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Post operative depression in dogs

Help! My Dog Seems Depressed After Having Surgery. Is This Normal?  

Dogs who’ve recently had surgery often appear a bit down in the dumps after returning home. This concerns many owners, who don’t know if the problem is serious or what to do to cheer up their pet.

We’ll try to help you understand post-operative depression below and explain some of the most common symptoms of depression, so you know what to look for. We’ll also provide you with a few tips for putting a bit of pep back in your pooch’s step.

Why Do Dogs Become Depressed After Surgery?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons dogs may become depressed after surgery, but it is likely due to a combination of the following factors:

 Physical Discomfort

Dogs will often be in a bit of pain or discomfort following a surgery. This alone is enough to trigger mild depression in some pups. Be sure to talk to your vet if you think your dog is in pain – your vet may be able to prescribe medications to keep your dog more comfortable while he heals.  

 Hormonal Changes

Hormones play a large role in your dog’s emotional state, and when surgical procedures disrupt your pet’s hormone levels, depression often follows. Dogs who’ve been spayed or neutered are the most likely to suffer hormonally triggered depression, thanks to the removal of their reproductive organs.

 Reactions to Medications

The medications used during and after surgery may cause your dog to feel depressed. This not only includes the anesthesia medications used during the procedure, but the medications you come home with too.

 The Stress of the Experience

Stress alone can trigger depression, and surgery can be a very stressful experience for your pet. Having to go into the vet’s office, being poked and prodded by the staff, and then having to recover in a lonely kennel until mom or dad returns can overwhelm a dog and trigger a depressive episode.

 The Cone of Shame

Dogs occasionally need to wear an E-cone or E-collar to prevent them from licking their surgical wounds. Dogs often hate wearing these devices, and they may become mildly depressed while being forced to do so.   

How Long Does Post-Operative Depression Last?

Different dogs will suffer from depression for different lengths of time, but most dogs probably start to feel normal again after a few days or weeks. The duration of the depression will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of procedure performed, your dog’s mental state before the surgery, and his age.

As long as your dog’s depression appears to be easing over time, and it doesn’t seem to be getting worse, there’s likely no cause for concern. Just call your vet, explain the symptoms you are observing, and heed the advice provided.

dog depression following operation

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Dogs

It’s usually pretty easy to tell when your dog is depressed. In fact, depressed dogs often exhibit many of the same symptoms depressed people do. Each dog is an individual, but most depressed pups will exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Appetite changes
  • Food refusal
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Inability to sleep
  • Withdrawal
  • Reduced activity
  • Loss of interest in things he normally enjoys

Note that while depression is rarely dangerous for dogs, and it will often resolve itself with time, it is important to ensure that your dog isn’t suffering from some other malady.

For example, dogs suffering from arthritis or hip dysplasia may become withdrawn and less active than normal because of the pain they’re experiencing. At other times, the depression may be linked to a hormonal problem or an underlying illness, such as diabetes, which will require treatment.

So, while you needn’t load the pooch in the car and race over to the vet because he is acting a bit blue, you should seek veterinary assistance if your dog isn’t able to snap out of the depression within a few days. Additionally, you’ll want to contact your vet if your dog exhibits any signs not associated with depression – such as skin or coat problems, intestinal distress, or obvious pain.

Tips for Cheering Up Your Pup

There are a variety of things you can do to help cheer up your pet and help him feel like his old self. Some of the most effective include:

Engage in Activities Your Dog Likes

This is the simplest solution to doggie depression: Just do some stuff he likes doing.

If your dog likes to play fetch, go play fetch. If he likes to swim, head down to the pool (or whip up a dog-friendly pool in the backyard if he can’t move too much post-surgery). If he likes going on car rides, then gas up the car and go for a drive. Essentially, anything that gets his tail wagging should help ease the depression.  

Just be sure to obtain your vet’s blessing before engaging in any vigorous activities, as some surgical procedures will require you to keep your dog calm and quiet while he heals. You may still be able to play a bit, but you’ll probably need to keep things pretty relaxed (check out a few creative solutions for stimulating post-op pets here).

 Get Social

Spending some time with other dogs often helps dispirited pooches snap out of depressive episodes. This obviously won’t work with all dogs, as some don’t seem to like palling around with other dogs as much as others. But dogs who are social butterflies will often respond favorably to a trip to the local dog park.

Just be sure to use caution when letting your dog have some social time after a surgery. Dogs may become a bit more irritable than normal following an operation, so keep an eye on your pooch and make sure that he plays nicely with others.

 Spend More Time with Your Pet

Some dogs simply need more attention from mom or dad following a surgery. You may want to move your dog’s bed closer to the places you spend lots of time, or you may need to make more time for play. It may even be a good idea to work from home for a few days, if that’s possible in your situation.

If you rely on the services of a dog walker, you may want to schedule more frequent (or lengthy) visits. Dogs often bond strongly with their walkers, and this can help perk them up too.

 Increase the Amount of Exercise He Gets

Exercise is one of the best ways to help your pup feel better. So, assuming your vet gives you the green light, get out there with your dog and be active. Exercise not only triggers the release of endorphins, which will help improve your dog’s mood, but it’ll also help wear him out, which may help regulate his sleep cycle.

Just be sure to increase the amount of exercise he gets gradually, so he doesn’t overexert himself or suffer an injury.

depressed dog after surgery

Medications: When Nothing Else Works

Although most dogs who suffer from post-operative surgery begin feeling better pretty quickly, some dogs may suffer from a prolonged bout of depression. In such cases, consider speaking with your veterinarian about medications that may help your four-footed friend feel better.

Your vet may prescribe a common canine-friendly antidepressant or antianxiety medication originally developed for humans, such as Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft. These medications are often quite effective, although they may take several weeks to begin generating results.

***

Ultimately, postoperative depression isn’t much different than depression arising from other causes. Just try to do your best to comfort your pooch and mix up your routine a bit to help drag him out of his despondent state. With luck, he’ll be back to his old self in no time.

Has your dog ever suffered from post-operative depression? How did you help him feel better? Do you have any helpful tips you can share? Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below.

About the Author Ben Team

Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.

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