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5 signs of depression in dogs

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Sad news: dogs get depressed, just like everybody else! But because a dog looks kind of lovely, it’s easy to miss that he’s hurting underneath. That’s why dog-lovers should learn to look out for signs of depression in dogs

By G. John Cole

Updated on the 19/12/2019, 15:29

Dog scientists have discovered that our furry friends often show the same symptoms of depression as human beings. But it’s important to understand your pet’s mental health on a dogly level if you are to help him recover.

Signs of depression in dogs: be extra vigilant

Dog and puppy depression signs should not be ignored. But you should also be proactive in looking out for symptoms – since the cause may be closer to home than you’d like to admit.

Trouble is, the most likely cause of depression is the owner’s treatment of the dog, so they’re unlikely to spot it,” says pet behaviourist Tamara Cartwright-Loebl in The Guardian.

If it’s not medical, then maybe something has changed in their life – a divorce, kids leaving home, a new housekeeper or walker, another pet dying.”

Sign of dog depression #1: he’s unsociable

Just like people, a depressed dog will be less playful and sociable – with people and dogs. If you observe him closely, you’ll notice he has lost his usual zest.
Depression can make even the slightest social contact feel like a Herculean effort for a dog.

Sign of dog depression #2: he’s uncomfortable in his skin

It may seem normal for a dog to scratch, lick, or nibble himself. But when this behaviour becomes excessive or neurotic, it can be a symptom of physical and mental problems underneath.

What’s not been properly understood previously is how dermatological problems can affect a dog’s wellbeing,” says leading veterinary dermatologist Dr Anita Patel in The Telegraph. “What we now know is that skin issues can be one of the biggest causes of depression for dogs. And like people, when a dog is depressed, they lose interest in the things they usually love – like going for a walk, playing, or having a fuss from their owner."

Excessive licking can also be a symptom of depression even if it’s totally unrelated to a skin condition.

Sign of dog depression #3: his appetite changes

Just like people, depression sometimes manifests through the belly. A depressed dog may lose his appetite, stop eating, and become thinner.

Or he may turn to food as a comfort and start eating a lot more.

Changes in your dog’s appetite and weight are often a sign of something serious. Even if you don’t think he’s depressed, you should go to the vet together as he could have another medical problem that needs attention.

Sign of dog depression #4: his sleep patterns change

That lack of playfulness can lead to extreme lethargy. Depressed people often have trouble getting motivated to leave the bed. It’s the same for dogs. If your dog sleeps more than usual, and not just because you’ve worn him out on an epic adventure, take him to a dog shrink.

Sign of dog depression #5: he’s lying on his master’s grave

It’s a classic image. But it is based in truth. A dog who lies on his master’s grave is neither sociable nor playful. He misses the boss. And his lack of walkies and treats probably isn’t helping, either.

Causes of dog depression

If your dog is depressed, the first thing to do is work out the cause. Most often, it’s because his home, family, or lifestyle are not suited to his breed and temperament. For example, a big, outdoors-style dog living in a cramped inner-city flat and getting two short walks a day is likely to become first frustrated, and then depressed.

But depression can also be caused by trauma such as an accident or mistreatment. And it can be a symptom that he has another medical condition making him uncomfortable.

Dog depression: what to do

If your dog is depressed, it’s best to take him to the vet just so you can be sure that there’s no medical condition causing the problem.

But you should also re-evaluate your dog’s lifestyle, because it’s very easy to get into bad habits without noticing it. Does your dog get the right amount of outdoors exercise per day? For a mid-large size dog, this can be one or two hours or more. Does he have room to stretch indoors? Does he have plenty of contact time with people and other dogs?

It is possible to get medication to help a depressed dog. But the best thing you can do to prevent your dog becoming depressed in the first place is to ensure he eats healthy, gets plenty of exercise, and is loved.

That way, you can both live happily ever after

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