What Are Signs My Dog Has A Mental Health Illness?

Written by: Thea Raymond-Sidel

April 18, 2019

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Note: As always, make sure you check with a professional veterinarian if you notice any big changes in your dog’s behavior and/or habits!

Dogs are just like us, both in good ways and bad. And like humans, they can develop mental illnesses that may impede their ability to live healthy, happy lives. And just like their owners, there might come a time when your dog could use some therapy.

Laurel Braitman, author of Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves, has provided us with some red flags. If your pup is exhibiting some of these behaviors, it’s time to get a second opinion and visit a veterinary behaviorist.

1. What If My Dog Is Chasing Their Own Tail?

Most dogs have experienced the disappointment of failing to catch their own tail, but most eventually give it up as a bad job. If your pup has developed a habit of chasing it for hours, it may be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety.

2. What If My Dog Is Sleeping More Than Usual?

Great Dane and Dalmatian Taking Up Bed

Many dogs slow down with age and may start sleeping more as a result. However, if your dog is still young, or has recently been extremely lethargic, this may be a sign of canine depression (yes, that is a thing!).

Oversleeping can also be a symptom of other health problems in your dog, including diabetes and some infectious diseases, so you should definitely get them checked out.

3. What If My Dog Isn’t Interested In Food?

Pomeranian Being Served Dog Treats

Some dogs just eat less than the recommended amount on your dog food, and that’s fine—those amounts are only averages. However, if you notice an extreme drop in your pup’s appetite, this could be a sign of depression or anxiety, too.

4. What If My Dog Is Licking Their Body Raw?

Nervous Golden Retriever Licking Lips

If your dog is compulsively licking a spot on their body, and you’ve ruled out physical injury (or the injury in that spot has already healed), you could be looking at a manifestation of your dog’s anxiety. While no one likes the “cone of shame” (we once knew a dog named Winston who would take it off and hide it from his owners behind a boulder in his yard), your dog could really harm their skin by excessive licking.

5. What If My Dog Has Lost Their Canine Buddy?

Little White Dog

Losing a pet is a difficult time for any family, but your other dogs will likely experience grief too, especially if they were very close. If your dog seems to eat less, sleep more, or exhibit strange behaviors, it could be time for some therapy to help them get through losing their buddy.

6. What If My Dog Has Lost Their Human Buddy?

Pimm Terrier Dog

Just as dogs become attached to their furry friends, they also become attached to the humans in their lives. If your dog seems to be grieving for a lost member of the family, you might want to see a behaviorist. But also offer them support like you would any other family member—spend some one-on-one time with your pup, and make sure you keep a regular walking and feeding schedule to minimize their anxiety.

7. What If My Dog Gets Anxious In The City?

Yorkie Dog In The CIty

Even as humans living in cities, we can experience fear and sensory overload on the street. Imagine how terrifying it must be to be a dog in Manhattan! But if your dog seems overly anxious and uncomfortable when they should be used to their surroundings, it’s time to make sure their nervousness isn’t a manifestation of a deeper anxiety.

8. What If My Dog’s Thundershirt Has Stopped Working?

A Thundershirt (or Thundercap) is meant to damp down a dog’s visual stimuli in stressful situations, so that they can remain calm in loud or trafficky places. If your dog is using a Thundercap or Thundershirt and has suddenly reverted back to behaviors like loud barking or aggression in stressful situations, it’s time to get him checked out.

9. What If My Dog’s Tail Doesn’t Wag Anymore?

Irish Wolfhound

There is no better way to judge a dog’s mood than to read its body language. We all know that a wagging tail is a good sign, but what if your pup, who usually has a tail like a wind turbine, won’t wag? Many dog breeds experience sprained tail syndrome, which usually means that a tail has been overexerted and goes limp; this will usually heal itself in a few days. If they can wag but refuse, it may be a sign of canine depression.

10. Can My Dog Get Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Bassett Hound with dog chew

Yes, your pup can suffer from SAD, too!

Most humans know the experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the “Winter Blues”, a depression and lethargy that comes on when the days get colder and darker. If you fear that your dog is experiencing SAD, you can try to change your walk schedule and your pup’s sleeping spot to maximize whatever light there is in February.

11. What If My Dog Chases Their Own Shadow?

Not unlike habitual tail-chasing, this is an example of obsessive behavior. Usually, your dog either needs more mental stimulation (especially in very intelligent breeds) or is insecure about something. Either way, you should see a behaviorist if your dog chases shadows for hours or forgoes more enjoyable opportunities—like a ball, or food, or a walk—for their obsession.

12. What If My Dog Exhibits Reactivity/Aggression?

Yellow lab baring teeth

This really should be a no-brainer. Dogs that exhibit aggression are not “bad” dogs, but you need to make sure that your dog is not a danger to other dogs, other humans, or you. Aggression, like obsessive behaviors, is usually a manifestation of insecurity, and a doggie therapist can help you find the cause so that your dog and you can cohabitate happily and safely.

13. What If My Dog Eats Towels/T-Shirts?

Dachshund Chewing Plush Toy

Your dog is not a goat! Though puppies may chew things in your home because they don’t know they shouldn’t, if an adult dog suddenly begins eating through your sock drawer, it’s probably a symptom of a compulsive disorder. Your dog likes, and should want, good food, and if he’s eating other things in your house instead, it’s a problem for both of you.

14. How Do I Know If My Dog Needs Training?

Happy Pit Bull

As recent studies have shown, though different dog breeds have different temperaments and tendencies, individual incidences of aggression are likely to depend little on the breed and a lot more on its owner and its environment. Take a training class, if you haven’t already, to make sure that you aren’t inadvertently worsening any aggressive behaviors with your body language or tone.

15. Is My Dog Sad Because I Am?

Noodle the Pug

Other studies have shown that dogs respond uniquely to human sadness, and may actually respond to and empathize with your pain. No, our dogs are not mind readers, but any dog owner knows that their pup always takes cues from your mood and tone.

For example, if your dog is nipping at your shoelace and you laugh-scold “No!”, they make take your cue from the laugh and not the “No”. Similarly, if your dog seems sad, they may be responding to you if you’re feeling down in the dumps. See if you can’t cheer each other up, and if that doesn’t work, see if some professional help won’t do the trick.

16. Any Other Tips For Helping My Dog?

You know your dog best. Trust your gut. If you see something that’s erratic or out of character, especially if it could endanger you or others, go ask a veterinary behaviorist for help! Just like when humans have emotional or psychological issues, a dog’s behavioral problems will often worsen when ignored. They’re still the pup you love, but they need some extra care – and if all else fails, the doggie psychiatrist will always have treats!

For more info, be sure to check out the brand new Animal Madness book!

Looking For More Articles Like This?

What Causes Anxiety In Dogs?

7 Undeniable Reasons Dogs Are A Healthy Part Of A Child’s Development

Why Pet Insurance Claims For Pup Mental Health Are Rising

Is Your Dog Sick? Watch For These 10 Common Signs

Are You Accidentally Crushing Your Dog’s Spirit?

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Written by: Thea Raymond-Sidel

April 18, 2019

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