Why do I feel like my dog is sad?

As a dog owner, you likely know your canine companion better than anyone. You can probably easily tell when your dog is happy, excited, scared, or anxious. But determining if your dog is feeling sad or depressed can be a bit more challenging. Though dogs may not experience feelings in exactly the same complex way humans do, they definitely experience various moods and emotions. So if you suspect your dog has been acting sad lately, you’re probably right. There are several common reasons why dogs show signs of sadness or depression.

Top Reasons Dogs Act Sad

Some of the most common potential causes for a dog acting sad include:

  • Loss of a companion (human or animal)
  • Pain or illness
  • Stress from changes in routine or environment
  • Anxiety from lack of exercise, attention, or stimulation
  • Aging

Let’s explore these common reasons for doggy depression in more detail:

Loss of a Companion

Dogs are highly social animals that form strong bonds with their human and animal friends. When a cherished companion is no longer around, such as another pet in the home or a family member, dogs definitely grieve the loss. It’s not unusual for dogs to seem depressed for weeks or months after losing a close companion. Some signs of grief include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive vocalizing
  • Seeking out the absent companion’s belongings or favorite spots
  • Avoiding interactions with other pets or people

Be patient and try to maintain your dog’s normal routine as much as possible. Extra love and attention can help a grieving dog through this tough time.

Pain or Illness

Since dogs can’t tell us how they’re feeling in words, we have to look for behavioral clues when trying to determine if physical pain or illness may be causing sadness. Some signs your dog may be in pain or unwell include:

  • Loss of interest in food, toys, walks, play
  • Excessive sleeping and low energy
  • Unexplained yelping or whimpering
  • Aggression or crankiness
  • Limping, stiffness, or trouble moving around
  • Accidents in the house

Schedule a vet visit right away if your dog displays any unusual behaviors that may indicate pain or illness. Treatment for the underlying condition should help your pup start feeling better.

Stress from Changes

Dogs tend to thrive on predictability and consistency. When their routine or environment changes dramatically, it can cause stress that leads to sadness. Major life changes that can cause dogs distress include:

  • Moving to a new home
  • New family members (human or pet)
  • Loss of a family member
  • A new work schedule that changes time spent with dog
  • Switching to a new dog walker or sitter
  • Drastic changes in daily routine

Try to minimize unnecessary disruptions to your dog’s routine when possible. Introduce any unavoidable changes gradually to allow your dog time to adjust. Extra playtime, training sessions, and affection can smooth the transition.

Anxiety from Understimulation

Dogs need regular exercise, mental stimulation, and quality time with their pet parents to be happy and healthy. A lack of adequate physical activity, mental engagement, or human interaction can lead to boredom, anxiety, and sadness in dogs. Warning signs of an understimulated dog include:

  • Destructive chewing
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Digging
  • Following you everywhere
  • Loss of house training

Alleviate boredom and anxiety by providing your dog with plenty of daily exercise, playtime, chew toys that dispense treats, food puzzle toys for mental stimulation, and focused attention through training sessions and cuddle time.


Senior dogs often experience changes that mirror human aging, including both physical and mental decline. An older dog may seem sad for reasons including:

  • Pain from arthritis or other conditions
  • Cloudy vision or hearing loss
  • Confusion or cognitive dysfunction
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Lower energy and activity levels

Schedule more frequent vet checks to stay on top of your senior dog’s health and treat any medical conditions that arise. Keeping a consistent routine, allowing plenty of rest, providing orthopedic beds and ramps, and giving lots of love can help senior dogs stay happy.

Signs Your Dog is Sad

Since dogs can’t exactly tell us when they’re feeling down, we need to look for behavioral and physical changes that may signal sadness or depression. Some signs to watch for include:

  • Moping: Moving slowly, head/ears/tail down
  • Disinterest: Loss of appetite, lack of enthusiasm for walks, play, training
  • Irritability: More reactive to stimuli that normally wouldn’t bother them
  • Hiding: Staying under furniture or in closets
  • Extra clinginess: Sticking close to you more
  • Sleep changes: Sleeping more or having difficulty sleeping
  • Sighing or whining: Vocalizing more

In addition to monitoring behavior, also watch for any changes in your dog’s physical health such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, limping, or skin/coat changes which could indicate an underlying medical issue requiring veterinary attention.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog is Sad

If your normally happy, energetic dog seems down in the dumps, don’t ignore it. Here are some tips for helping a sad dog:

  1. Take your dog to the vet. Explain what behavioral changes you’ve observed and have your dog given a thorough physical exam to rule out any medical causes.
  2. Try to identify the trigger. Think back to when you first noticed a change in your dog’s demeanor and what circumstances may have brought it on, such as a change in home environment, schedule, health event, or loss of a companion.
  3. Minimize stressors. Reduce environmental stressors related to noise, disruption to your dog’s routine, new people/pets, etc. as much as possible.
  4. Spend quality time together. Engage your dog in daily exercise, playtime with favorite toys, focused training sessions, cuddling, etc.
  5. Consider supplements. Certain supplements like hemp, valerian root, tryptophan, St. John’s wort may help, but check with your vet first.
  6. Try anxiety wraps/shirts. These garments swaddle dogs to provide comfort and security.
  7. Use pheromone products. Adaptil collars, sprays, diffusers can help reduce anxiety.
  8. Ask about medication. For severe, ongoing depression, prescription anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication may be warranted short or long-term.

Most of the time, extra TLC and removing stress factors can help dogs through periods of sadness. But if your dog seems very distraught or the signs persist more than a couple weeks, consult your veterinarian right away for professional treatment recommendations.

When to Seek Help for a Depressed Dog

It’s normal for a dog to have an occasional down day if they are temporarily stressed or not feeling 100%. But more severe, prolonged depression in dogs requires medical intervention. Contact your vet promptly if your dog displays:

  • Loss of appetite for more than a day or two
  • Significant lethargy or disinterest in all regular activities for more than 2 days
  • Unexplained and sudden aggression
  • Whimpering, pacing, trembling, hiding, or other signs of intense anxiety
  • Accidents in the home in a previously house-trained dog
  • Any abnormal physical symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, limping, etc.
  • Self-harming behaviors like excessive licking/biting/scratching

Additionally, if your dog seems persistently sad or anxious for longer than a couple weeks with no improvement from your efforts to cheer them up, seek veterinary guidance. Ongoing depression in dogs often requires prescription treatment and management.

Preventing Depression in Dogs

While it’s impossible to entirely prevent your dog from ever experiencing sadness or anxiety, there are some proactive steps you can take to minimize those chances:

  • Provide consistency. Dogs thrive on predictable routines for feeding, walking, playtime, etc. Avoid abrupt schedule disruptions when possible.
  • Ensure adequate exercise. Make sure your dog gets at least 30-60 minutes of activity per day based on their size/age.
  • Give mental stimulation. Rotate high-quality chew toys, food puzzles, training sessions to prevent boredom.
  • Minimize big changes. Introduce significant changes like moving, adding a pet, having a baby, etc. gradually over time.
  • Spend quality time. Set aside dedicated 1:1 interaction periods for play, training, cuddling daily.
  • Know your dog’s cues. Learn what your individual dog’s signals are for common emotions like happiness, anxiety, fear, pain.
  • Address medical issues. Have any emerging health problems diagnosed and treated as soon as you notice symptoms.

While you can’t completely protect your dog from ever feeling temporarily sad or worried, the above prevention tips will help set them up for ongoing happiness and reduce any serious, prolonged depression.

When to Consider Working with a Professional

Most doggy blues can be overcome with some extra TLC from pet parents. But in moderate-to-severe cases of prolonged depression or anxiety, working with a professional may be warranted. Consulting a certified animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist is advisable for:

  • A dog who has remained persistently sad/anxious for over 2 weeks despite your efforts.
  • A dog who exhibits sudden, abnormal aggression unrelated to a specific trigger or stimulus.
  • A dog who seems extremely phobic of certain triggers like noises or environments that severely limit normal activity.
  • A dog engaging in repetitive, obsessive behaviors like excessive licking to the point of self-harm.
  • A dog experiencing severe separation anxiety.

A professional animal behavioral expert can help uncover the root cause of your dog’s depression through a detailed history, exams, and observation. They will then develop a customized behavior modification training program and/or prescribe medication if warranted. For the health and happiness of your canine companion, don’t delay contacting an expert for help if your dog’s sadness persists or severely worsens.

In Summary

It’s normal for dogs to feel temporarily sad or worried when faced with changes, stress, grief, or understimulation. But significant or prolonged depression requires attention. Look for lethargy, disinterest, hiding, loss of appetite, or any unusual physical symptoms. Minimize stressors, spend extra quality time together, and see your vet for any health issues. Working with a professional trainer or behaviorist can be very beneficial for severe depression. With compassion and proper treatment tailored to your individual dog, they can overcome a doggy depression dip and regain their characteristic canine joie de vivre!

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