Four Signs That Your Pet Is Depressed—Plus, How to Help Them
Watch for these key behavioral changes before booking an appointment with the veterinarian.
Pet owners know that their animal companions experience a range of emotions, from elation when their parents walk in the door to frustration when they're locked out of a space they would like to occupy. But there is one emotion pet owners need to pay particular attention to, our experts say, and that is sadness. A sad pet's quality of life may have decreased, explains Jennifer Pearl, DVM, assistant director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America—and that's something to see a veterinarian about.
So, if you spot these four signs of sadness in your pet, it's time to step in—and possibly to schedule an appointment with the veterinarian.
They're hiding or otherwise withdrawn.
Cats may be prone to hiding—they like to find elusive places to curl up for cat naps—but if your cat is disappearing more often than usual or for longer periods of time, he or she might be sad or experiencing other negative emotions, Pearl says. "Your cat may be experiencing pain, have a medical condition, or might be feeling stress," she says. "If your veterinarian determines that it is stress or anxiety, there are things you can do to help, such as using cat pheromones, providing perches or cat trees—because cats often feel more comfortable when they are up high—and allowing your cat to have a safe room in your house where he or she can escape the stressor."
Likewise, a withdrawn or antisocial dog could also be sad. If your pooch doesn't want to come out to play, "you can offer more attention and praise them when they exhibit some sign of happiness," suggests Jennifer Freeman, DVM, PetSmart's resident veterinarian. But she warns that you must "refrain from praising or babying your dog" when they exhibit reclusive behavior as a way to cheer them up, because "they'll associate this as a reward for the behavior," she says.
They're urinating where they shouldn't be.
Cats value cleanliness—and so, when a cat urinates or defecates outside of their litter box, it could be a sign he or she is experiencing sadness or is feeling stressed. "Never punish your cat for going outside of the litter box, and make an appointment with your veterinarian right away to rule out any medical problems," Pearl recommends. "Your veterinarian can also provide suggestions to address the problem, such as the location and number of litter boxes that are in your home."
They're not playing as often as they used to.
Like humans, dogs benefit from regular exercise. And most of them enjoy it. But if your dog is less active then he or she used to be, or refuses to run and play, he or she might be sad, "It's important to make an effort to keep your dog active by taking it on regular walks or engaging in extra playtime, doing things they love that will improve their mood," Freeman says. "If your dog chooses to lay around your home instead of partaking in usual activities, it could signal an issue."
They're losing weight or refusing to eat.
A cat who's refusing to eat or losing weight could be sad. Your first step, says Pearl, should be making sure that other animals aren't causing dismay around the food bowl. "When multiple pets in the home eat and drink near each other, cats can feel scared or anxious," she explains. "Just moving the bowls to separate places can help a cat feel more relaxed and in turn, eat more."
But you should also bring your cat to the vet, too. He or she will need to rule out any medical reasons for your cat's change in appetite or weight loss as well, Pearl explains.