By Dr. Judith Herman | Jun 01, 2022
Q. We have had a lot of changes lately, and my dog’s favorite person has moved away. I think Buster is depressed. Is that possible?
A. Dogs do have emotional responses from changes like we do. Do they suffer from depression the same as people? We don’t know for sure because we can’t ask directly how they feel. We do know the symptoms of depression in people are being withdrawn, not eating, being lethargic, and not enjoying things they normally enjoy. Like people, dogs do become withdrawn, decrease or stop eating and drinking, have changes in sleeping patterns, hiding, not wanting to go for walks or play, and not enjoying doing what they normally love.
Causes of depressions in dogs can happen with big changes in the dog’s life. Triggers for depression can be moving to a new home, bringing home a partner, baby, or companion. In addition, loss of a loved one, either human or animal, can cause depression. A common cause is a change in schedule. When guardians who were at home most of the time take a job that takes them to be away from the home for long periods of time, it can cause problems. This is the number one cause of behavioral problems with our companions acquired during the pandemic. Our best friends respond to our emotions, such as grieving for the loss of a loved one. At these sad times, your companions may not be getting the attention they are normally accustomed to. This may trigger symptoms of depression.
Most of the time dogs will bounce back to normal after a few days to a few months with just a little loving care. Be more engaged with your companion by doing more things you both enjoy. A little more exercise is part of the treatment with people who have depression. This is the same for our pups too. Be careful not to lavish treats on the depressed companion. This may be rewarding the behavior you are trying to remove which will prolong the unwanted behavior. Instead, reward engagement and behaviors you want to promote. Sometimes getting another companion may help bring your best friend out of depression. There is a caution here. Be sure to take into account the needs of the family and the dog.
If the depression is prolonged, your veterinarian can prescribe medication to your best friend. If the symptoms are addressed early with enrichment, exercise, and engagement, most of our companions will not need drugs. Alternative treatments such as herbs, nutritional supplements, essential oils, flower essences, and homeopathy, may also help your buddy overcome depression. If your friend needs to be on medication, it usually is on it for a couple of months, not a lifetime as in people.
It is important to know that the symptoms of depression can mimic the outward response your companions will express when they are sick. If you are seeing your buddies not eating or drinking, hiding, being lethargic, and not responding the way they normally do, have them evaluated by your veterinarian to rule out any other causes for these symptoms.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center