How Does Divorce Affect Dogs?

Pets are more than just assets; they’re members of the family. And divorce affects everyone in a family unit, including your dog. Learn how your divorce proceeding may be affecting your beloved friend, and what you can do to ease the stress for everyone involved.

How Dogs React to Stress

Dogs are bred to be our best friends, so it should come as no surprise they’re adept at picking up our social cues. When we give off stress, anxiety, and anger, our dogs pick up on it – and react accordingly. When your house is full of arguments and tension, your dog may become frightened, anxious, or depressed.

Changes in Routine

Dogs crave routine and need to know what to expect every day. In a divorce, they lose this consistency in many ways. Here are examples of how a dog might lose touch with its routine:

  • Changing houses, even as an entire family, is a stressful prospect for dogs. They rely on their noses and familiar smells to classify home. It’s bad enough to get used to a strange environment – now they have to but minus a family member.
  • Dogs view their owners as family, much as we do. In a divorce, they’ve essentially lost a parent. And if you have more than one dog, they potentially lose a brother or sister, too. These feelings can result in separation anxiety and depression.
  • Shared Custody. If a couple agrees to share custody of a beloved pet, the pet will have to adjust to completely new routines. Different walks, different homes, and bouncing from home to home can be confusing to a dog. And unlike children, a dog isn’t able to put those negative feeling into words.

How Stress Might Manifest

Every dog is unique, so each reacts to stress in its own way. There are a few common ways you might see this negative energy show itself:

Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety may soil the house, chew, dig, or bark when left alone. While this can be extremely frustrating for pet owners, it’s important to take a gentle approach. Reacting in anger will only increase the dog’s anxiety and intensify the cycle of behavior. Consider crating your dog with a special treat when you leave the house or checking in on your dog during your lunch break. You may want to consider a collar that releases calming pheromones, available at most pet supply stores.

If these tactics don’t work, consider putting your dog in daycare where it can socialize with other dogs all day. Alternatively, talk to your veterinarian about prescription options for your pet.


Some dogs may react to stress with anxiety, others with depression. Still others will react with a combination of both. Symptoms of depression in dogs are similar to those in people, and include:

  • Lethargy – sleeping more often
  • Inability to find joy in activities that were once pleasant
  • Changes in appetite – either eating too much or too little
  • Paw licking, especially when not present before
  • Avoidance and hiding behavior

Minor bouts of depression may fade on their own, with time and lots of loving. Others may require medication. Remember, dogs also display many of these symptoms with illness, so check any bothersome symptoms with the vet.


Some dogs may react to stress with feelings of defensiveness or aggression. Biting, snapping, and growling, especially when not present before, require immediate attention. Talk to your veterinarian about obedience training and other behavior modification therapies that will quell aggressive behavior in your dog.

Divorce affects everyone involved in a marriage and that includes pets. Always be on the lookout for signs of depression and anxiety in your dog.