Like humans, pets can get depressed. Sometimes it’s a medical condition, while other triggers include the loss of a loved one (human or animal), or even substantial schedule changes in the household. For example, if a house is full of kids and noise during the summer and then everyone leaves for the school year, a dog could experience symptoms of depression, separation anxiety, and/or loneliness.
Here are a few signs your furry friend may be down:
- Being withdrawn
Like people, one of the biggest symptoms is just being down, and acting like it. You know your pet best. If s/he has stopped playing with companions, whether human or otherwise, it may be a sign that something is wrong.
Pet expert Jennifer Coates says, “The most common symptom is sadness – a lack of joy or interest in what the dog used to look forward to.” Signs of this include moping, lethargy, and physical cues like usually perky ears drooping or being pulled back, a hanging head, and tail between the legs.
Pet experts recommend stepping up if the dog has lost a major companion, such as an owner or other dog. “If Dad had walked the dog or played fetch and now has left the environment, Mom or another family member should take over – and maybe go for longer walks than before.”
Dog trainers also recommend paying attention to to any changes the other way (back to happiness). “ [W] hen you see any spark – a tag wag, a pep in his step – definitely make a fuss to reinforce positive behavior.”
- Major appetite changes
Again, similar to humans, some pets will overeat when depressed, while others will undereat. A depressed dog might eat more and begin to gain weight, especially if this is paired with inactivity due to lethargy.
If your pet stops eating, leading to weight loss, you should try to determine the cause. It may be depression, but it may also be a physical illness that needs to be attended to.
- Major sleep changes
Depressed dogs tend to sleep more. While they used to take long naps, now they may not get up all day. Alternatively, some dogs may become restless and unable to sleep well. They may also wander around the house “lost,” going from room to room, trying to “find” the missing human/dog if a loss has been suffered.
- In cats, physical symptoms like hair loss
If you have a feline companion, they may start licking, biting, or chewing on their skin or coat more than normal, sometimes leading to hair loss and/or bald spots. Cats may also exhibit avoidance behaviors (hiding to avoid you), spraying, or acting aggressive or irritable. In other words, where dogs mope, sometimes cats act out.
- More “accidents” in the house
Depressed pets that lack their usual energy levels can be more prone to accidents, especially if they’re not eating and drinking normally. It’s a good idea to be patient with them and spend more time outdoors.
If you do suspect that your pet is depressed, there are some basic steps you can take to give your pet healthy attention and help them recover:
- If s/he has a favorite activity or game, make time for it at least once a day, but hopefully several times a day. It’s fetch time!
- If the cause of the depression is the loss of a pet companion, take the dog more frequently to the dog park. Also consider getting a new dog to replace the old companion (if this can work for your household). More doggie time is good.
- Take him/her on frequent walks for mental stimulation and physical exercise (especially if they’re being lethargic). This can also help you, especially if it’s cold out and easy to be more sedentary.
Above all, be patient and kind with both yourself and your pet. This may be a difficult time, and love is always the answer.