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Think a change in schedule because you got a new job and aren’t home as often, for instance, moving to a new place that feels unfamiliar, or a breakup or divorce that means one of his usual humans isn’t around anymore. Another common culprit? Something that makes it harder for him to get outside and have fun—like less time at the dog park in the winter or fewer walks because of an injury. Some experts, like dog psychologist Stanley Coren, even say that less daylight during the colder months can lead to SAD-like symptoms in dogs.
How to tell if your dog is down in the dumps? A change in his typical behavior should tip you off that something might be wrong, Olshavsky says.
A depressed dog might start doing things like:
- Acting sluggish or lethargic.
- Showing less interest in the activities he usually enjoys.
- Eating less.
- Interacting differently with family members—like hiding or acting aggressive.
- Changing his sleeping habits—like sleeping more during the day or seeming restless at night.
- Howling or whining more.
There’s a caveat to all of this, though. Just because your dog looks depressed doesn’t guarantee that his mood is the problem. “Because dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong, any type of physical condition can mimic depression. Or be the culprit of depression,” says Olshavsky. Case in point: Health problems like diabetes, an infection, hip dysplasia, Lyme disease, kidney disease, or even a food sensitivity can all manifest in depression-like symptoms, or trigger a change in your dog’s routine that ends up bumming him out.
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That’s why if you notice any unusual behaviors, it’s important to get him checked out by a vet instead of trying to make a diagnosis on your own. If a health issue is at play, treating it could go a long way towards helping him get back to his old self. And if he is depressed, the vet can help you figure out a plan to lift your pup’s spirits.
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Usually, the first option will be simple lifestyle changes like getting your dog back into a routine that feels familiar, or making sure he’s getting enough stimulation. That could mean more walks, puzzle toys or interactive games, agility training, or even some time at doggie daycare, Olshavsky says.
And if that’s not enough, you could try a natural supplement. Olshavsky is a fan of products with CBD oil, which some studies suggest could have an anti-depressive effect that may be helpful for dogs. (Try VETCBD—just make sure to get your veterinarian’s OK first.)
Antidepressants like Xanax or Prozac are another option, but most experts agree that prescription meds should be a last resort. Like with people, these drugs can have unpleasant side effects like irritability, insomnia, itching, aggressive behavior, and seizures.
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