Home > Dog Behavior, Health Care - Dogs, Pet Safety > Is your dog mentally ill? Maybe.

Is your dog mentally ill? Maybe.

Dog Health

My friend Hilary shared this link a while back (The Signs of Mental Illness in Dogs) and I thought it was worth sharing. It’s a piece highlighting a new textbook on canine mental illness and some of the mental illnesses being found in our furry friends.

Reports like these always interest me because they provide insight into a dog’s mind and behavior. They also allow me to be more aware and better educated about dogs in general.

As dog owners, I think we most often attribute dog behavior to the dog or the owner (i.e.,  “bad dog” or “bad owner”), but as this piece demonstrates, sometimes the behavior can be mental illness. I have known some dogs who have suffered a mental illness, I just never realized that so many different types exist.

Among the many illnesses described by the author, Diane Garrod, are:



Unprovoked acts of aggression

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Separation Anxiety or Panic Disorder

Extreme fear

Neurological diseases and disorders

Symptoms vary, but among the ones mentioned are:

Appetite suppression

Aggressive behavior

Increase or decrease in water intake

Stress Hair loss



Accelerated hyperactivity

Garrod also references a new textbook by Dr. Franklin D. McMillan (the Director of Well-Being Studies at Best Friends Animal Society), titled “Mental Health and Well-being in Animals”. Although textbooks aren’t usually my favorite reading material, I have to admit that this one sounded interesting.

One of the statements on the publishing site caught my eye: “Recent research shows convincingly that an animal’s physical health and immune system function are strongly influenced by its mental state.” It makes sense doesn’t it? A dog that is mentally stressed is likely to show it in their physical being as well. A dog that is balanced and happy is less likely to show symptoms, but not always.

Understanding how a dog’s mental health can impact behavior is just as important as understanding how their physical health can impact behavior. I am so glad that now veterinarians and animal behaviorists will have one comprehensive place to find this information. In the end, it benefits us and our dogs.

  1. August 21, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    Is Jersey mentally Ill? Yep. After experimenting with varying doses of Clomicalm, I think that we’ve got it under control. Peace reigns in the household again!

    • Mel
      August 21, 2012 at 10:06 PM

      Oh Karen! I meant to comment on your post when I first read about Jersey’s strange behaviors. I was going to suggest a mental imbalance or possibly the onset of senioritis. I am so glad the Clomicalm is helping. Lady was on that before she went missing – mostly for anxiety. Since she had almost been off it for the full 14 days it takes to leave her system, I decided to see how she would do without it. I was always ready to put her back on if needed, but miraculously, she didn’t. I think she seems to have settled so no Clomicalm! It’s amazing how much it can help isn’t it?

  2. Jen
    August 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    This is intriguing Mel. I joke a lot about Leroy’s mental status but I honestly think that he may have some issues. He’s a great, goofy dog, but some of his tendencies make me question his mental health. Pica, his obsession with licking things, the way his eating habits fluctuate, etc. I mean it defintley could be just him but sometimes I wonder if something’s not right upstairs. I guess some could say the same thing about me, though:)

    • Mel
      August 21, 2012 at 10:01 PM

      I thought so too Jen. Although I think many dogs suffer from Pica (including two of mine). I once had a little guy who used to stay with me and he always had to lick his toy before bed. I think it was a comforting thing to him. I am not sure if it is the same with Leroy, but maybe. At least this piece by Garrod makes us think huh?

      BTW – They could say the same about me. 🙂

  3. August 21, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    You’ve gotten me thinking about this all day.

    In my family, mental illness is similar to other families with diabetes and high blood pressure. it’s a strong genetic tendency.

    And it’s so complex. Because medication can be key to helping people. But mentally ill people also need to exercise some autonomy over their lives to manage their illness. Dogs have very few opportunities to exercise autonomy. And so it’s no wonder we’re seeing incidents of clinical psychological conditions.

    This is definitely something that’s gotten my thinking juices flowing. Thanks for working my brain.

    • Mel
      August 21, 2012 at 9:56 PM

      So happy to help out Pamela! I think my family has a lot of genetic issues,mental illness among them. I think many people don’t think of pets having a mental illness. I know I didn’t know anything about this for a very long time. That’s why this piece interested me. I’ll be interested to see what your creative juices come up with. 🙂

  4. August 24, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    I have been saving this for a time when I had time to really read it. My mom has a dog that I have sworn for many years is mentally ill. She’s a Sheltie, and we had several Shelties growing up. When you look at her, you can see it. There’s something about her eyes that isn’t right. She was turned in to a shelter by the first family that had her because she bit the mom and the daughter. She’s also bitten my mom so badly that she has required medical attention several times. I keep praying that the dog dies before my mom and stepdad, because I don’t want to inherit her. I could go down the whole list of all her insane symptoms, but it would be a novel.

  5. Daniel Eagle
    August 30, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Help!!! My collie poppy I think has some mental problems?!! She is so aggressive towards other dogs, mainly strangers, and also people, me and my partner have another dog and she is very aggressive towards him, and he is only a small dog, she will pin him on the floor and growl at him and really go mental at him even biting!!! He is so scared he will pee:( This can be unprovoked and at anytime, an example is that they both use the same room to sleep in and poppy will pin him down in there?? It can also happen when there is a lot of people around like she is fighting for attention, and if you try to intervine she goes even more crazy!!! she is 5 and all ways been like this, but me and my partner have a 6 month old baby and she did it near to him the other day and this is where it becomes a problem, we are stuck with what to do, any help or advise would be so grateful, thanks

    • Mel
      August 31, 2013 at 10:56 PM

      Hi Daniel. I am sorry I am just responding now. I’ve been sick for a few days. It’s hard to tell from your description if your Collie is aggressive, fearful aggressive, fearful, a resource guarder, etc. My recommendation would be to take him to a certified animal behaviorist. Even to speak with one would be a good idea. I imagine you are afraid for the baby and for you and your partner. Your description makes me nervous too. If it really has become as dangerous as you say, I would take action immediately to get in contact with one. I’m always stuck on situations like this because I know the urgency you feel and I don’t want a child to be hurt, but without enough information I don’t know what the best option will be. That’s why having an expert to help out is best.

      By the way, a great resource for both you and your partner is http://familypaws.com/our-programs/

      Good luck and please let me know if there is some way I can help further.

  6. Ruslan Nunez
    February 27, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    I found a stray Chi hua hua .Everything was all fine and dandy then out of the blue he started acting strangely. Almost as if he is in a trace .becoming stiff legged and clumsy ,.I suffer along with him as he is my little buddy. He lets loud cries as if he has been stepped on and then becomes paranoid and introverted .Usually he’s all Mr. lovey then poof it begins again.

  7. August 23, 2014 at 1:40 AM

    Something is definitely wrong with this chi hua hua, I found her in a cage at the store abandoned obviously. She was terrified and skittish with any movement I or my roommate made. Forget about trying to touch her, that was NOT gonna happen. I finally got her out on the patio to her cage where she NEVER left out of it until she had to eat, even peed and doo doo in the cage. when she would come out to feed, it would be a morsel taken and runs back into the cage. I left her outside on the patio all night because she wasn’t gonna make any contact anyway, I opened the door and she runs in and immediately peed, I went to get something to clean that up and soon as I came back in the room, she started to doo doo as well, after being out ALL night. The next day she found a way to swizzle her way out of the gate and stayed away till she was hungry and then runs off again, VERY STRANGE acting animal, VERY STRANGE, reminded my of a rat or mouse, enough sense to know where to come and eat, but doesn’t know where to doo doo at, like outside, upsetting to know what ever happened that lead to that behavior, really creepy, never barked or made a sound in 5 days before I kicked it to the curb, don’t have money to take that retard to a pyche dr., too bad.

  8. May 8, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    We have a mini Pincher named Nero who is about three years old . He’s always been a high stressed dog but lately his odd behavior is starting to worry me . We left the house the other day leaving him and our other dog alone together inside a few hours .When we came back Nero was shaking and hiding in our closet and wouldn’t come out , no matter how much we tried ,, we even offered his favorite treat,, but he wouldn’t budge .Its been about three days now since then and he still hasn’t fully recovered from what ever happened.He still wont eat, he’s still shaking and he”s been growling at our other dog, a lot . He no longer greets us at the door and he wont come when we call him like he always used to do . He’s always been highly sensitive all his life , the least little thing has caused him to hide under the bed all day long,, but this new behavior really takes the cake .What ever is wrong with his mind seems to be getting worse as he grows older . I can only guess they had some sort of fight while we were away , but our other dog is fine, happy and acting completely normal while the sky is falling on Nero.. Its very puzzling . Our dogs are of opposite sex but about the same size in weight and height ,, the female is a Maltipoo 13 months old . I guess its time to take Nero into see a Doggy shrink ,, its about all I can think of at this point .

  9. Terrie
    May 25, 2015 at 6:49 AM

    My 2 year old rottie has suddenly for no reason has turned aggressive he was a sweet loving boy who just wanted to cuddle now I don’t know this dog that I have raise since he was 2 months old could he suffer from mental illness. We are currently working with a trainer & at times we see progress also he has a birth defect in his hind legs that makes him walk awkwardly the vet has assured me that he his not in any pain from this nor will it affect his quality of life at this age. Please help I don’t know what to do any more

  10. Yeshani
    October 25, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    My 2 months old Troby has a little bigger head. But it seems completely fine with his appearance.But we saw a bit difference in his eyes. He is not blind. Doctor said he has a problem in one side of his brain. I’m not working right now. How shall I do treatments? I’m really worried. And I need to know whether I can recover him. And what will happen to him when he grows up? He is still a little one. Please help me.

  11. Elleen Doyle
    August 5, 2017 at 11:04 PM

    I’m trying to find out how to tell if a puppy has a mental problem

  1. August 24, 2012 at 7:20 AM

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