Yes, dogs do get depressed — here’s why and what you can do

By Kimberly Blaker, May 2020 Issue.

As most dog owners

will attest, dogs do feel a range of emotions. They may not experience sadness

quite the same as humans because dogs lack self-consciousness. But they can

experience anxiety and depression, says Dr. Carlo Siracusa at the University of

Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, in “Do Dogs Feel Sadness?” by Kate


The development of dogs’ emotions is

equivalent to that of a two or two-and-a-half-year-old child, according to

researchers. So the sadness they experience is less complex than that in human

adults. For example, human adults can feel sad or depressed as a result of

ruminating about their failures, imperfections, or something they did or didn’t

do. Since dogs, like very young children, lack self-consciousness, they don’t

experience this type of sadness. Nonetheless, dogs can experience sadness or

get depressed for a variety of other reasons.

Causes of

depression in dogs

Because dogs are

social animals, receiving a lack of attention, or being left alone for long

periods, can affect their mental health. When dogs are confined to a crate or

bathroom for extended hours, it can lead to depression. So allow your dog to

spend as much time with family as possible.

Similarly, a lack of exercise can also

cause depression. This can be particularly problematic for pets that are crated

or confined to small areas for many hours at a time. While crate training for

puppies is beneficial for housebreaking, they should never be crated for more

than four hours at a time without an extended break.

Once your puppy is housebroken, a crate can provide a cozy spot for your dog with the crate left open. But dogs need companionship, exercise, and stimulation, which they cannot experience in a crate. So as your dog grows, limit confinement and when it is necessary, preferably to a larger room.

Also, find out how much and what types of

exercise are appropriate for your dog’s breed and age, and make sure your dog

regularly gets the exercise it needs.

Another cause of depression in dogs is when

a family member is depressed. Recent studies have found dogs recognize human

emotions. In May 2012, a study was

published in the Animal Cognition journal. The study found dogs

responded more strongly when people were crying as opposed to talking or

humming. In this case, the best remedy may be to get treatment for yourself or

the depressed family member, which should alleviate your dog’s sadness.

Dogs also experience depression when they

lose a family member, whether it’s another pet or human companion. Sometimes

dogs improve if a new pet is introduced, but not always. When a dog loses its

owner, this can be particularly devastating.


interesting 2013 study was reported by CBS News online. In “Study: Dogs bond

with owners similar to babies with parents.» Researchers observed that the

“secure base effect” phenomenon that›s experienced by babies also occurs in

dogs. Like babies, dogs are more likely to interact with things and other

people when they feel the secure presence of their caregivers. If your dog has

lost a beloved family member or caregiver, those closest to your dog should

intervene and give it extra love and attention.

Another cause

of depression in dogs is punishment. Animal behaviorists say when dogs are

repeatedly punished with shock collars or other physical means, dogs come to

feel helpless. Not only can it cause aggression in dogs, but it can also cause

dogs to withdraw. The best method for training dogs is with rewards for

positive behavior. This is not only better for their emotional health, but it’s

also more effective.

Finally, certain medical conditions, such

as thyroid problems, can cause depression. If your dog is depressed, and

especially if there’s no apparent reason for it, have your dog checked out by

your veterinarian.

Signs your

dog is depressed

The most common

symptoms of dog depression are similar to those in humans. They include:

• sleeping more

than usual

• withdrawal or


• loss of interest

in food

• loss of interest

in things it previously enjoyed, or inactivity

• excessive

licking, particularly of their paws

• self-mutilation

(in more severe cases, often related to separation) anxiety

Handsome man with cute dog at home

What to do

if your dog is depressed

First, if you suspect any of the reasons above is causing your dog’s depression, try to remedy the situation that’s causing it. This will often resolve your dog’s sadness. But if your dog doesn’t improve, an antidepressant can help, particularly in anxious dogs. Dogs are prescribed many of the same antidepressants as humans. But always talk with your veterinarian before giving one to your dog.

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