6 Signs Your Dog Is Stressed or Sad—and What to Do About It
If you have a dog, you (probably) already know they can express their feelings like humans do. That means your little pup can become sad and withdrawn when they are stressed out, which can lead to depression if it lingers for too long. To get them feeling happy and relaxed again, you might want to meet with a vet to see what's going on (and to rule out any physical conditions), but you can also try a few habit changes and lifestyle tweaks to get them back to normal.
How to Tell if Your Dog Is Depressed
Turns out, dogs can be depressed for a variety of reasons. "Dogs can be depressed if they lost a family member, a kid went off to college or another dog in the house passed away. I see depression a lot in dogs whose families have gone through a divorce," says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, Veterinary Consultant for Dog Lab.
Ochoa adds that dogs can get very attached to people and other pets, so when these relationships change they can show signs of depression. If you think your dog is down in the dumps, here are the signs to look for and how to help them heal.
Your Dog Is Tired
"Most dogs that are depressed will lay around more and not really want to interact with other people in the house," says Ochoa. It could be their age, but if it's suddenly come on, or they're sleeping way too often, then it might be depression." Have you recently changed your routine? Try to play with your dog using their favorite toy or take them for a walk. "Fresh air does a world of good for the brain," says Conrad Rossouw, a certified dog trainer based in Scotland.
You've Noticed Changes in Their Appetite
Sad and stressed dogs may also not want to eat or drink. "They may also stop eating their food, but will eat people food," says Ochoa. So, look for any change from the normal diet and cravings. She adds, "Any change in appetite can be a sign of depression, but can also be a sign of something else." So, see a vet too.
They could also be getting fatter, rather than skinnier. "This usually goes hand in hand with a lack of exercise and stimulation. Try and take your dog for a walk," says Rossouw. And look at their calorie intake. Are you feeding them too much? They might be getting too much food compared to the exercise they're doing, which would be unrelated to stress and sadness.
Your Pup Goes Into Hiding
If your pet is depressed they may be hiding more. "You may find them sleeping under the bed or in a closet. This is a common sign seen with depressed dogs," says Ochoa. If they are disappearing or trying to be withdrawn in odd places in the home, they could be feeling stressed or sad. Try playing a game or giving them more attention to make them feel happier and more relaxed.
Your Dog Won't Stop Licking Its Feet
When a dog is depressed they may lick their feet. Why? "This is a calming method for many dogs," says Ochoa. Constant licking and grooming is a sign that your dog is trying to comfort themselves. Rossouw says, "Doing it too much means it becomes a habit. If you've ruled out any medical issues, then I'd recommend getting your dog back in to a routine, and playing games with them to stimulate their mind."
They Don't Want to Play or Walk
Depressed dogs might suddenly not want to go for walks anymore. They might not jump up and down when you get their leash, run to the door or react when you try and get them to take a walk, says Steffi Trott, a professional dog trainer. She says, "Depressed dogs have a generally decreased sense of excitement and happiness, and this might show in their refusal to go for walks."
Your Pup Isn't Interested in People or Dog Friends
Dogs love people, especially if you have a breed that is known for being extremely outgoing and friendly, such as a Golden Retriever or Labrador. Trott says, "Depressed dogs feel low, generally sad and uninterested about life, and this may be shown in their reaction to people."
The same goes for their dog pals, too. "If your dog also does not want to play with his doggy friends, he is definitely depressed. Exuberance is a common sign of dog-to-dog play, and if it is missing, your dog may be depressed," says Trott.
How to Help Your Dog
First, make sure that he is in good physical health by seeing a vet. "Often dogs become depressed as a result of pain or illness. If your dog shows the above signals, take him to the vet to make sure he does not have an underlying condition," says Trott.
If something has recently changed (a move, another dog in the family died, the schedule is different, etc.), dogs may be depressed and confused due to the recent stress. Make sure to keep your daily schedule on track as much as possible, since routines make dogs feel safe and secure.
And "give your dog plenty of time to rest, and a comfortable and snuggly space to do so. Feeling well-rested and relaxed will make your dog much happier," Trott adds.
You can also plan an adventurous outing. Trott says, "This can be getting him a vanilla ice cream cone at a drive-through or going to the park. Cheer him up with a fun activity." That will make them feel alive once again!