Do dogs get sad? Well, yeah. Of course they do. Dogs are sensitive just like people, and a variety of things can throw their emotions out of whack. Even though dogs have a reputation for being pretty even-keel, it's totally possible for your pup to feel sad, blue, or even a little depressed.
The Science of Sadness
Dogs' brains are significantly smaller than ours, so they experience the emotion of "sadness" in a different way. While human emotions can be incredibly nuanced, doggy emotions are more straightforward and simplistic. In general, dogs don't usually get depression because of neurological conditions like a chemical imbalance, they become sad as a reaction to their circumstances. Remember that there's a difference between being "sad" and truly being "depressed," for humans and for dogs. Likewise, don't forget that dogs can suffer from a variety of conditions related to depression, such as anxiety. While the symptoms may appear similar, treatment options vary.
How to Tell If Your Dog is Sad
The most important thing to note is sadness in dogs is usually a response to a particular stimulus, event, or situation. Symptoms can show up all at once or gradually. If you've noticed any of the most common sadness symptoms in dogs and a change occurred recently (your cat died, you moved to a new apartment, you started a new job that keeps you away from home longer, etc.), your dog might be sad or even depressed.
Here are a few of the most common signs of sadness in dogs:
- Apathy: An apathetic dog - one who no longer gets excited about walks, treats, or playtime - could be a sad one.
- Sleep Shifts: Sudden shifts in sleep (more sleep, less sleep, lower quality sleep) could indicate that your dog is sad, or even that there's an underlying medical condition.
- Appetite Changes: Has your dog become ravenously hungry or unexplained disinterested in food? He could be sad.
- Avoidance: Withdrawing socially, especially from humans, is a surefire symptom that something is going on with your dog.
- Excessive Grooming: Dogs can't always tell the difference between a physical pain and an emotional one, so he could be trying to "fix" his feelings with extra licks.
How Can You Make Your Dog Happy Again?
If your dog seems sad, the absolute first thing you should do is call your vet. A thorough veterinary evaluation is necessary to ensure there's no underlying medical issue causing your dog's behavioral symptoms. You should tell your vet all about your dog's recent behavioral changes (no one knows his nuances better than you!) and potentially run a few diagnostic tests to rule out any common, treatable conditions. Your vet can suggest some easy changes to your daily lives that will probably help ease your dog's sadness. It's important that you do your best to pinpoint when the symptoms began so you can try and identify what brought them on. If the death of a second pet, for example, led your dog to become sad, he may simply be lonely. Getting a new pet or taking more frequent trips to the dog park to socialize could easily solve the problem. It's a good idea to praise your dog and reward him with treats when he seems particularly animated and happy (tail wagging!) to encourage him. Help your dog help himself!
Most periods of doggy sadness are temporary in nature, and it's totally possible to snap him out of it. A brisk walk, a great play session, a few tricks-for-treats, or even a ride in the car (if your dog likes that kind of thing!) might be all you need to get back on track. If your dog's sadness symptoms are particularly long-lasting and seemingly unaffected by quick-fixes, your vet might recommend a mild antidepressant medication for your dog. Most dogs who go on prescription antidepressants only need them for 6-12 months, but talk to your vet about a treatment plan. Most importantly, remember not to "absorb" your dog's sadness! In the same way being greeted by a happy dog with a wagging tail brightens your dog, your positive attitude can also brighten his. Sometimes you just have to fake it til you make it, you know?