Doesn’t it seem that dogs are always happy? It certainly seems as though they are the poster child for happiness. Their little smiling faces always looking up at you. Of course I know that dogs can get cranky… Once, when we went on an 18-day camping trip, after we returned home and went to work the next day Mattie was so frustrated by not being with us (or perhaps in our camper) that he tore apart all of the toilet paper in our bathrooms. Cranky with a capital C! But I didn’t know that dogs could get depressed until a few years ago.
Our Dog Depression Story
I had heard that pets can get upset when another pet passes. We’d had dogs pass prior, with other dogs in the house. While there were speckles of confusion, akin to “where is Fido” moments, none of our dogs appeared to be too sad when one of their pack died…I think dogs have a better comprehension of the cycle of life. Until Spike and Kiki. Kiki, our only black and white Shih Tzu, and Spike, our little 4 pound Chihuahua, were bonded. Like a mother and child bond. Kiki was 6 years older than Spike, and when we got him as a pup, Spike fell in love with Kiki and she with him. At 12 Kiki developed cancer and, after a very brief battle, passed – her pain was clear, she wouldn’t eat and just wanted to be cuddled. I was worried about Spike and completely unprepared for what happened after Kiki’s passing. Spike wouldn’t eat, he would shiver, his eyes were always wet, dripping wet, and he developed diarrhea. This went on for days and I became so concerned that I took Spike to the vet where he received IV fluids for dehydration. There was no ignoring the fact that our little Spike was heartbroken, he was sick from losing his best friend. Our dog was depressed
How To Tell If Your Dog Is Depressed
When a dog gets depressed, there are clues…just like with humans. Dogs become withdrawn and inactive when they are depressed. Their eating and sleeping habits are off and they simply don’t participate in the things that use to bring them joy. Sudden changes can trigger the blues in dogs. Things like moving to another house, or moving from a house with a backyard to a condo with no yard. Dog walker changes can create a bit of a blue dog – looking back, now that I’m armed with information, I can see that when Mattie’s favorite dog walker moved away from Seattle, and he didn’t get to see her every day, he was slightly depressed. I should have gotten him another dog walker, or walked him myself at lunch time. Eased him into the change. I feel like a bad mom. Death is a primary depression trigger for dogs – like Spike where the death is of a favored companion animal, or perhaps it could be a dog’s owner or family member. Dogs, by their nature are social, and they bond, so death is often a key trigger for dogs getting the blues.
Pin to help spread the word about dog depression!
What To Do When Your Dog Is Depressed
Now that you know the triggers, you are better able to identify when your dog is depressed. And, while it’s rare, it can happen. So, let’s say it happens, what do you do? There are some pretty simple and actionable things you can do:
- Be present with your dog, spend more time hugging and cuddling – let your dog tell you when he’s had enough. A broken heart often needs continual hugging.
- Keep one hand on your dog when sitting, watching television, any time the dog is around you. The act of touching sends a signal that things are as they should be, and can calm your dog.
- Take short, frequent walks outside. Exercise is great for depression and whether walking or just sitting on your porch, the sunshine will help stimulate serotonin, the ‘feel good’ hormone in both your dog and you. Your mental health is important too (click here for more info: mental health in the new year).
- Reward typical dog behavior with small treats. Depressed dogs often limit typical behaviors like wagging their tail. When your dog does these things, reward him with a treat to help re-imprint the good association of normal happy-dog activities.
- Visit your vet. Sometimes your dog’s depression could be due to pain, such as arthritis. You just never know. Your dog’s vet can help you suss out and properly treat your dog, including in the very rare case of depression drugs.
It took Spike a good couple of weeks for him to come back around. Honestly, I was desperate so I tried a lot of things, including taking him to a doggy day care so that he was around other dogs…but all he wanted was to be held by the people working there. So I would pick him up, we’d drive home and then we’d just cuddle together. Cuddling really helps, particularly when both you and your dog are grieving. Things are fine now, a little time, a big dose of love, and eventually adopting another girl Shih Tzu seemed to put things back into alignment for Spike. He’s a ‘lady’s man’ kind of dog I guess!