Dog Depression & Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dog Depression & Seasonal Affective Disorder

Signs of an Unhappy Dog - Signs to watch out for include is your dog:

  • Withdrawn – the dog may have little enthusiasm for exercise or games or joining in with the things they normally enjoy
  • Lethargic – they may be sleeping more than usual
  • Loss of appetite - they may lose interest in food or there may be other changes to eating patterns
  • Inability to settle – the dog may appear restless, not sleeping well or deeply, or other changes to sleeping patterns
  • Behaviour changes – the same mood states that can present as apparent depression can present as other issues depending on the dog’s personality. These can include chewing, attempts at escapology, increased reactivity, loss of toilet training, and even aggression.


What causes Depression in dogs? – What can cause our peps to become depressed or unhappy? There are a number of things that can affect your dog’s mood and stress levels including:

·         Changes to Environment - Most dogs like routine and are happiest when they are confident in their environment and know what to expect during their day. Dramatic changes, such as house moves, building work or major home reorganisations, can leave your dog feeling uncertain. In these instances, you may well see changes in their personality or behaviour as they try to adjust and regain their routine and feelings of safety.

·         Boredom - It’s easy to only pay attention to dogs in the few short hours a day we are exercising them, but for many dogs that means upwards of 12 waking hours a day, every day, with absolutely nothing to do! For dogs, especially working types, boredom can lead to a number of different behavioural problems, including depression.

·         Changes to social group - A dog’s bond with its family is very strong and changes to their social dynamic can strongly affect them, such as divorce, bereavement (human, canine and sometimes even feline), children leaving home, or even a change in working patterns. Dogs don’t understand where their friends or loved ones have gone and of course we can’t explain it to them so that they understand.

·         It’s not just grief that can affect a dog’s mood, however. If you are suddenly less available to your dog, such as returning to work after a break, or starting a new job – it can hit them hard. They rely on you totally for company, security, and love, and can feel your increased absence keenly.

·         Phobias and fears - Often what looks like canine depression is a sign of an underlying behaviour issue. Even though they are not showing any acute or obvious signs of fear, a dog who suffers from noise phobias, or separation related issues, for example, can be in a chronic state of stress or anxiety, always waiting for the next bang or the next time they are left home alone.

·         Physical illness & pain - Low mood states don’t only have mental and emotional causes at their root. Some physical conditions – especially those which cause pain – can affect a dog’s mood, and whenever there are sudden changes in a dog’s personality or behaviour the first step should be a visit to the vet to check there are no clinical causes.


Seasonal Affective Disorder in Dogs – In darker/colder months there can be several causes of a dog’s apparent sadness, including something similar to - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). However, something far more likely to cause behavioural problems are changes to a dog’s routine.

Our dogs have certain hard-wired needs that we need to fulfil to keep them healthy and happy. A major one of these is exercise and physical and mental stimulation. Not only that but they need the right kind of exercise, and this can often be breed or type dependant.

Through the winter – especially the long, wet winters we have been seeing in recent years – it can be hard to give dogs the exercise they need. Dark mornings and evenings, and muddy, wet walks, can make taking the dog out seem like a chore. As a result, many dogs are getting less exercise or fewer walks than usual and aren’t getting to do the things they truly love.

In other cases, owners don’t realise just how much exercise their dog needs, or what types of things will keep them happy. All dogs are different and so finding out what fulfils a dog’s hard-wired needs can be the key to a contented dog. It’s similar to someone who loves nothing more than doing yoga being forced to only do marathon running! Yes, you’d be getting the exercise you need, but you wouldn’t be enjoying it, and would probably be feeling pretty fed up with it!

A lack of being able to do the things they have been selectively bred to do, or just the things that they love, can result in a whole host of behaviour problems, some of which will present a lot like depression.

Dogy Mental Health Checklist - Recognising the problem is the first step to solving it, then do a canine mental health assessment on your dog.

  • Has anything changed in your dog’s life, environment, or social group?
  • Is your dog getting as much exercise and stimulation as usual? Is your dog getting the right sort of exercise and stimulation to give them an outlet for their hard-wired needs and the things they love?
  • Is your dog getting as much contact with you are usual?
  • Are you spending enough quality time with your dog? This may be exercise, games, training, dog sports or just hanging out together.
  • Is your dog bored? Can you relieve this with an additional walk, short training sessions throughout the day, occasional games, interactive toys etc?
  • Does your dog have any other behaviour issues – especially fears and phobias that may be more prevalent for any reason?

Once you have done this check, you should have a clear idea of what your dog needs from you to lift their mood and find ways to do this. If you are unable to make the changes (such as in the case of house moves etc) be aware that your dog is struggling and give them more TLC than usual and lots of fun things to do to distract them and support them through the changes.

Please do bear in mind that everything in this post is strictly advisory and has been gathered from various reputable sources from the internet. We're not vets, and you should always seek professional advice if you ever have concerns.

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Jul 29 2022
by Claire