How to Deal With Depression in Dogs

December 5, 2009

By Ruthie Bently

Do dogs get depressed? Yes, just like humans, dogs can suffer from bouts of depression. When my AmStaff Nimber passed, his canine companion Katie went into a depression and began misbehaving. I realized that Katie was grieving and began looking for another AmStaff to add to our family, which solved the problem. While this helped in my situation, it isn’t for everyone.

Several other things can lead to depression in dogs. It can be something as simple as the weather or changes in barometric pressure. Other causes of depression in dogs can be the loss of a close companion, either human or canine. If you begin working longer hours and cannot spend as much time with your dog as you used to, or if you and your dog used to meet a dog regularly for a play date and don’t anymore, that could bring on depression. To counteract this, try socializing with your dog more at the dog park, show more attention and affection, and try to schedule more time for your dog. If this isn’t possible, look for a doggie day care where you can leave them for a play date, or hire a dog walker to give them more daily activity. If you can’t take your dog with you on vacation, find a kennel that gives your dog extra exercise or allows them to play with other dogs so they aren’t in a crate all day.

Moving to a new house can cause depression in dogs, because your dog may be unsure of their place in these new surroundings. Make sure when you move that you take along all their current supplies (bowls, beds, toys and crate). Even if their things don’t go with the new color scheme, keep using them until your dog gets acclimated to the new house and neighborhood, and feels comfortable there. Once they feel comfortable in the new house you can start replacing their old things with new ones.

Separation anxiety and family additions can cause depression too. If you suspect your dog may be depressed, try to ease them into a new situation. If you are pregnant, try to get your dog used to the idea before the baby comes home. If you are getting a new pet, consider introducing your dog to it on neutral territory to lessen the chance of any depression.

If you do all these things and your dog is still acting depressed, it’s a good idea to see your vet to make sure the problem isn’t caused by something physical. Some illnesses can lead to depression in dogs, or they could have a chemical imbalance. They could also have a hormonal imbalance like hyperthyroidism, which might lead to depression.

Some of the symptoms of dog depression are being unresponsive when you call them, excessive sleeping or lethargy, loss of interest in drinking water and a lack of appetite or weight loss. Their behavior may change and become aggressive or anxious. If you suspect your dog has any of these symptoms consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. If these symptoms persist for any length of time they can become life threatening.

If you suspect your dog is depressed, review any changes you’ve been made recently in their environment or routine. Has their feeding, walking or playtime schedule changed? Is it something that can be changed back? Our dogs are so sensitive to their surroundings; they can tell when we are under the weather even before we know it, and may empathize with us.

There are several medicines vets use to treat canine depression, but they’re usually a last resort. Phenobarbital is an anti-seizure medication that’s sometimes used for canine depression. It can cause kidney and liver damage, so any dog on phenobarbital needs regular blood tests. Prozac, while proven to have good results, has side effects. Your dog may be less friendly, less active and their personality may change. Phenobarbital and Prozac are only available by prescription from your vet.

There are holistic remedies, flower essences and several herbs that have been used to treat depression in dogs. While they may have no side effects, each dog’s reaction to these can be different, and many veterinarians are reluctant to use them in the treatment of canine depression. I would suggest you consult your regular veterinarian and ask to be referred to a homeopathic veterinarian if you wish to explore these treatment options. There are even therapists you can take your dog to, and they may use aromatherapy or music to help improve your dog’s mood. As with any other health issue concerning your dog, see your vet before making any changes that involve medicine or alternative therapies.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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