Although depression cannot be diagnosed in the same way in our canine counterparts, here’s what to do if you think your dog is depressed.

When a dog suddenly loses interest in favorite pastimes, playing Frisbee in the park, or chasing squirrels in the backyard, most animal behavior experts will advise you to look for a physical explanation, not a mental health recommendation. Taking your four-legged friend to the veterinarian for a physical examination should always be the first response to what looks like depression. A change in behavior can usually be attributed to underlying physical conditions such as arthritis or pain.

“Depression is a more typically human term in the sense that it has a number of symptoms that have to do with how you feel … and obviously we can’t ask a dog how he feels,” says Dr. Brian J. Bourquin, veterinarian, and owner of Boston Veterinary Clinic. “However, it is very possible for them to be diagnosed with disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Signs of depression in dogs
Dr. Jill E. Sackman, head of the Department of Behavioral Medicine at BluePearl Hospitals in Michigan, agrees that, although there is no clinical diagnosis for depression in veterinary medicine, dogs who are considered depressed by their owners may appear withdrawn, less active, or disinterested in what is going on around them. However, if your dog suddenly exhibits any of these symptoms, he recommends making an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems. “If your dog used to jump up in the morning, eat breakfast, go for a run, and play, and now he just wants to lie in bed all day, you need to rule out medical problems first,” she advises.

As humans, we may never know if a dog is truly depressed, but he may exhibit signs and behaviors similar to those associated with depression in humans. According to Dr. Karen Sueda, a licensee of the American College of Veterinary Behavior and a practicing veterinarian at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital in California, these signs can include lethargy or fatigue, increased drowsiness, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, restlessness or agitation.

A change in behavior can be a sign of several factors; perhaps your dog is simply getting older or is responding to a change in their daily routine. Sometimes significant changes, such as the addition of new pets, the loss of your dog’s mobility due to age, or the relocation of a family member, can affect your dog’s emotional health.

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