- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Just like humans, dogs can certainly go through periods of feeling blue. Unlike humans, however, they can’t communicate it as easily. Luckily, there are a number of behavioral indications of doggy melancholy—we just have to know what they are so we can look out for them.
Low mood in dogs can be caused by a number of things, from a stressful move to the loss of a loved one. It can even be caused by something as simple as boredom.
Integrative wellness veterinarian Dr. Karen Shaw Becker notes that “when a vet or veterinary behaviorist describes a patient as depressed, the dog is displaying a change in normal behavior.” While “normal” is generally a spectrum, if you notice a shift from what is typical of your pet, the cause could be emotional.
It’s important to note that many of these behaviors can also be indicative of other physical problems, so it can be helpful to rule out other issues. A veterinarian can give a professional assessment and offer treatment for the problem at hand.
Here are some common warning signs that may indicate a dog is unhappy:
Having little to no interest in food can be an indication that a dog is unhappy. On the other hand, unhappy dogs may also choose to increase their food intake, as food can serve as a comfort to them. Whether it’s an increase or decrease in appetite, any change can be a clue about a pet’s state of mind. A change in eating habits can also result in a change in weight, so if you notice your pet has lost or gained a few pounds, it could be a sign they’re feeling down.
Dogs sleep more often than humans do, averaging 12 hours a day, according to the American Kennel Club. However, if you notice an uptick in your pet’s sleep habits, it could be a sign that they’re unhappy.
Conversely, insomnia can indicate the same thing, so regardless of the amount of sleep they’re getting, if it’s significantly more or less than usual, it could be a sign that they’re feeling blue. It’s important to note that insomnia can also be caused by physical pain, so make sure to rule that out if your pet is having trouble sleeping.
Similar to humans, a loss of interest in normal activities can be a sign a dog is not feeling like their normal, happy self. If your dog is normally all about their toys and hasn’t been interested lately, they may not be feeling their best emotionally. It’s common for dogs to not want to play from time to time, but if this happens for an extended period of time, it may be worth looking into.
Toys aren’t the only things a sad dog may lose interest in. If their energy is low and they don’t seem to want to go for walks or play with other dogs, it could indicate they’re feeling melancholy. Of course, not all dogs are naturally social and energetic, so it’s important to note changes in what is normal for them.
If a dog is unhappy, they may try to seek refuge by hiding around the house. If there’s no clear stimulus that would cause them to hide, such as fireworks, this avoidant behavior can be a sign that they’re not feeling their best. Similarly, they may try to make themselves small by cowering. This can also be their way of coping with a low mood.
Aggression can be indicative of many issues in dogs, but did you know that the root of a dog’s aggression could simply be depression? If your pet is normally cool as a cucumber and starts to bark, lunge, snap, or growl at anything that comes their way, it could be a sign that they’re unhappy.
When dogs lick and chew their paws, it may seem like they’re trying to clean themselves or scratch an itch. However, it’s possible that they may be trying to soothe themselves because they’re feeling blue. “Most people are not aware, but excessive licking (or chewing) can be a way of self-soothing,” says veterinary health expert Dr. Gary Richter. If your pet is licking or chewing excessively, make sure to rule out any bug bites or skin conditions.
As with humans, anxious behaviors go hand and hand with depression. If a dog is pacing around the house, it’s very likely that they’re bored and unhappy. More time outside might be just what they’re craving and it can provide a major mood boost.
If you’re away at work all day and your dog is stuck inside, consider hiring a dog walker to help your dog get the exercise they need for physical and emotional health. If more walks and exercise don’t do the trick, you may want to check in with your veterinarian.
Like pacing, being destructive is another antsy behavior that can be rooted in emotional issues. If a dog is suddenly much rougher than usual with their toys—or anything else in the house—it could be a sign that they’re feeling down. Try increasing their level of exercise or mental stimulation to see if their mood (and destructive behavior) improves.
Luckily, there are many ways to help dogs out of an emotional slump. Taking stock of how a dog is feeling is the first step to getting them back to their happy and healthy self. If they experience a prolonged dip in mood, you may want to check in with their veterinarian to see how they can help.