can pets feel depressed

What Are The Signs of Pet Depression?

As a pet parent, your pet’s well-being is one of the most important things in your life. No one knows your furry friend better than you do, which is why it’s important to educate yourself on all of the signs and triggers of pet depression. 

Yes, your pet can feel depressed. In fact, depression in animals isn’t so different from depression in people. If your pet has had behavior or mood changes, is sleeping more than normal, has a change in appetite, and has lost interest in their favorite activities, then your pet may be depressed. Thankfully, your four-legged friend won’t suffer for long as pet depression is usually a short term issue. 

Why is My Pet Acting Sad?

Like humans, your pet has its own unique personality, so the reasons for their depression can vary. However, there are common triggers that may lead to them feeling depressed. 

It could be the result of:

  • Moving to a new home
  • The loss of a loved one
  • A new family member or pet
  • A change in routine
  • Your own depression

A New Home

A lot happens before, during, and after a move, and it can be hard on your pet. Even if you move to a bigger house with more space, your pet may still feel attached to his favorite lounging spot in your old home. Just as you take time to adjust, give them some time to get used to his new place!

Loss of A Loved One

Believe it or not, animals grieve too. Just as we do, pets form bonds with people and other pets they see everyday. You’re likely to notice symptoms of depression after the distressing event of losing an owner or companion animal. It might take time for your pet to feel their normal selves again, just like it takes us time to grieve a loved one.

New Family Member or Pet

Especially if your pet is an “only child,” it is very normal for them to become jealous when you bring home a new spouse, roommate, baby, or pet. Anytime your attention is taken away from your pet that’s used to being the center of everything, it can impact their mood and potentially lead to depression. Thankfully, the majority of the time pets form a bond with any new pet or family member. It can just take time! Once a relationship forms with the new family member your pet’s mood will improve.

Change in Routine

Changes in routine can be distressing. Remember that when your schedule changes, so does your pet’s. For example, maybe you and your pet wake up everyday at 7am, eat breakfast, and then sit on the couch together before you leave for work. Suddenly, you have a schedule change and don’t need to wake up until 9am, leading to a complete shift in both of your routines. 

Even if you are able to maintain the same daily habits but at different hours, your pet may become withdrawn and depressed. Work with your pet to gradually introduce them to your new routine!  

Your Own Depression Can Affect Your Pets

We all know that dogs are very intelligent creatures, but did you know that they have “affective empathy” towards people who are important to them? This means they can understand our feelings. 

According to The Royal Society, dogs can recognize and differentiate between positive and negative emotions from humans, such as fear, excitement, or anger. Not only can they tell them apart, but they can also “catch” these feelings! Our dogs often look to us for cues on responding to the world around them, which is one reason why they mimic us. 

Cats and dogs are creatures of habit, so anything that suddenly disrupts their schedule or familiar lifestyle can cause depression and anxiety. Thankfully, many of the triggers only lead to a temporary depression, and may be resolved once you work your pet into another familiar routine. 

But how do you know if your pet has depression? Look for the signs and symptoms.

The Signs and Symptoms of Pet Depression – What You Need to Know

As we mentioned earlier, nobody knows your four-legged friend better than you do. You know their eating habits, potty schedule, the type of toys and treats they like, and what their favorite activities are. So, it’s not difficult to tell when they start acting withdrawn and inactive. 

So, how do you know if your pet is suffering from depression? Here are several common signs, many of which are similar to signs of depression in people:

  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Excessive paw licking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression is the first step in helping your pet recover

Pet Withdrawal

If your pet used to excitedly greet you at the front door and suddenly stops, this is an important change in behavior to note to your vet. A depressed pet may slink away and find a place to sleep rather than run to meet you when you get home. Pay very close attention if you notice your pet, especially dogs, hiding from you. Dogs that suddenly hide or want to be left alone are usually injured, sick, or depressed. 
It’s also important that you keep an eye on their activity levels. For example, happy dogs and cats have seemingly endless energy. But when depressed, you may notice that their ears no longer perk up when you get their favorite toy or bag of treats. Or, instead of running around at the park, your pet stays head-down at your heel. This change from active and energetic to inactive and lethargic may indicate depression in your pet.

Change in Sleeping Habits

All animals sleep a lot. On the other hand, if you notice your pet sleeping a lot more than normal, something could be wrong. Note that it can go both ways. If you notice your pet having trouble sleeping and becoming restless and pacing, this is also a sign that they could be suffering from depression.

Excessive Paw Licking

We’ve all been woken up by the sound of our pet licking their paws, but excessive licking may be rooted in physiological or psychological issues. Depressed dogs and cats will often lick or chew their paws as a way to self-soothe. A similar symptom could be tearing out their fur, and for cats this could look like excessive grooming.Excessive paw licking and grooming can lead to hot spots and bald spots on your pet. If you’ve noticed this type of behavior, and start to notice these spots on your pet, you should talk to your local PetWellClinic team.

Loss of Appetite

Make sure to note changes in your pet’s diet. Oftentimes, interest in food will decrease and lead to weight loss. Alternatively, they may use food as a form of comfort, similar to humans. Watch for any change in their appetite, refusal of treats, and sudden extreme weight gain or weight loss as they can be signs of a chemical imbalance caused by depression.

Loss of Interest and Participation in Favorite Activities

Sometimes this is the most recognizable symptom of pet depression. Make note if your pet suddenly loses interest in playing (or plays for shorter periods of time), going for walks, their favorite treats and toys, riding in the car, or doing anything that would normally excite them.

How to Treat Your Pet’s Depression

If you’ve noticed any of the signs mentioned above, it’s likely time to make sure your pet doesn’t have any underlying health issues. At PetWellClinic, we offer physical exams and blood work panels that can help determine if your pet’s depressive behavior could be pointing to a bigger issue. By doing this, you can be completely sure that your pet isn’t dealing with a physical issue that could impact their overall health.

If there is nothing physically wrong, it could be time to implement a few things into your routine to comfort your furry friend. Thankfully, dogs and cats are not complicated beings and their needs are relatively simple!

How To Cheer Up Your Pet

It’s rare for your four-legged friend to suffer from long-term depression. More than likely, they will bounce back relatively quickly. With some extra TLC, exercise, and doing their favorite activities, you should see a huge improvement in their mood!

Make sure to reward them when they show signs of happiness, no matter how small. According to Bonnie Beaver, the executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, “If the only thing that still gets a little tail wag out of your dog is a car ride, then take him for a series of short rides each day, praising and rewarding him when he appears happier.” However, be careful not to encourage the negative behavior with treats and attention while they are moping. 
Sometimes adopting another pet can be beneficial, especially if your furry-friend has fallen into a depression after the loss of a companion. As always, make sure you do careful research before bringing a new pet into your home. This decision is a long-term commitment.

Taking time to do your pet’s favorite activities may help them improve their mood!

Giving Your Pet Medication

If a change in routine and activities doesn’t work, and there aren’t any underlying health conditions, medications may help balance your pet’s depression. Karen Sueda, a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, explains that medications used for depression in pets are often similar to the medications prescribed for depression in humans.

However, you should never medicate your pet with medication meant for humans. If you think your pet would benefit from a prescription, speak with your PetWellClinic vet about your pet’s individual needs. Your veterinarian can discuss the best option, and write a prescription for your pet.

Setting Your Pet Up For Success

Seeing our pets suffer from anxiety or depression isn’t a fun thing to experience as a pet owner. But the good news is that there’s often a simple explanation as to why your pet is experiencing changes in their mood. It’s important to remember that often, issues that seem emotional really stem from physical or medical causes. The first thing to do if you notice a behavioral change is to have your pet checked out by our team to rule out any underlying issues!

PetWellClinic is dedicated to being here for pet owners. Our hours of operation extend into the evenings and weekends, and our clinic environment is built with your pet’s comfort in mind. If you notice any behavioral and/or mood changes in your pet, talk to your PetWellClinic veterinarian about the best next steps.

PetWellClinic provides convenient, affordable veterinary care for pet owners. PetWellClinic has locations and services built with convenience in mind. Stop by with your pet any time! No appointment necessary.

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