If Your Dog Is Depressed, These Are 8 Ways You Can Help Them
For folks who call themselves dog people, they probably love the fact that pups seem to always be happy, energetic, and excited to see you. If your dog is depressed, it can be hard to know what to do, because this seems to go against the very nature of what it means to be a dog. When your dog is having a hard time, you want to do everything you can to help them feel better. But sometimes treats and belly rubs aren't enough to lift a sad dog's spirits. According to experts, keeping their minds and bodies stimulated can make a big difference.
While a dog depression symptom like reduced energy could speak to your pup's mental state, it could also mean that something is wrong physically. "It’s important to understand that these possible signs of depression could also be the sign of pain or larger health concern," Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, animal health and behavior consultant at Camp Bow Wow, tells Bustle. "Always contact your vet if you notice a change in your dog’s normal behavior," she says. Like humans, dogs might be content to lounge on the couch all day if they're tired from a weekend of activities. But if the lethargy lasts or you notice other symptoms as well, be sure to loop in the vet.
Here's what to do if your dog is depressed, according to experts.
1. Know What To Look For
If you don't have any specialized training, you might not be familiar with what is normal when it comes to your dog's mental health and what isn't. The thing is, you know what's normal for your pup, so you can spot any abnormalities. Has your dog's behavior changed? If so how? If they are less enthusiastic about eating, playing, socializing, or being pet than they usually are, this might be a sign that something isn't right, Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a certified professional dog trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care, tells Bustle. Watch out for changes in personality and body language, and if they're lasting, check in with the vet.
2. Understand Disobedience
"Anxiety and depression are part of the same mental health spectrum, and can show a variety of symptoms," Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna, DVM, a veterinarian and senior manager of veterinary outreach at PetSmart Charities, tells Bustle. "These symptoms may include abnormal vocalization, such as crying or whining when a human is not around, or destructive behavior," she says. While you might think your dog is just being naughty if they chew up a pillow or scratch the walls when you aren't home, this could actually point to an underlying anxiety-depressive disorder, Landis-Hanna says. For them, destroying something is a way to relieve their distress. Instead of giving your pup a harsh punishment for this, try to focus on supporting their mental health.
3. Make Sure They Aren't Lonely
If another dog in your home has recently passed away or your partner has moved out, your pup could be grieving this loss. Someone who works outside the home isn't able to give their dog regular attention during work hours, but if you can make room for it in your budget, having someone look after them might be a good option. "For example, if your pet is very social but gets stressed when she is alone, you could consider options such as a doggy daycare or a dog walker mid-day," Landis-Hanna says. Even if you take them to daycare only a couple of days a week, having someone to hang out with might make a big difference in their mood.
4. Keep Them Engaged
Dogs are very smart animals, and when they get bored, their brain isn't working as hard as it could be. "Create games within the home that can bring more pep to their step," Jeff Franklin, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Cobra Canine, who works directly with dogs with behavior issues, tells Bustle. "A game of ‘Hide the Treat’ is often a great way to get them moving if they are still interested in treats," he says. If you don't want to spoil their dinner, you can always hide a squeaky toy or their favorite stuffed animal instead of the treat.
5. Give Them Something To Stay Busy
You can't always be home to play hide and seek with your dog or play fetch with them. But leaving them with something entertaining can keep them engaged until you get back and are able to play games with them. Try to opt for a toy that won't be chewed apart quickly. "Purchase a new toy like a Kong Toy or Starmark Ball," Franklin says. "These are safe and durable and they last a long time." Hide treats or peanut butter inside so that your dog doesn't lose interest, and they'll be working hard to excavate the deliciousness all afternoon.
6. Get Out Of The House
Even the biggest homebody needs to get some fresh air every once in a while, and your pup is no exception, especially if they're struggling with depression. Make an effort to take them for more walks and visits to the dog park, which will not only give them a nice exercise boost, but will also direct their attention to all of the interesting things happening outdoors. "Extra endorphins help us, as well as our four-legged friends, to feel better," Franklin says. These walks are also extra special because having one-on-one time with you, their pet parent, can help lift their mood, he says.
7. Organize Some Puppy Playdates
"Some dogs are happy to just interact with humans, but others need regular contact with their own kind," Alexandra Bassett, CPDT-KA, lead trainer and behavior specialist at Dog Savvy Los Angeles, tells Bustle. "It's a good idea for dog guardians to take their dogs on regular play dates with their friends' or family's dogs," she says, "whose behavior is somewhat predictable and with whom their dog can safely interact." While you might be used to giving your pup their friend time at local dog parks, this can sometimes be overwhelming or expose your dog to aggressive pups, so setting up individual playdates is a good option.
8. Let Them Run Freely
"Off-leash dog hikes during not-so-hot times of the day where a dog has the freedom to run around and go where their nose takes them are an ideal way to cure depression," Bassett says, "because the freedom to move about naturally and 'just be a dog' helps them to feel good." If you don't live in an area where this is appropriate or safe, it's totally OK to keep your pup on their leash, she says. Just make sure that you're going at their pace and letting them sniff and explore as much as they'd like.
If you've noticed that your dog isn't feeling like their joyful self, don't worry too much. Just make sure to schedule an appointment with their vet and then be intentional about encouraging them to explore and play, and hopefully they'll be feeling like their normal chipper self in no time.