Our pets are great for helping us to overcome periods of low mood and depression, but what can we do when the tables are turned?

Depressed pup


If there’s one thing all pet owners will agree on it’s that, biologically different to us, our four-legged best mates, confidants and comrades-in-arms are also similar to us in a lot of ways. Unfortunately depression is a condition we all share, but it’s not all doom and gloom. While depression in pets is not uncommon, it’s rare for them to suffer from long-term depression, particularly if you pick up on the signs, symptoms or changes in body language early and help them through the process.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive sleep
  • Clinginess
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in personality e.g. aggression
  • Increased vocalisation
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Urinating or defecating outside designated areas
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Hiding
  • Pacing

Changes in body language for dogs:

  • Droopy or pulled back ears
  • Paw licking
  • Hanging their head
  • Not wagging their tail
  • Extra shedding

Changes in body language for cats:

  • Too little or too much grooming


Evaluating the situation:

If your pet is displaying some of the symptoms of depression, the first thing you need to do is consult your vet. There is a chance your best mate might be sick, as there is a cross over in symptoms between depression and various illnesses.

Once you’ve ruled out illness it’s worth considering what may have triggered your pet’s depression, as this will give you clues on how to cheer them up. Depression in pets is most often linked to causal factors; predominantly change. Common triggers include:

  • Loss of a companion animal
  • Loss of an owner
  • Moving house
  • New baby or pet
  • Being re-homed
  • Major building or renovations
  • A stay-at-home owner going to work
  • Seasonal changes


How to cheer your pet up:

What your pet really needs right now is a bit of extra care. Most pets are incredibly resilient and bounce back from adversity, but there are a few things you can do to help:

  • Set aside extra time for play
  • Buy some stimulating new toys
  • Take your dog to the park to socialise with other dogs
  • Consider having a friend stop by to spend time with your pet if you are at out of the house for most of the day
  • If your pet has lost a companion, consider adopting another one
  • Cats often respond well to a synthetic version of the feline facial pheromone called Feliway, as well as other comfort products like Adaptil and Thundershirts. Talk to your local Greencross Vet about this for more information.

In more severe cases of animal depression, where your pet has a chemical imbalance, medication may be necessary. Consult your vet for more information, and be aware that most vets will only prescribe medication as a last resort.