We tend to think of mental health issues such as depression as distinctly human problems. However, our animal friends can suffer from them as well. Dogs are very emotional creatures, which is wonderful to behold when they are happy but means they are capable of falling into deep periods of sadness.
Dealing with this is important. Depression in dogs should be treated like any other disease, as it definitely warrants a trip to the vet. Sometimes there is a physical cause that can be treated, but more often it is something psychological that you will have to fix yourself.
Spotting canine depression
First of all, you need to be able to recognise the symptoms of canine depression in order to deal with it. Dogs cannot talk to tell you how they're feeling, but they are still more than capable of showcasing their emotions in other ways. If you have lived with a dog for any significant period of time, you will know their behaviour very well.
The key is to be attentive to any changes to this behaviour. This could include not eating or drinking, or hiding in a quiet place in your home. Depressed dogs are typically inactive and will not go for walks or play with any enthusiasm.
You should also pay close attention to your dog after any potentially upsetting events, particularly if they involve the loss of someone close to your pet. This could be the result of a divorce or a child moving out, for example. Your dog will not fully understand this and therefore will be unable to deal with the emotions it provokes.
Any major change has the potential to upset your dog, even if it doesn't seem like it would be distressing. Moving house, for example, can trigger it, as can the arrival of a new family member such as a baby. Your dog is not equipped to rationalise these events, which can lead to confusion, fear and depression.
Dealing with the immediate problem
If your dog exhibits symptoms of depression right after an upsetting event, then it is often best to leave them to it for a few days. This is your dog mourning, which in many ways can be healthy. This is especially true in the case of a loss; your dog just needs to grieve, and my come to terms with their sadness after only a few days.
However, if it lasts for longer than this you may need to take further action. The main danger is if your dog stops eating or drinking. Of these, drinking is most important. If your pet has a hiding place, make sure there is water there that is constantly available to them. Keep an eye on it, without intruding into your dog's safe space, to make sure they are drinking.
If they go off their food, you will need to deal with this as well, although this is less urgent. Your dog will last more than a few days without eating, and in many ways it might be better to leave them to their mourning rather than try to force-feed them. However, after about four days you should try to get them to eat.
Try switching to a different food to your usual offering. Premium dog food makes a nice change from standard canned meals, for example. It will have a richer flavour, which could be interesting enough to your dog to make them give it a try.
Breaking their depression
If your dog's depression continues past a week, you will need to make an effort to break them out of it. There are a number of ways you can do this, but this will depend largely on the cause of the emotional problems.
First of all, take your dog to a vet and see if they can do anything. Often, canine depression can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which can be easily treatable. However, it is just as often psychological, so do not be disappointed if there is nothing they can do for you and your pet.
If this is the case, you can beat your pet's depression by creating a very positive atmosphere for them. Try and fit in plenty of trips away from the house, which may be associated with sadness, and to a place with plenty to stimulate them. This could be a park or somewhere similar.
Involve other dogs as much as possible, especially if you know they get along with your pet. This can help, especially if your dog has lost somebody, as it will help them fill the social gap in their lives. However, you must be careful not to rush this. Introducing your pet to dominant or aggressive dogs will only make the problem worse.
Creating this kind of happy environment is key to bringing your dog out of its depression. Remember as well that your pet will feed off your mood to a certain extent. If you are constantly anxious and upset around them - which is only natural if you're worried about their health - they will sense this and deepen their sadness accordingly.
Projecting a confident and happy image to your dog will help convince them there's nothing to worry about, which should help reduce their anxiety. This will help to break them out of their depression.
Written by: Hannah Dyball