Does Your Dog Have the Blues?

When my husband passed away five years ago, Archer, his Australian Shepherd, was franticly looking for Paul, completely inconsolable.

Then he became sad, depressed, and quiet. I had never had a dog suffer from depression before and my heart almost broke for Archer because what he wanted, I couldn’t fix.

Depression isn’t as common in dogs as it appears to be in humans and a change in the dog’s family is one of the most common causes. A death in the family, a child leaving for college, or a divorce can trigger this immense sadness in the family dog.

Changes in the normal routine, especially those with an impact on the dog’s life, can also cause the dog to feel blue. Work schedules change so the dog no longer gets his walks, playtimes or normal snuggle times with you could make him feel abandoned.

Health issues can also cause the dog to be depressed so a visit to the veterinarian is important to either diagnose a health problem or eliminate any. If there are no health problems, then the sadness, the blues, may well be depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Every dog is an individual so symptoms will vary from dog to dog. Therefore it’s important to look for changes from the normal. Archer is normally a happy, bouncy, jovial dog so quiet sadness was a huge change.

The most common symptom of depression is sadness. A sad dog will usually be less willing to play. He will be quiet in spirit and body. The tail may hang low, the head may also be low, and the dog might even crouch a little when standing. He will probably be moping, pouting or hiding.

If the depression is due to a family member’s death or moving away, the dog may lie on that person’s belongings. I often found Archer in my husband’s closet lying on his clothes and shoes. The dog may also ‘steal’ that family member’s items and hide them in his dog bed.

There could also be a change in the dog’s appetite. He could lose interest in food or less often, he may overeat. In bad cases, the dog may even refuse water and this requires veterinary intervention as it could cause dehydration and potentially, death.

Housetraining accidents can also occur. Some dogs may just not want to get up. They may lose interest in doing something just to please their owner; after all, they’re depressed and often, like Archer, grieving as well.

Some dogs will sleep far more than normal, sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day or even more. Destructive behavior isn’t common but has been reported by owners. The same with aggressive behaviors; it isn’t common but does happen.



Helping Your Dog

If you can, try to determine what has caused the depression. If there has been a major change in the family, obviously you can’t change that back to the way it was. But if the dog is depressed because he’s no longer getting his normal morning walk and playtime, bring back those favorite activities. If he’s depressed because he’s no longer sleeping in the bedroom of his favorite child, then try to change the routine back to what it was before he got so sad.

Activity is also a mood brightener. Take the dog on walks even if he isn’t excited about them. If he isn’t interested in playing, put him on leash and run around the backyard, having him run with you. Take him to a children’s playground and encourage him to climb on the toys with you. Take him to the beach. Just get him up and moving every single day of the week for as long as it takes to get him back to normal.

Spending time with your dog can also brighten his life. Walking him is great, of course, but spend time with him in the evening, brushing him, giving him a massage or just cuddling with him. In this quiet time, be happy; don’t create depression within yourself just because he’s sad. He’ll feel that and then you both be depressed together. Instead, talk to your dog in a happy (but not obnoxiously joyful) tone of voice.

If, after a few weeks, you’re not seeing any change in your dog’s mood, talk to your veterinarian. Make sure, again, that there is no health issue behind this sadness. If there isn’t, then discuss using an antidepressant for your dog. Prozac has been successful for many dogs. The medication often needs to be given just long enough to break the cycle of depression, get the dog active in life again, and then he can usually be weaned off the medication without him reverting back to a depressed state.

As you try and help your dog, be patient. Some dogs will perk up in a few weeks, especially if the cause of the sadness wasn’t a huge change in his life. If the cause was a family member no longer being present in the home, then it may take him a few months to finish grieving. This is especially true if the dog had a strong attachment to the family member, as Archer did. So be patient, help him as much as you can and don’t give up on him.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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