Guild of Shepherds & Collies

Clinical Depression in Herding Breed Dogs


Herding Breeds are at Risk for Clinical Depression - Know the Signs, Symptoms and Treatment Options

clinical depressionDepression doesn’t discriminate when it comes to your capable canine companions. When you think about depression affecting dogs, you typically wouldn’t  think ‘herding breed dogs’. They are happy when busy and busy when happy. Herding breed dogs are always on the move, tackling missions, and basically thriving in their no-nonsense world.

Can’t you just picture your herding dog ticking off the items on his/her to-do list? “Let’s see…

Round up sheep, check. Keep puppies in line, check. Race around the perimeter of the back pasture, check. Round up sheep in round two, check.”

Unfortunately, keeping busy and working like a dog doesn’t keep herding breeds from succumbing to the darkness of depression. Even though these dogs are happy doing what they were created to do, life can get in the way and they, too, can develop depression - canine depression.

What Symptoms Should I Look For?

Many symptoms of canine depression are similar to those that humans experience. You’ll notice more inactivity, a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, a general detachment, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns - dogs may sleep more, as well as either overeat or have little to no interest in food. Consequently, it is very unlikely that your herding breed dog will continue to show interest in his/her job.

It’s important to note these symptoms are very vague and generalized, and may not always be representative of depression, but rather of a medical condition. We’ll talk further about possible medical conditions later.

Thankfully, because dogs wear their heart on their tail, it’s easier to decipher what’s going on inside their furry little heads. A dog’s tail language tells their tales better than anything and offers great insight into their moods and general, overall well-being.

Specific to canines, a depressed dog may also exhibit the following behaviors:

  • continually licking their paws as a way of comforting themselves
  • restlessness or an inability to get comfortable, in order to rest well
  • depressed tail - tail continually hangs low
  • accidents in the house

What Causes Depression in Herding Dogs?

Canine depression is generally caused by an underlying medical condition or an environmental change. If, however, neither of those are to blame and your once happy-go-herding herder continues to struggle, then your canine companion might be suffering from a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Medical Conditions

Unfortunately, there are a variety of medical conditions in which symptoms mimic those of depression in dogs, such as pain and infections, diabetes, tumors, arthritis, thyroid imbalances, and even having parasites - all can be at the root of depressed feelings in a dog. Think about it - experiencing any one of these conditions can have a significant effect on anyone, furry or otherwise.

So, first thing’s first - always rule out the possibility of a medical cause. A visit to your veterinarian always makes good sense. At the first sign of any abnormal behavior, whether it be medical or behavioral in nature, always warrants a check-up from your veterinarian. Once your dog has received a clean bill of health, then it’s time to look into other causes for their depressed state.

Environmental Changes

Major life changes, just like in human beings, can have dogs barking the blues. Losses within your family, whether it be human or furry, are the most common and are emotionally taxing on your dog.  Dogs, as you know, are pack animals that form strong bonds with their family pack, including people as well as other four-legged siblings. Just like us, dogs grieve when a beloved friend dies or permanently moves away.

Other environmental changes that can affect yourdog are moves; a move to a new house, a move to a much smaller apartment, a move to the city from the country, etc., can all cause great confusion, wariness and depression in your once happy-herdy, tail-waggin’ dog. Any additions to your family, whether it be a new baby, an adopted child, or having someone stay with you for a long period of time are also major environmental triggers for your dog. And, just like us, as the sweet summer transforms into the cooler, darker autumn and winter seasons, dogs can feel the effects of less sunlight. Yes, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can also be responsible for your dog feeling down. With patience and time though, you should be able to help your dog adapt to these new situations.

Clinical Depression

However, if your herding dog has not shown marked improvement after you’ve addressed any environmental and medical issues, then it’s time to seek the advice of your veterinarian.

There is debate in the world of veterinary medicine as to the validity of clinical depression in dogs. While it may be severe, can it be considered clinical? In humans, as part of the diagnosis process, doctors interact with their patients and ask deeply probing questions regarding their feelings - a diagnostic tool that veterinarians are without. As a result, some veterinarians feel that the key to a clinical diagnosis is candid dialogue.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, are those veterinarians that feel canines can indeed develop clinical depression. Back in the 1800’s, Charles Darwin made the astute suggestion that dogs, like people, experience similar emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear, obsessive and compulsive actions, anger and yes, depression. Thankfully, research into this complex field is growing and scientists are discovering more similarities between human and canine neurotransmitters or chemicals within the brain that send signals to the body - signals to feel happy, sad, anxious, and depressed, etc. This research is paving the way to more effective and more canine-specific help.

Treatment Options

Treatment can be as simple as offering your dog a little supportive care, spending quality time with them, or simply by taking regular walks and getting a little fresh air. Sitting with your dog and gently massaging his/her back and neck can go a long way in relieving the pain of depression and simple loneliness.

In the case of SAD, brighten up the house with added light - it just may lift your spirits, too!

There are a variety of all-natural products to revitalize your dog’s happy-go-herding spirits. Homeopathic and herbal remedies can help relieve depression without any of the negative side effects that are more common with prescription drugs. Prior to adding any herbal supplements or essential oils to your herding breed dog’s food or body, always consult your veterinarian.

Lastly, if your unhappy herder is still struggling, a visit to your veterinarian is wise. In fact, another similarity between depression in humans and canines is the drugs used to treat the condition. Enter, Prozac. Prozac is now available in a newly created, dog-friendly variation. Kudos to the manufacturer!

Preventative Measures

Knowledge is clearly powerful. By knowing what causes depression in dogs, you’re already a giant step ahead in preventing it.

Prevention is a natural benefit that comes from knowing your dog well and by knowing what to be on the lookout for. Committing to an established, daily routine is just what the veterinarian ordered. A healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise, stimulating job assignments and plenty of quality time with their family, is like a sheep-roundup marathon to any herding breed dog.

Happy-Go-Herding Once Again!

Thankfully, herding breeds - and all dogs in general - tend to recover from a bout of depression fairly quickly. Yay! Play it by ear though, and take your dog’s lead when it comes to getting back into the swing of things.


Resources and Further Reading:


Article By: Karen Doll


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