounds counterproductive to use energy to get energy, but it's what happens).

Taking your dog on those extra walks can help you both.

However, if you're depressed enough to be affecting your dog you probably want to have a talk with your doctor to see what he/she can recommend to help lift make you feel better.

Natural Remedies for Dog Depression

Before turning to mainstream medications for dog depression it can be a good idea to check out the natural options available.

Medications can be very effective, and for severe cases or dogs with long-term problems they may be essential.

However they all have side effects, some of them unpleasant or even dangerous, and if your dog has other health issues some medications may not be suitable or safe to use. I would always recommend asking your veterinarian before giving your dog ANY type of remedy (natural or otherwise). 

Here are some natural treatments for dog depression which have shown themselves to be safe and effective....

Pet Essences for Depression/Grieving

A blend of flower essences including Blackberry and Honeysuckle.

Designed to help balance your dogs emotions and gently relieve feelings of sadness and depression.

Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets

The popular Bach Rescue Remedy formulated to relieve anxiety and upset in dogs, cats and horses.

A herbal blend of five flower essences.

Alcohol free. 

You can make your own blend of flower essences, tailoring it to suit your dog's unique situation (ie the depression is due to loss of a companion, a change in circumstances, trauma etc. etc.)

Here are several individual flower essences and the specific situations they are best used to treat. Combine them as necessary...

For despondency due to a change/loss of something familiar and enjoyable. Pessimistic attitude.

Examples: Inability to exercise due to injury or illness. No longer able to go to work with owner.

Can be combined with Honeysuckle.

For depression and anxiety due to a major loss or homesickness.

Examples: Death or loss of owner or companion. Rehoming.

Can be combined with Walnut

For shock (physical or emotional).

Examples: Injury or severe illness. Pain. Sudden loss of something critical such as owner/home due to natural disaster.

For sadness or worry which comes with a feeling of being overwhelmed by a temporary situation or responsibility.

Examples: Staying in boarding kennel during vacation. Giving birth.  

Add 2 - 4 drops of Bach Rescue Remedy blend to Fido's drinking water, food, or treats. 

To give the individual flower essences to your dog add 2 drops of each separate essence (up to a maximum of 7 individual essences) to 1 oz (30ml) of water. Shake gently to mix. 

You can use this mixture in a couple of different ways:

  • Give 4 drops by mouth, 4 times per day. 
  • Add 4 drops to Fido's water bowl
  • Rub 2 drops on his gums, paws, or outer ears. Never on his nose.

Medication for Dog Depression

Because depression in dogs is in many ways similar to depression in humans, the same type of medications can be used to relieve Fido's symptoms.

You can't just go and give your dog some of your own anti-depressants (or other medicine). 

Dogs need totally different dosages and many human drugs are unsuitable, or unsafe, for pets.

If your vet feels that your dog would benefit from a prescription medication he/she is the expert... but it's also your responsibility to make sure that you know what side-effects to look out for and how to know if there is a problem.

Medications commonly used by veterinarians to treat dog depression:

Anti-depressants (or SSRI's aka Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) such as

  • Prozac (active ingredient Fluoxetine Hydrochloride)
  • Zoloft (active ingredient Sertraline Hydrochloride)
  • Paxil (active ingredient Paroxetine Hydrochloride)

are the go-to drugs for treating canine depression. 

These drugs all have side effects, many of them similar, with the most common being loss of appetite, lethargy and tremors. Diarrhea, vomiting, increased thirst, agitation and skin problems are also sometimes seen.

As with all medications, serious or allergic reactions are possible and there is the potential for interaction with other drugs your dog is taking, or with existing health conditions.

Never give your dog any medication without it being expressly prescribed or recommended by your veterinarian.

Clomicalm (active ingredient Clomipramine Hydrochloride) is a drug which is generally used to treat separation anxiety but can also be helpful in relieving the symptoms of depression in dogs.

Although there are times when medications are the right treatment choice for dog depression, they are not a 'magic bullet'. 

Dogs can take a while to show improvement when on anti-depressants (the same is true with people) and it's important to give it time and monitor your dog's behavior and health while waiting to see if this approach is working.

To Sum It All Up....

Dog depression can happen, to any dog, at any age - and for a number of different reasons. Recognizing symptoms of canine depression early leads to prompt treatment which can help Fido feel better fast.

There are a range of treatment options for treating depression in dogs. These include behavioral and environmental changes, natural treatments and medications.

If your dog is showing signs of feeling sad or depressed, have your vet check him out by your vet and on the road back to his happy self again.

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