Can animals have depression? (& 5 reasons why)

In this article, we will be answering the question, “ can animals have depression?, a brief about depression and it’s major symptoms, depression in animals, causes of depression in animals, treatment strategies for depression in animals and finally some frequently asked questions in regards to the topic.

Can animals have depression?

Yes, animals can have depression because:

  • They feel low when separated from their loved ones including their family
  • There are imbalance in their neurochemical and hormones
  • When parted from their masters and owner, they do feel depressed.
  • Keeping them in captivity, make them feel restricted and overcontrolled
  • They exhibit depression-like behaviour such as insomnia, low mood, self-harming behaviour and lack of social interaction
  • They tend to self harm in a severe case of low mood


Depression is believed to be the key cause of disability around the world. It is a mood disorder characterised by the feeling of persistent and prolonged low mood, sadness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities: anhedonia, feeling down and low throughout the day, weeks and months. 

Although the feeling of sadness and loss of pleasure is familiar and a normal feeling to every one of us, depression is something that persists and causes severe impairment in an individual’s life. It can affect people from any age group ranging from children, adolescent, adult and geriatric population.

The duration of depressive episodes differs and varies from each individual wherein, for some cases, it lasts for about 2 weeks while in others it might persist for months and years.

Symptoms of Depression

Despite Depression being a mood disorder and causing severe impairment in the individual, there are other associated effects of depression in the everyday functioning of the individual. 

It can take a toll on one’s psychological health, physical health, job performance, social relation and overall well-being. 

The three noting symptoms of Depression are:

  • Fatigability, tiredness and feeling of exhaustion
  • Anhedonia, loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Depressed mood or prolonged sadness

Some of the other signs and symptoms of Depression are:

  • Sustained and prolonged depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities or those that one enjoys doing
  • Loss of sexual drives
  • Fluctuations in body weight
  • Disruption in sleep cycle resulting in insomnia and hypersomnia
  • Muscle agitation, restlessness and twitches
  • Disruption and disturbance in speech
  • Fatigue and low energy in performing daily task
  • A feeling of worthlessness and excessive guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts on death, suicide and attempts for suicide.
  • Impairment in concentration and attention

These are some of the major signs and symptoms of Depression. The severity and the interference of these symptoms differ and varied individually owing to other underlying reasons.

Animal and Depression

Humans are predisposed or gifted with the language that allows us to communicate our feelings and describe our thoughts to others. And we understand each other’s thought processes as well as their moods and emotions, however, in case of an animal, there is no such language that would help us in communicating with them. Moreover, there is a lack of shared language between the two thus, we humans project our own feelings and thoughts to the animals.

Many mammals often exhibit symptoms of depression such as disrupted appetite, lethargy, compulsive behaviour and in severe cases, do harm themselves.

Humans are diagnosed with depression based on the set of criteria and conditions laid by the American Psychiatric Association as well as the World Health Organisation. But in the case of animals despite the symptom, due to their failure in communicating the symptoms, it is often hard to share it and for diagnoses too.

Causes of Depression in Animal

It is not always that mental illnesses only hit humans, there are numbers of animals suffering from mental health-related disorders and it is also supported by research findings.

Some of the major reasons behind depression, anxiety or any kind of mental health-related disorders are:

Animals often develop depression due to the separation from their owner. Having to spend time alone away from their masters and owner evokes extreme sadness and development of abnormal behaviours that can really be stressful for them such as scratching themselves, eating the door etc. These are the behaviour that needs to be taken care of since it is a milder version of psychiatric disorders needing proper treatment and professional help. 

When animals or pets lose their companions and are separated from them, they develop extreme sadness and the loss is too deep for them resulting in a prolonged recovery process and some even die during the course of recovery.

Loss of freedom especially for animals in the zoo is the leading cause of mental health-related illnesses. And those animals who were in captivity often develop depression.

Trauma and Abuse might result in depression and other stress disorders like post-traumatic stress disorders in animals. It is evident especially in chimpanzees who were kept isolated for the purpose of laboratory-related research and trapped for any kind of illegal trade and businesses. 

Stressful events and isolation leave a severe impact and consequences on the animal. Research done on parrots housed alone and in pairs has shown that those who are housed alone suffered from significant damage.

Social Deprivation has also resulted in severe impact and mark for the animals in terms of their growth as well as health.

Indicators of Depression in Animal

There are some aspects of depression and it’s symptoms that are measured and can be observed in animals. 

One core indicator of depression in the animal is Anhedonia, which is the loss of interest in pleasurable activities that they enjoy doing in a normal mood. The level of interest shown is experimented via food intake and motivation for sexual activity. 

Other than that, their interaction with other animals, sleep cycle and daytime activities are noted.

Another indicator of depression in an animal is their level of arousal or how quickly they get out or react when exposed to stressful and threatening situations.

An experienced animal trainer can often make whether the animal is depressed or not through their emotional behaviour. Their emotional reaction and behaviour are similar to humans which gives us enough hints about their mood.

In the case of an animal, depression-like behaviour is used over depression wherein, the observation is based upon their facial expression and behaviour. 

Can an animal with depression be treated?

Since depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry as well as in the brain structure, humans and animals share a similar brain structure. Animals can be depressed and be treated with antidepressants too.

Hormonal imbalance in the human causes depression similarly, the case is with animals. 

Antidepressants work by restoring the imbalance in the brain as well as improving their mood and when antidepressants were given to the animals, it does help in restoring the imbalance of hormones in the animal and a significant improvement in their mood was noticed.

At times animals with mental disorders don’t make it wild and they don’t receive treatment and care like humans battling with mental health disorders do. Animals fail to perform their tasks to the level best due to their underlying mental health issues and consequently, survive for a shorter period of time.

Treatment strategies for animal with depression

There are different treatment strategies for animals battling mental health issues. Although it is difficult for diagnosing animals with mental health disorders unlike humans, there are various measures and methods that can be used to track the mood and feelings of the animal and to diagnose them accordingly.

Some of the treatment strategies are:

  • Keeping the animal or pet engaged and occupied.
  • Allowing them to do more of tasks that are of their interest and something that they like to do.
  • Giving them time for physical exercise and workout
  • Using reinforcements such as rewards when they produce a desirable behaviour.
  • A small joy and happiness shared or shown by the pet can be rewarded.
  • Behaviours shown by the animal that are negative and are signs of depression shouldn’t be given much attention and focus. Doing so will result in repetitive negative behaviour.
  • Getting an animal company or taking the animal out to meet their same species can elevate their mood.
  • Animals with depression can be treated with prozac, paxil and zoloft.
  • Clomicalm is also an approved drug treatment for animals suffering from anxiety as well as depression.
  • Identifying any kind of behavioural change and problem with theirs should be identified before it escalates into a severe disorder.
  •  Behavioural Modification
  • Enriching the environment of the animal can help them deal and combat the depressive symptoms such as adding other animal species and support, enhancing the space of the animal etc.

These are some of the treatment strategies for animals battling with depression and anxiety. It is often found through research that much of the problem of animals can be treated and are treated before it gets severe and serious. Environmental Enrichment and Behavioural modification are most commonly used for the treatment of depression in animals, while in case of medication such as antidepressant, it takes about two months to see the effect. Much of the animals recover from depression and depression related behaviour within six to twelve months. 

FAQs: Can animals have depression?

Why are zoo animals depressed?

It was shown through lab studies that animals in captivities or zoos are more depressed since they are separated from their family and are kept under control. They tend to feel lonely and isolated.

Do other animals experience depression?

Yes, animals like cat, dogs are the most common pets and they exhibit depression-like behaviour. Other than that, animals like coate, rodent, and primates are also susceptible to depression.

Do animals suffer from mental illness?

Yes, animals do suffer from mental illnesses except that they don’t show their symptoms like humans and seek treatments.

What are the two main causes of depression?

Major causes of depression are abuse in the past such as physical or sexual, certain medication and it’s side effects, conflict and death or loss of someone close and significant. 

Do animals die faster in zoos?

Yes, animals in zoos tend to die prematurely.


In this article, we have answered the question, “ can animals have depression?, a brief about depression and it’s major symptoms, depression in animals, causes of depression in animals, treatment strategies for depression in animals and finally some frequently asked questions in regards to the topic.


Froats, L. (2017). Can animals show us how to treat depression in humans? discover.

Puiu, T. (2016). Can animals get depressed too? ZME Science.

Villazon, L. (2019). Do animals get depressed? science focus.

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