Puppy Blues: Coping With Post-Puppy Depression
The “puppy blues” refers to an emotional state of feeling overwhelmed, sadness, anxiety, or regret that many people experience after bringing home a new dog. While the puppy blues may last a few months, there are ways to cope with and navigate this experience, including connecting with other new dog owners, taking time for yourself, and talking with a therapist or mental health expert.
Understanding the Puppy Blues
Before bringing your new dog home, you may have felt anticipation and formed an idea in your mind of how it would be—long walks, games of fetch, and plenty of cuddles. However, the reality of integrating the dog into your lifestyle sets in, and it may not be exactly how you pictured it. You may wonder whether it was a good idea to get a dog, or whether the dog might be better off with someone else. You may feel like you can’t do anything right, or like you can’t catch a break. In some cases, you may feel like you and your dog don’t have a meaningful connection.
The puppy blues can affect anyone, whether it’s your first or sixth time bringing home a new puppy or dog.
How Long Do the Puppy Blues Last?
The puppy blues can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. For those with a puppy, they may reoccur when the puppy reaches a new developmental stage, including fear periods (a normal part of puppy development when they are afraid and skittish) and adolescence. As time goes on, recurrences of the puppy blues tend to be shorter and less intense.
The onset of puppy blues often occurs within a few days of bringing home your puppy or dog. For some, the puppy blues may not set in for a few weeks. This is often the case for those who have rescued a dog whose personality and behaviors take time to show up.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that puppy blues are generally most intense in the three weeks following their onset. After that, symptoms may remain but feel more manageable, often resolving entirely within three months. Those with puppies tend to experience a resolution in symptoms by the time their puppy is done teething, around six months of age.
Signs & Symptoms of Puppy Blues
The signs and symptoms of the puppy blues can range in severity and duration. Many of them are actually similar to those symptoms of anxiety and symptoms associated with depressive disorders. What characterizes the following signs and symptoms as being part of the puppy blues is that they begin after bringing home a new puppy or dog.
The signs and symptoms of the puppy blues include:
Feeling anxious, sad, and/or hopeless
Feeling helpless and/or paralyzed
Feeling guilty or ashamed
Feeling angry or resentful towards your dog
Thinking you made a mistake in getting a dog, or wishing you could return them
More frequent crying
Increased tension or more frequent arguments with other members of your household
Increased muscle tension, headaches, nausea, or stomach upset
Changes to appetite and weight loss or gain
Difficulty sleeping even if your dog is sleeping through the night
While the puppy blues don’t last forever, they can be debilitating. If you’re having suicidal ideations, talk to a mental health professional, and reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Dealing with the puppy blues is extremely challenging, and getting support can be the key to getting through it.
Causes of the Puppy Blues
There are a number of factors that can cause puppy blues, ranging from sleep deprivation to the realization that you’re responsible for another creature’s life. Understanding the causes of puppy blues can help contextualize and normalize your experience. Some causes may even point to things you can address or actions you can take to better manage your symptoms.
Causes of puppy blues include:
Changes in Sleep Habits or Quality
Particularly with a puppy, you may now be waking up several times a night either to take them out or comfort them. When you do sleep, you may find that you’re not sleeping as deeply. This lack of sleep can directly impact your mental health and make it more difficult to regulate your emotions. A lack of sufficient and good quality sleep can cause even the most resilient person to feel anxious, depressed, distracted, and overwhelmed.
Changes to Your Daily Routine
In addition to your regular schedule, you now have to factor in walks, play-time, meals, training, and potty breaks. Particularly with a puppy, you may have to carefully plan any outing and learn to navigate new time constraints. These responsibilities can cause a lot of stress and anxiety as you work towards a new normal.
From cleaning up a potty accident to managing a burst of puppy energy, it may feel like you can’t ever just relax or have more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted calm.
Increased Demands on Your Attention
In addition to everything else you do during a normal day, your new dog needs a lot of attention. Even when they’re calm, you have to be vigilant to make sure they don’t get into things that they shouldn’t. This kind of constant attention can be exhausting.
Grieving Your Freedom
Especially with a puppy, even just running to check the mailbox may necessitate a whole new kind of planning. You may have to turn down invitations to get together with friends or forego spontaneous plans because you need to go home to let the puppy out. Grieving the change in the amount of freedom and flexibility you have can show up as irritation, frustration, or the feeling of being trapped.
Lack of Information
Not knowing what’s normal for your dog at its age and stage of development, as well as not knowing how to deal with issues like barking or resource guarding, can make you feel lost. Whether you have a puppy or a new dog, all the things you don’t know can start to feel overwhelming and take up a lot of mental energy.
When bringing a new dog into your life, you probably envisioned all the fun things you’d do together. The reality, at least at first, may not match up to those expectations. The dissonance between your expectations and reality can make you feel overwhelmed, sad, and disappointed.
Underlying or Preexisting Mental Health Conditions
The changes to your routine, changes in sleep habits and quality, and challenges of integrating a puppy or dog into your life can exacerbate anxiety and depressive disorders. One study found that an unfavorable attitude toward your dog can increase depression symptoms.1
You may find that you’re more anxious, irritable, or sad, and may experience more severe symptoms such as suicidal ideation. If this change happens shortly after bringing your new dog home, it may be a case of the puppy blues on top of your mental health condition.
Handling the Responsibility of Another Creature’s Life
For many, the reality of being responsible for another creature can bring up intense feelings. You may be feeling a lot of pressure, wondering what this means about how you’d handle being a parent, or thinking about how patterns of discipline or boundaries are showing up from your childhood. It can feel overwhelming, scary, and anxiety-provoking.
When Are Puppy Blues Actually Depression or Anxiety?
While the puppy blues may look like a type of anxiety or depressive disorder, there are distinctions to look out for. The stress of integrating a new dog into your life may even trigger these conditions, or exacerbate an already known diagnosis. Fortunately, both anxiety and depression are treatable, and getting help as soon as you notice signs can help you start to feel better faster.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, reach out to a mental health professional:
You’re experiencing suicidal ideation
You’re feeling anxious about things unrelated to your puppy
Your symptoms are severe enough that your daily functioning is impacted, such as being unable to get out of bed or being unable to sleep at all
Your symptoms persist for more than a few weeks without any decrease in severity
When to Talk to a Therapist
You don’t need to wait to talk to a therapist until you’re barely able to function. It’s never too early to reach out for help, and reaching out early can both help prevent things from getting worse and help you to feel better faster.
While it’s common to struggle as you work towards a new normal, speaking with a therapist can be helpful. They can help you determine if what you’re experiencing is the puppy blues or a mental health condition. Additionally, you may be worried about being judged or perceived badly if you share how you’re feeling. A therapist can provide a safe, non-judgmental space to process your experience, and if necessary, treat your symptoms.
If you have mental health conditions that you’re concerned may be exacerbated by bringing home a new dog, or you feel like you may be likely to experience the puppy blues, consider scheduling preemptive appointments with a therapist. A few appointments in those early weeks can help you navigate the tough parts and create more opportunities for enjoying your new dog, or can help you make sure that getting a puppy is the right choice for you. Look for therapists who specialize in working with life transitions.
11 Tips for Dealing With the Puppy Blues
When you’re deciding how to deal with the puppy blues, try to determine what’s causing them. That can help you focus your energy on making changes or integrating strategies that directly relate to your personal experience. Remember to be creative and flexible in trying different things. What works for one person may not work another, and what’s helpful to you may change over time.
Here are eleven ways to deal with the puppy blues:
Final Thoughts on Puppy Blues
In a time where you’re supposed to be enjoying your new dog and building a lifelong friendship, dealing with the puppy blues can be hard. When you’re in the midst of it, it can feel never-ending. While everyone’s circumstances and experiences are unique, you aren’t alone. Remember that on the other side of the puppy blues are many years of love and friendship with your dog. The emotional bond you build with your dog will be real. You can expect them to affect your emotional and mental state significantly over the years, including at the eventual loss of your pet. In the meantime, lean on your support network, take care of yourself, and talk to a therapist to help you navigate this challenging time.