The Wanderer.

How to Recognize Dog Mental Illness

July 24, 2019

All dog owners want to help their dogs when they show signs of distress or being injured. And, like humans, dogs can also suffer from mental illness.

The problem is, it's hard to know when your pup is suffering mentally. The only way you can learn if your dog is experiencing psychological problems is by noticing changes from normal behavior.

Here are some common mental issues dogs deal with along with steps you can take to help them through their trauma.

Before Anything Else, Make Sure You Rule Out Other Factors

Before you make any changes to your dog's lifestyle or assume that they have a mental illness, be sure that their behavior is not a result of changes to their physical life.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you made any changes to your dog's food or feeding schedule, medication, or supplements?
  • Have you made any other changes to their lifestyle? Has there been a change in the frequency of walking, a change in where they sleep, or a new grooming schedule?
  • Have you added a new dog or a new person to your household?

All these changes could affect the way your dog behaves.

Past Trauma and Changes to Routine Affect Your Dog’s Mental Health

Like humans, dogs react to the world based on what has happened to them in the past. Also, dogs love routine, so if there has been a change in their routine, this could also bring on confusion or anxiety. This, in turn, is reflected in their activity and the way they react to you and other people around them.


Dogs experience anxiety for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Separation anxiety. If you've changed your schedule, your dog could be missing you. This can even occur if there are other people in your household. Many dogs show favor to one person, and they are affected if that person suddenly isn’t around as often as usual.
  • Food anxiety. Dogs can develop anxiety if there is a change in their feeding time or type of food.
  • Environmental stress. A change in neighborhood or home environment can also affect their attitude. For example, if you recently moved or had an increase in startling noise (such as fireworks or traffic) this can affect your pup’s mood.

In each of these scenarios, the best cure might be time. Allow your dog to get used to the new schedule and environment. It could take up to two weeks for them to get used to their new routine.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect your dog’s temperament. Usually PTSD is caused by prior exposure to traumatic events. Current events can trigger stress and cause uncharacteristic reactions.

For example, if a dog has been previously abused and something occurs that reminds them of this abuse, they can react abnormally because of PTSD. Other possible causes of PTSD include:

  • Sharper loud noises
  • Prior dog fights
  • Traumatic accidents
  • Seeing an owner in distress

The best way to approach this is to calm your dog when they react to the stressors. Try soothing them with a calm voice and holding them until the situation passes.

Sudden Antisocial Behavior

If your dog suddenly begins exhibiting antisocial behavior, it could be a result of mental issues. This can be triggered by things like:

This is certainly a trying time for you and your family. The best way to solve this is to introduce the new member of the family gradually to the dog and to demonstrate your affection for the new family member in the dog's presence.

Also, show affection for the dog in front of the new person. This lets him know he is still part of the ‘pack.’

If you try these steps and nothing seems to help, consult your veterinarian. Your dog’s attitude could be a reaction to an unseen physical injury. Your vet can diagnose the issue and offer additional steps for relief.