Is My Dog Bored or Depressed?

It’s hard enough to deal with the trials of your own emotions, but with your pet, you may feel hopeless, not knowing for sure how they’re feeling and whether it will pass on its own.

Unfortunately, like humans, dogs can suffer from depression and boredom, but they aren’t able to just tell us what the matter is. Is my dog bored or depressed? How can I tell?

Don’t feel alone – as a dog expert I get asked similar questions all the time. So let’s chat dog boredom and dog depression – and how you can tell what is happening.

In this article we discuss

  • How to tell whether your dog is depressed
  • Signs of depression in canines
  • Paw licking is a sign of sadness!?
  • How to treat or manage boredom or depression

A sudden change in the household, such as losing a human or canine family member, can trigger depression. If your work schedule has changed, and they are not getting enough of your attention, they may just be bored.

How Can I Tell Whether My Dog Is Depressed?

Dog’s depression is a broad term that encompasses many types of behavior patterns. The condition may lead to inactivity or destructive kinds of behavior, like aggressiveness. 

a lab sleeping in the forest
A Lab will take a snooze anywhere!

Many of the outward signs of depression are similar to depression in people, including a lack of interest in things they once enjoyed or a refusal to eat or play. 

Determining whether your dog is just bored or has something more serious like depression involves identifying the signs, their severity, and whether or not they improve with stimulation. 

To remember the difference, consider that boredom is a mood and depression is a more long-lasting medical condition.

Behavioral Signs of Depression 

You know your pet better than anyone else, so you are the best person to say what is normal for them and what isn’t.

A dog that suddenly changes its behavior, changes its schedule, or exhibits fear where there wasn’t fear before may be experiencing depression. Not every dog will show each behavior but showing any of these could indicate that something more than boredom is bothering them.

Side eye is not not necessarily a marker of dog depression – it has other meanings.

A Labradoodle running on the beach
A Labradoodle running on the beach

Loss of Appetite

This will often accompany another behavioral change like sleeping more or loss of interest in toys and play. Not eating can also be a symptom of a few different problems. 

Dogs may suddenly refuse their favorite treats and food altogether for days or eat a single meal in the span of a few days. 

To a lesser extent, if you’ve recently started working more from home or are away from your dog for more extended periods of time, you may notice that your dog doesn’t eat or drink while you’re away. It’s not uncommon for social animals to wait until you’re home to eat. 

Having a pet sitter or family friend stop in during the day can help. 

Paw Licking

Just like you may twirl your hair, chew your nails or pick at your lip when you’re bored or anxious, dogs may lick their paws. 

It may just be your dog trying to self-soothe, but it could also be a symptom of an underlying medical issue that you should address before the licking turns into a habit and hot spots develop.

Paw licking is also a symptom of depression that could be the dog trying to make itself feel better. Either way, a trip to the veterinarian is a good first step to rule out treatable issues like allergies and paw pain, which can present in this way.

norwegian lundehund
The fox like Norwegian Lundehund

A Change in Sleeping Habits

Many owners can set a clock to their dog’s schedule, including when they sleep and when they’re most active, especially as puppies. It’s probably very obvious to you when there’s a sudden change in this schedule. 

Sleeping more than usual can be a sign of boredom because the dog has nothing better to do than sleep the day away. Although generally, bored dogs will perk up with regular play and stimulation. 

A depressed dog may not rebound as quickly or may not display interest in play.

Dogs in pain or on new medications can also sleep more or less than usual, so keep that in mind when determining if your dog may be depressed.

Loss of Interest 

Loss of interest includes losing interest in playing, going for walks, special dog friends, or other things you’d normally do together. 

If you’ve recently lost another dog in the household, this loss of interest could be part of the grief process. 

While it may work itself out over time on its own, if you’re concerned, you may want to consider speaking with a veterinarian or board-certified canine behaviorist to help the dog out, just as humans visit grief counselors and psychologists. 

male vs female maltese dogs
A male vs female Maltese dog – very similar appearances!

Aggression Toward Other Animals or People

A depressed dog may lash out at other animals or people as a way to exhibit that they’re not feeling well. Although less common for a bored dog, it can happen when the dog feels they can’t get attention another way. 

Sometimes, the aggression is only toward people; other times, it’s toward other dogs. 

There are usually warning signs or irritability before actual aggression if you know what to look for. These are signs like excessive barking, eye-rolling, and growling. Dogs left outside or home alone all day could exhibit these signs when people try to leave. 

Take steps to keep everyone safe, including the dog. After a wellness check, enlist the help of a positive trainer to work through the behaviors. The longer the behavior goes on, the harder it can be to treat, so speak with a professional as soon as you can.

Treating Dog Depression and Bored

The first thing to do with any medical or behavioral issue your pet is experiencing is to talk to a veterinarian and perform a general exam and diagnostic blood work to rule out illness. 

Illness and pain can cause changes in behavior that can be misinterpreted as depression. 

Medications and supplements, along with lifestyle changes, can often get a depressed or bored dog back on the road to being its old self again.

In the meantime, there are some lifestyle changes you can make now to help your dog feel better, especially if it is just bored.

Show Love to Your Pet

Life gets busy, and we sometimes forget that our dogs don’t see many of us for up to half the day. 

It’s crucial to schedule one-on-one time with pets and remind them that they’re still important to us by encouraging them to play and engage. Sometimes all they need is cuddles on the couch.

This time together can help minimize separation anxiety that can appear in dogs left alone and help curb destructive behavior caused by boredom by giving them an outlet for their energy.

Make Friends

When you’re bored, maybe you call a friend to talk to or go out to a game to help break the monotony. The same thing can work with your dog, too. 

Schedule play dates if your dog has canine friends, especially if you recently lost another canine family member. It will help boredom by giving them something to do and help with depression by giving them a place to work through their grief.

If your dog doesn’t have canine pals or has trouble socializing, consider a positive group training class or look into a positive pet daycare. The change in routine and new friends can be a mood booster. 

You can also consider getting a pet sitter to come over a few times a week for some companionship while you’re at work. 

Exposure to Sunshine

Exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression and boredom in humans and dogs, not just because it breaks up the monotony of day-to-day life. 

A regular walk with an owner gets hearts pumping in both human and canine, improves overall physical health, and improves mental health

Good walks engage all your dog’s senses, giving them things to see, smells to smell, and reinforces the bond between you. A dog that misses you will appreciate the time when it’s just the two of you experiencing something together.

Just like humans benefit from Vitamin D from the sun – dogs need the outdoors to thrive! Sure they can get nutrients from salmon skin, good treats, or homemade dog food – but nothing beats the outdoors and paws on pavement (or even better – grass!)

Final Thoughts

Prescription medications are not the only way to treat your dog’s depression, but they can help in certain circumstances. Whether your dog is depressed or just bored, reaching out to them and spending time with them can make a world of difference. 

Rule out medical issues, and then take a moment to consider how you would feel if you had your dog’s life. Would you want more exercise? Would you like to see your human or dog friends more? 

Remember, a healthy dog is a happy dog, and a happy dog will undoubtedly help make a happy owner!