Veterinarians can help dog owners not only with their pets' physical diseases and sicknesses, but also with psychological disorders. Dogs can develop symptoms of very human psychological disorders, like depression, separation anxiety, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Here is an introduction to these three common canine issues.


Many pet owners are shocked to hear that their beloved dogs can, like people, suffer from depression. Veterinarians are uncertain if dogs can actually be diagnosed as depressed, but most agree that, in certain situations, there is no other explanation for a solemn dog's behavior.

A dog suffering from depression will act in ways very similar to a human diagnosed with depression. Some symptoms of depression in dogs are:

  • Increased sleeping patterns;
  • Decreased enthusiasm and energy;
  • Listlessness and lack of interest in things that the dog normally enjoys, like play and food;
  • Changes in eating habits; and
  • Sullen, solitary behavior and lack of interest in interacting with its owners or other animals.

There are many reasons why a dog might develop depression. Changes in the dog's environment, like a move, new owners, or new baby, might trigger depression. It is also possible that the dog is picking up on its owner's psychological state; the bond between a dog and its owner is very strong, and if a dog is close to its owner, it might react to its owner's depression with its own canine form of depression.

The best way to help a dog with depression is with attention and love, but not to the point of coddling or rewarding the behavior. In severe cases, a veterinarian will place the dog on an antidepressant prescription regimen; surprisingly, many of the same antidepressants that effectively treat human depression can also lessen the symptoms of dog depression.

Separation Anxiety

Some dogs develop a very strong fear of being left alone; this condition is known as "separation anxiety." A dog with separation anxiety will behave badly when its owner is absent. Some examples of the kinds of behaviors that a dog will exhibit when its owner leaves include:

  • Excessive barking;
  • Chewing and destroying property;
  • Self-destructive activities, like excessive licking or scratching;
  • Having accidents when the dog is otherwise housebroken; and
  • Digging.

A dog has an increased risk of developing separation anxiety if it was previously abused, abandoned, or improperly confined for long periods of time. Owners sometimes inadvertently reward this kind of behavior. For example, an over-the-top greeting upon the owner's return will make a big deal of the owner's absence, and returning every time that the dog barks or misbehaves will reward the bad actions. 

An owner can help a dog with separation anxiety by slowly introducing the animal to the owner's absence, and not making a big deal of the departure or arrival.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Like people, dogs can also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. A dog suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder when it engages in repetitive behaviors, like licking to the point of the skin becoming raw, or chewing excessively. Veterinarians believe that some breeds are more genetically predisposed to obsessive-compulsive disorders, which suggests that the problem is often chemical in nature, and not likely treatable by training alone. 

Sometimes, environmental factors also bring about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder is common in dogs that have been abused or neglected, and owners often inadvertently reward the bad behaviors. Talk to your veterinarian, such as Windsor Veterinary Clinic PC, if you think your dog exhibits any of these behaviors.