Your happy-go-lucky dog seems to be channeling his inner Emily Dickinson lately. He's lethargic and sad-eyed, and you find yourself wondering, "Could my dog be...depressed?"
Dog depression. Yes, it's a thing. And yes, your dog might have it. Here are warning signs that deserve attention and what to do about them:
Warning sign: His eating habits have changed. Depressed dogs eat less than usual and often refuse food (and sometimes water).
What to do about it: Stick to a regular feeding schedule (morning and evening) where the food is only available at those intervals, then remove the bowl afterward. This will not only train him to respond to the availability, but regular routines are important to structure to combat depression.
Warning sign: He's sleeping. Like, a lot. When his regular 12-14 hours of sleep starts bleeding into 18+ hours, and he's low energy even when he's awake, it could be depression.
What to do about it: Just as with humans, regular exercise is a powerful tool for coping with depression. Take him for regular walks, play time at the dog park, and games of fetch.
Warning sign: He seems to be mourning a death. If a family member (human or canine) has passed away or left the home, it's perfectly normal for a dog to mourn the absence. He may wander around the home, appearing to be lost. Because, in a way, he is.
What to do about it: Love, encouragement, and time together can help emotional wounds heal. If there was a regular routine in place with that person/pet, do your best to fill in the gap and reinvent the routine. Play Adele albums with caution.
Warning sign: He's suddenly aggressive or destructive. If your once low-key dog is now growling, biting, or chewing household objects, it could be a short fused cry for help.
What to do about it: Reach for the leash. Exercise is the quickest and most effective treatment in this case. Not only will he get those feel-good exercise endorphins, he can expel that nervous anxiety in a natural way.
Warning sign: He's having accidents in the house. You used to brag to your friends about his impeccable house-training, but now you're finding frequent "surprises."
What to do about it: Keep calm and carry on. And maybe go outside as much as possible. If your dog's eating habits are disrupted, chances are, his "elimination schedule" will be too. As mentioned, routine is helpful and so is patience. Once your dog is back to feeling himself, the accidents generally disappear.
For the most part, dog's depressive episodes are short lived, generally less than a few weeks. If your dog is exhibiting these warning signs or abnormal behavior for a longer period of time, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your vet. Not only will they be able to assess your dog's overall health and screen for any physical problems that might be contributing to the changes in mood, but they can also prescribe an anti-depressant if necessary.
And, at least for the time being, stick to reading Shel Silverstein poetry to the dog instead of Dickinson.