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Can dogs suffer from depression? How to cheer up your pup

Written by Dr Louisa Lane
10th Oct 2022
6 mins read
Do dogs get the blues? We might never know for sure, since dogs can’t tell us how they feel. But understanding their body language and behaviour suggests they can suffer from low mood.
If your dog seems down in the dumps, make sure they’re getting enough exercise and enrichment. Often boredom manifests as behavioural issues, including anxiety or depression. If you’re ever concerned about your dog’s behaviour, talk to your vet.
Many of us think of depression as the black dog following us around, which can seem unfair given dogs are well known for their joy and lust for life. Similarly, a dog’s happy go lucky nature and unconditional love has been proven to help improve our own moods. 
We know that dogs can suffer from different forms of anxiety, such as separation anxiety. But can dogs suffer from depression? Well, it turns out they can.
Our pups have clear emotions, and while we want them to be happy, sometimes they can be sad too. Read on to find out more about doggy depression and what you can do to cheer up your pup.

Can dogs suffer from depression?

We can’t know for sure if dogs suffer from depression in the same way that people do, because we can’t talk to dogs about their symptoms or feelings.
However, dogs are very emotionally intelligent and social animals, and they sometimes seem to get sad or go through bouts of depression-like symptoms.
The causes for these low moods are often similar to why we humans get upset. Dogs seem to go through periods of grief when they lose a human or animal companion. They can get out of sorts after big life changes like a house move. Pain or illness can make them feel sorry for themselves. 
So if your dog does seem down, try not to panic. Think about whether you’ve had any changes in your life that might have unsettled them. And if you’re ever worried, speak to a vet to rule out illness and work out the best way to get your dog’s tail wagging again.

Signs of depression in dogs

The signs of depression in dogs are similar to human symptoms of depression. But unlike people, your pup can’t say when they’re feeling sad. So you need to understand doggy body language to be able to read their mood.
Some signs of depression in dogs include:
  • Your dog becoming withdrawn or inactive.
  • Losing interest in things they usually enjoy, like toys and treats.
  • A change in sleeping pattern, often sleeping much more than usual or becoming restless.
  • A change in their eating habits.
  • Hiding in the house or spending more time alone than normal.
  • Behavioural changes; chewing or even aggression. 
However, all of these symptoms can appear if your dog is in pain or is feeling unwell. So if your dog isn’t their usual self, it’s always a good idea to note their symptoms and get a vet to check them over to rule out any physical illness.
There are other signs that your dog could be suffering from a behavioural issue. They might be barking or howling more than normal, or they could regress in their training. If you’re ever worried about your dog’s behaviour, you should talk to your vet.

The hangdog look: how to tell if your dog is sad

Dogs are intelligent critters and their mood can change, just like us. It’s normal for your dog to have an occasional low mood. 
Signs that your dog is sad can include inactivity and lack of enthusiasm. “Whale eye”, where your dog shows the whites of their eyes, can indicate nervousness. So can lip licking and yawning. Meanwhile, tucked tails and pinned-back ears are signs that your dog is worried.
Just as it's normal for every dog to have the occassional bad mood, every pup has a different personality. While some dogs are bouncy and excitable, others are more quiet and withdrawn. It’s important to know what’s normal for your dog, and reach out to your vet if your dog is acting out of the ordinary.

How to cheer up a depressed dog or sad pup

Keep them entertained

One of the key signs of depression in dogs is inactivity. However, this could also be a sign that your dog is bored.
Boredom often leads to dogs showing signs of behavioural issues, from anxiety to frustration or depression.
To cheer up your pup, try taking them on a walk in new surroundings with lots of different scents to entertain them. New smells, and giving them plenty of time to sniff them, is way more stimulating (and more tiring) than a really long walk. Shorter, sniffier walks are also better for older dogs who can’t enjoy longer walks. 
You can also try some indoor games or puzzle toys to give your dog new things to do. Making sure your pup is getting enough exercise and enrichment is often enough to brighten their mood.

Let them socialise

Dogs are social creatures, and giving them the opportunity to play with other dogs could help to make them feel better. 
Even hanging out with humans can help, especially for dogs that aren’t as keen on spending time with their canine companions.  
Simply spending some more quality time with your pooch could cheer them up. If they come over to you looking for attention, give them a fuss or play together. It's often enough to get their tail wagging again.

Make sure they’re eating healthily

Healthy eating is proven to help our moods as humans, and it’s similar with dogs. Any food that is “complete” should give them all the nutrients they need to be happy and healthy, whatever type of diet you give your pup.
Don’t give your pup more treats to cheer them up though. Extra enrichment or socialising is much more likely to brighten their mood. Plus, too many treats could lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Give them time to adjust

Many dogs suffer from low mood after a big life change, like moving house, or a family member moving away. Even us humans can struggle to cope with these big life changes!
So cut your pup some slack and give them a little extra love and patience. Hopefully, with a bit of time to get used to their new normal, they’ll be back to their usual self.

Maintain their routine

As mentioned above, many dogs seem down in the dumps if their routines change. Dogs are creatures of habit, and a structured routine can help their wellbeing in all sorts of ways from giving them a normal appetite, to good sleep schedules.
Keeping your pup on a routine, like regular mealtimes, can help to keep them happy and healthy.
But if yo're ever worried about your dog’s change in behaviour, you should talk to your vet. They can rule out illness or pain and suggest treatment to help your pup, which can include medication, if necessary.

Other times your dog might seem down

Can dogs have depression after surgery?

Some dogs can seem listless and after surgery which may look like they’re “depressed”.  To be fair to them, you would feel sorry for yourself after an operation too!
Your dog could be quite sore and sleepy following an anaesthetic. Your pup’s low mood might actually be caused by discomfort or pain.
Keep an eye on your pup’s behaviour and look out for other symptoms like infected wounds, pale gums, or reluctance to move. If they don’t seem to be feeling better, talk to your vet. They can suggest things to do or prescribe medication that should help to make your dog more comfortable and improve their mood.
Secondly, many dogs are put on crate rest after surgery, or aren’t allowed to go for walks or play like usual. Limiting their activity is vital to prevent injury, but it’s obviously going to be boring for your dog.
Plus, sometimes they have to wear the “cone of shame” or a buster collar to stop them licking their wounds. Again, this can be annoying for them, but it’s necessary to help them heal.
So your pup might seem a bit down because they’re bored or frustrated. 
You can give your dog low-impact activities to do, like a licki mat or a stuffed Kong, to help entertain them.
Your vet will also be happy to talk to you about what sort of activities are safe for your dog to do after surgery, and explain when they can start walking and playing again.

Can dogs get seasonal depression?

Some dogs can seem to be gloomy as the days get shorter and the weather worsens. Although us humans can get seasonal depression, it isn’t clear that dogs do.
Instead, your pup’s blue mood is most likely caused by changes in their routine, and potentially, boredom.
With less daylight and wintery weather, it can be difficult to take our dogs out for long walks, or multiple walks a day. Having less exercise and a new routine as you adapt to the changing daylight can make them seem out of sorts.
However, most dogs are really adaptable. As long as their needs are being met, they should bounce back.

What to do if you're worried about your dog's behaviour

If you're ever concerned about a change in your dog's behaviour, it's a good idea to speak to your vet. Whether your pup seems down in the dumps, or under the weather, they can rule out illness and advise you on how to cheer up your pup.

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