Can dogs be depressed, and should I be worried about it?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated January 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Are your dog’s symptoms mirroring your own?

Dogs can sometimes display signs of depression, such as low energy, changes in mood, sleep, and eating habits, incontinence, and not wagging their tails. Physical ailments, weather changes, loss, loneliness, old age, and improper care can contribute to these symptoms. It’s also possible that, if a dog has an owner with depression, they may mirror their owner’s symptoms. Offering your dog attention, patience, and playdates with other dogs can be helpful. A visit to the vet may also be warranted. If it’s possible your dog is responding to your own depression symptoms, then you may benefit from working with a licensed therapist in person or online. 

Signs of depression

When it comes to dogs, there may be some signs you can look out for that may indicate your pup isn’t feeling as good as it should. Such signs may include the following:

  • Low energy
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Mood differences
  • Too much or insufficient sleep
  • A tail that no longer wags
  • Incontinence

Causes of depression in dogs

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The following can contribute to the development of depression in dogs.

  • Physical ailments: If a dog experiences pain or is living with an illness, this can contribute to depression.
  • Depressed owners: Dogs can be very perceptive. For this reason, it is thought that a dog may become depressed if its owner is depressed.
  • Weather changes: Sudden temperature changes can affect a dog. These changes may signal that there won’t be long walks anymore, or that they can’t go outside as much.
  • Loss: Much like a human grieving a death or loss, a dog may do the same. If you have recently lost a pet or loved one, or haven’t seen a good friend in a while, it may affect your pup.
  • Loneliness: Some dogs can be more social than others, and they generally need to be able to play with other dog friends. It can be a good idea to research your dog’s breed to see if that is the case. You might try to find a dog park nearby and bring your pup to socialize with other dogs. Otherwise, it can be wise to investigate doggie daycares.
  • Age: A dog may become depressed as it ages, as it may understand that it can’t do all the things it used to do, like playing.
  • Improper care: When a dog’s needs aren’t being met, this can contribute to depression.

What should I do if my dog is depressed?

The following are potential solutions that may be considered if you believe your dog may be living with depression.

  • Attention: Regardless of what may be causing depression in a dog, a good rule of thumb can be to pay more attention to them. It can help to remember that, as humans, we tend to have larger, more complex social circles, but your dog’s main source of social interaction is likely only you.
  • New friends: If you suspect that your dog is depressed because of the loss of a loved one or another pet, you may want to consider getting a new dog. However, it can be vital to ensure that your household is ready for a new dog before you make a big decision like this since it may further harm your dog if it doesn’t work out. 
  • Playdates: Another great bonding experience can be taking your dog to play with other dogs. If there is a dog park nearby, you might take your puppy there when you can and let them make new friends. This can also be a good form of exercise.
  • Patience: It may also be necessary to give your dog some space so they can start to feel better. It can be best not to boss them around too much or get angry with them. If they are nearing the end of their life or they have lost a friend, it may take quite a while for them to feel better. Try to be kind to them and show them you love them, but don’t get mad if they don’t act the same as they used to.
  • A visit to the vet: If your dog is showing any of these symptoms for a significant amount of time (one week or more), you should generally make an appointment to talk to your veterinarian about your options. A professional tends to be more equipped to help your dog find joy again.
  • Help for yourself: A great way to help your dog can be to help yourself. If you are depressed, consider getting treatment from a licensed mental health professional. This may keep your dog from feeling depressed as well. 

What else can I do?

It can be important to note that you typically should not coddle your dog when they are depressed, as this can signal to them that you want them to continue with this behavior. After all, their depression may have nothing to do with you, so you can’t necessarily fix it. It is usually best to let them work through it, but you can still show them you love them. It can be perfectly fine to pet them, spend time with them, and give them treats. They should know that they are not alone.

It can also be a good idea to start a routine if you do not have one. Dogs tend to value their routines, and when those routines are interfered with, they can become upset. If you used to have a routine that has since gone by the wayside, try to establish a new one. This can be a good rule of thumb for all dogs, not just during times when a dog could be depressed.

Did I cause my dog’s depression?

There’s usually no way to know for sure what caused your dog’s depression, so there’s generally no reason to suspect that it is your fault. However, if you experience depression yourself, you may benefit from treatment. This may also help your dog, and it can help you start to feel better.

When it comes to treating depression, everyone’s circumstances can be different. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with depression or not, it can be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist about your current mental state and any challenges you may be experiencing.

Benefits of online therapy

If traditional options haven’t worked out for you in the past or cause you anxiety, you may trust the experts at BetterHelp to support you. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform where you can connect with a professional through phone calls, video calls, or online chat without leaving your home. If you’ve been concerned about your dog’s well-being, it may be helpful to be able to attend therapy without leaving their side.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy has often shown significant promise in treating people who are experiencing symptoms of depression. In one study involving over 300 active BetterHelp users, researchers discovered that online therapy could be highly effective in reducing severe symptoms of depression

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Are your dog’s symptoms mirroring your own?

Takeaway

Signs of depression in dogs can include changes to their sleeping and eating habits, low energy levels, not wagging their tails, and incontinence. Potential causes of these symptoms can range from loneliness and loss to improper care, physical ailments, old age, and weather changes. In some cases, dogs may pick up on their owners’ depression symptoms and begin to display them as well. You may wish to take your dog to the vet if their behavior changes are concerning, but attention, patience, and playdates with other dogs can also be helpful. It can also be vital to ensure you’re taking care of your own mental health. If you are living with depression, seeking professional help may benefit both you and your furry friend.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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