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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Is My Dog Depressed and at Risk for Cancer?

Updated: December 2nd, 2019


Is my dog depressed … and does it REALLY increase my dog’s risk of cancer? Turns out the answers might be “possibly,” and if yes, “definitely.”

In this post, I brought up the fact that chronic stress and depression are linked to cancer development in people.  If we are interested in attacking cancer in dogs, we need to start to look at the big picture for them, too. But I know a lot of you are thinking “Is my dog depressed at all?”

Is My Dog Depressed?

Well, good question. A lot of people would think dogs don’t have much to be stressed or depressed about. Fair point, from the perspective of a human.  Three squares a day, no rent or mortgage … a pretty sweet deal overall, I’d say.

Problem: we are not looking at it from the perspective of a dog.  Dogs have their own needs, and they are different from ours.  Dogs are pack animals.  Translation: they are almost never truly on their own unless they are exiled from the pack.

So, think about what your dog’s life is like, when you go off to work for long periods of time, leaving them behind. It feels a lot like abandonment or exile, particularly for dogs who are the only pet. No wonder they’re so happy when we get back! Sometimes I think their jumping and barking is relief as much as happiness. “Thank goodness you haven’t exiled me!”

It’s possible that some of our dogs actually experience deep despair on a daily basis, just because we live in the west and leave them alone to their own devices!

Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more helpful tools and information to help your dog

Why Stress Matters

So here we have an inborn, genetic trait, violated by modern lifestyles.  Dogs are capable of emotions, as we all know.  Look at a wagging tail or a snarl  and it is quickly obvious this is true.

When a dog is left by himself or herself for long periods, their built-in social needs are not met.  What happens to you or I when we do not get our needs met?  Depression and stress.  How many of us are in search of a mate? How many of us are lonely? How many of us are not happy with our position?

Yes, stress and depression are real in dogs. We don’t need them to start speaking human language in order to understand that. We can just look at their facial expressions!

We may not necessarily see stress and depression in their behavior.  Some dogs may hide their symptoms, just like people do.

But when stress and depression happen — whether we see it or not — critical cancer-fighting cells go dormant.  On top of that, dogs’ bodies release signals (epinephrine and norepinephrine)  that stimulate cancer cell growth directly. This is something to pay attention to!

Don’t worry, if you’re now worried, and asking yourself “is my dog depressed and at risk for cancer?” I will not ask you to give up your job.  There are ways to overcome stress and depression in dogs while living in the modern world.  Stay tuned!

Best to all,

Dr Dressler


Leave a Comment

  1. JCK on September 13, 2022 at 10:43 pm

    I think this post is a disservice for people who are already suffering from pet loss caused by cancer… It will make everyone feel guilty for something that they don’t have control… just go to reddit and see people who pampered their dogs with love, attention, care and homemade food and even tho the dog got sick…
    I was search about dog’s cancer and found this post and now I am extremely depressed and feeling that I may gave caused it… not a good feeling.

    • Molly Jacobson on September 28, 2022 at 1:28 pm

      I’m so sorry you feel that way. It’s certainly not the intention of Dr. Dressler to shame anyone. Dog cancer is such a difficult topic to address because of the many ways we all feel so connected to our dogs. Thank you for the reminder that we should always be careful to include plenty of disclaimers about how cancer is never, ever, EVER the fault of the dog lover. It’s too complex an illness, and too many things have to go wrong for it to occur. You are not at fault for your dog’s cancer, just as I am not at fault for my dog’s cancer. There is no “one cause” of any cancer case. I can say with certainty that you are NOT at fault, and also that Dr. Dressler doesn’t think you are, either. I’m sorry for your pain.

  2. Adrenaline on October 23, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Even dogs get depressed and the symptoms are well explained the article. I will definitely take care of my dog and will not allow it to get depressed.

  3. Dr Dressler on July 21, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    You are very perceptive. Not many would identify a problem like this without a professional trainer helping. I am sorry to hear of his passing. You did good.
    Dr D

  4. nelly on July 20, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I somehow agree with this fact. I work at home and been with our dogs since they were 2 weeks old.These are mix pups from Humane society that we fostered. One dog grew up to be quiet type and keep his emotion inside. The brother has always been vocal and easy going.

    I have been taking them to all sorts of rides,pet store, etc I can take them while growing up, later being tired of traffic and rude drivers, I finally started doing business online – banking, purchases, delivery, stamps. You name it I have done it without traveling (except for buying food). This dramatic decrease in activity somehow made the youngest one neurotic and scared, and as he never really barks and always been timid. I think this developed to some sort of brain problem that might have been linked to cancer. I finally figured out what was wrong with him, and started taking him again on daily walks and mental stimulation. This increased activity and communication finally helped him back to his own self again, but later he succumbed to cancer. He’s definitely missed a lot and wish I have spent more time playing with him.

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