To imagine a dog is to conjure up an animated companion, eager for touch, interaction, and playtime. But like their human besties, dogs go through periods of morosity, and unless you're Dr. Dolittle, the language barrier makes it hard to decipher what's causing a case of the blahs.
You can, however, watch out for causes and warning signs of boredom and depression. And you can make changes to ensure the dog days, whether pandemic-related or not, are soon over.
When a person or pet in your household passes away, you'd best believe your dogs are aware and feel the loss acutely. And when a trio of canine companions becomes a duo and then a solo dog, the gaping hole in the family portrait can manifest in symptoms of depression and poor physical health.
You can explore the idea of introducing a new pet friend into the family. Your current dog might not take to the idea immediately, but there's a good chance they'll come around within a few weeks and be better off for it.
Your family has moved to a new suburb or city and is excited about a new chapter. On the other hand, your dog could be less enthused about a new climate, home, or urban environment. Their routine might change in ways they don't appreciate, or they may perceive your new backyard as unsafe and display aggression.
Dogs get jealous when you shower affection on an animal they don't know. And they might react to a newborn just as a toddler sibling would—with initial curiosity and then dismay at the loss of one-on-one time and attention. They may bark, become agitated and feel stressed out by the novel circumstances. Give it a few weeks, and they should hopefully adjust.
Dogs can pick up on human emotions. Perhaps winter is coming, and you're feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder. Or maybe you've just gone through a breakup and spend more time than you'd like to admit sobbing into bowls of Lucky Charms. Your dog might respond to your mood and distractedness by becoming anxious.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw many dogs get overly attached to their locked-down owners. Some dogs felt a loss of privacy and alone time during the hours when their pet parents were at home rather than at work. And human pandemic stressors may have rubbed off on a household's animal inhabitants. Unhappy dogs barked more, chewed on things, and behaved strangely.
Conversely, returns to the workplace result in separation anxiety. Remember, dogs are individuals and can react differently to similar experiences. Try to maintain their routines as far as possible.
Appetite changes are one of the first signs of depression or boredom. You'll notice more leftover food in bowls or requests for more food and consequent weight changes. Any time your dog stops eating and drinking, it can be pretty startling. If you come up short on reasons for this behavior, take your dog to a clinic for a check-up.
Humans with clinical depression stay in bed all day or struggle with insomnia. If your dog is sleeping way more or less than it used to, that could signify that something serious is going on.
Dogs with unusual sleeping habits can become lethargic, grumpy, and withdrawn. Consider when this behavior began and what could have set it off. Perhaps physical rather than emotional pain is the problem.
If your dog shows no interest in the toys, games, and outdoor activities they usually enjoy, that's as red a flag as you're likely to get. As soon as reticent behavior that's not in line with your dog's personality goes on for a while, do your research in online dog communities, or bring in the big guns with a doggy doctor consult.
Your dog might usually like playing hide and seek, but if it's whimpering at the back of closets or in concealed nooks, you'll need to look into the chasm between the two behaviors.
Is there an external stimulus you can remove? Or is your dog simply avoiding the company of pets and people it normally likes? The latter may indicate a mental health issue.
If your dog displays one or more of these behaviors or experiences some of these lifestyle changes, there's a good chance they're depressed or bored. To be on the safe side, you should talk to your vet.
An animal health professional will be able to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to such a dramatic shift in mood and activity levels.
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