Pet Parenting: Depression in dogs?


Can dogs get depressed? My dog seems really lethargic and sad lately. Thanks.

Dear Mama:

Some people don’t believe dogs have feelings, but I’m not one of them. So, to answer your question, yes, dogs can get depressed. If there aren’t any discernable reasons for the depression (death/illness in the family- human or animal, divorce, move, change in someone’s job/schedule, less time with dog, etc), then it could be a health issue.

Contact your vet to schedule a physical and make sure you ask for some blood work. I’m a big believer in blood work. Often, you can get a heads up on an illness before things get bad just because the numbers were a little off from where they should be. You may also want to consider that it’s just plain hot! Lots of dogs will eat less and play less when temperatures soar.

If there IS a reason for the depression, then spending more time with your dog and providing some stimulation may help. Attempt to engage him in a fun activity. Go for a walk, teach him a trick, schedule a play date with another dog or take a trip to the dog park. Try a new toy, something interesting, like a Kong stuffed with a yummy treat. Enrolling in an agility class is another option. Most dogs, whether they are good at it or not, really enjoy the mental and physical work required to learn agility.

Good Luck!

Denise Holmes is a pet behavior counselor with over 25 years of experience. She focuses on family pet training and animal-assisted therapy.  She has consulted with Arkansas Children’s Hospital, helped set up a variety of local programs and produced a CD to help expecting parents introduce the family pet to a newborn,