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Do Dogs Get Depressed?

2019-05-01

We’ve talked before about what intelligent and social animals dogs are. For the most part,
these qualities are exactly what make dogs such great companions for people. But dogs’
emotional intelligence and need for companionship means that they can be higher
maintenance than other pets. You’ll likely not see anyone concerned about the mental health
of their goldfish, but for dogs, this is a serious issue that many of them (and their human
handlers) struggle with. In this post, we’ll go over some of the signs that your dog might not be
in the best emotional state.

Two of the most common mental health issues for dogs are depression and anxiety. Again, we
want to stress how real this issue is for many dogs. You may already be aware of the stigma
around mental health in humans – an unfortunate trend which is the result mostly of
ignorance. The same is true for mental health in dogs. But don’t let other people’s uninformed
opinions stop you from getting your furry friend the help he needs!

Luckily, a lot of these red flags can be easy to notice because they’re not that different from
what we see in people. When it comes to depression, it’s common for a dog’s appetite to
change and for them to be lethargic or seem disinterested in their usual activities. Other telltale
signs of depression are hiding and paw licking. None of these things on their own mean
depression is the problem. For example, your dog might be licking his paws because he has a
skin irritation. Or, he may be lethargic because he’s sick. But when two or more of these signs
present themselves together, it may mean that it’s time to take action.

Anxiety also has some signs that you can learn to easily identify. A lot of these are what
professionals call “displacement behaviors.” These are behaviors which are technically normal
but done out of context. For example, yawning when not tired, or making a shaking movement
dogs use to try off, only when they’re not wet. If you spot enough of these out-of-context
behaviors, it may be a sign to keep a closer eye on your dog in general.

In addition to displacement behaviors, anxious dogs can also exhibit “avoidance behaviors.”
These too are relatively easy to identify and the name itself pretty much sums it up. Any
behavior where a dog tries to avoid a situation could be characterized this way. That includes
turning their head away, running from a situation, or hiding behind objects. Again, none of
these behaviors in and of themselves proves that your dog is suffering from clinical anxiety.
They could simply be afraid, or embarrassed that they did something bad. But if you see enough
combinations of avoidance and displacement behaviors, it should raise a red flag that you’ll
want to look into.

If you’re an attentive and caring friend to your dog (and we know that you are) then it’s likely
that you’ll start to “feel” something is wrong with your pet even before you’re able to identify
or verbalize what that is. By knowing some of these signs in advance, we hope that you’ll be
able to get ahead of the problem before it gets much worse. For some great advice on how to
treat and combat mental health problems in dogs, read another one of our blogs here.