Blog: Ways To Recognize and Treat Doggie Depression
by Angela Casey DVM
As pet parents, we know our fur kids experience a large range of emotions. It’s pretty easy to tell when our dogs are feeling happy or shy, but what would it look like if they were sad? Similar to their human companions, it’s not uncommon for dogs to be depressed. There are a variety of underlying reasons for depression in dogs; in this blog post, we’ll take a look at 6 of the most common causes. Just as there are many helpful ways to treat arthritis in dogs, there are simple ways to identify and treat them when they are depressed.
Six Causes of Doggie Depression
#1. Physical Pain or Illness
As dog guardians, we’re responsible for monitoring their health. Since they don’t speak to us in words, we must notice their body language. Behavior changes are what typically alert us to a problem. Physical pain can result in depression, however, stoic canine personality types, often don’t whimper or vocalize to signal pain. Physical pain interferes with fun activities and exercise. If you notice your dog’s reluctance to do the things that he normally enjoys, it could be a sign of pain and/or depression. It’s easy to understand how being unable to do fun activities could cause doggie depression.
Since depression can be caused by an underlying physical ailment, it’s important to have your dog examined if you notice abnormal behavior. When we address the illness or pain, they feel better and the depression disappears.
#2. Recent Major Changes in Family
Significant changes in a dog’s daily routine can be shocking. Dogs develop a sense of security from the predictability of a daily routine. They feel most comfortable when they know what to expect. Major changes include moving to a new home, a new baby, a new spouse or a “stay-at-home guardian that takes a job away from home.
#3. Loss Of A Companion
Dogs, like people, have a large capacity to love, therefore, the loss of a companion, human or animal can hit them hard. We also need to recognize that dog’s are capable of mirroring the reactions of their human family, even when the sadness is not their own. In a multi-animal household, it facilitates closure, when dogs are allowed to sniff and observe a deceased companion. They don’t fear death; they instinctively understand that it’s final. This removes any anxiety associated with not knowing if a companion will return? Dogs are more likely to stay stuck in the grieving process, if they don’t know what happened. They will actually worry, just like we do.
#4. A Depressed Pet Parent
Does it surprise you that dogs often adopt the emotional state of their guardian, whether it is unbridled joy or depression. According to Mental Health Daily, “if you suffer from depression, it could be rubbing off on your dog.” Depression is likely to stand between you and the things you really enjoy, like activities that involve your dog. That’s another way that dogs with depressed guardians, can feel depressed also. They don’t understand why the “fun stuff” has fallen away.
#5. Seasonal Changes and Bad Weather
Lots of people feel “down in the dumps” during cold or rainy weather. Sometimes it’s a matter of arthritis pain being aggravated and sometimes it interferes with favorite outdoor activities. The upshot is, when the weather gets better, your dog will feel better too.
#6. Old Age
Dogs can sense when they are approaching the end of their lives. They are often not able to enjoy the same rigorous, physical exercise that they did in their youth. They may be struggling with cancer or some other chronic condition. We need to be creative in our methods, to psychologically support our senior dogs and continue to make their lives interesting.
Six Treatments For Doggie Depression
#1. Increase Exercise
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are natural pain killers and mood enhancers. Motion stimulates the lymphatic system and improves cardiovascular function. You don’t need to run a marathon. A 20-30 minute walk can suffice.
#2. Reward The Desired Behavior
The best way to build good doggie habits is by rewarding the desired behavior. We can inadvertently reinforce fearful or depressed behavior in dogs, by coddling them and telling them, “it’s ok.” We aren’t talking them out of it or calming them down. Our attention to it says, “yes, you should be afraid or depressed.” Dr. Bonnie Beaver DVM, a behavior specialist, says, “if the only thing that still gets a little tail wag out of your dog is a car ride, then take him for a couple of short rides each day, praising and rewarding him when he looks happier.” It’s important not to give attention or treats for negative behavior because it can support and prolong depression.
#3. A New Companion
For pets who may be depressed after losing a companion, a new companion can be helpful, under the right circumstances. A new animal will not fix every case. The attachment to the previous companion is not automatically duplicated in a new one. The new pet choice must be a good fit for the family’s needs and the dog’s.
#4. Social Interaction
Permitting your dog to socialize with other dogs is a great way to combine endorphin-boosting exercise with companionship. Witnessing playful and positive behavior in other dogs, serves as a reminder about how fun that can feel. In Phoenix, we have a number of private, Doggie Day Care choices, as well as the usual, large corporate facilities. The dog park is another choice for socialization, if it suits your particular dog.
#5. Extra Attention
This is most helpful for dogs that are experiencing a loss of attention (lonliness) from a new job, return to school after summer break and adult child leaving the nest. Make it an activity, a walk, an outing or a massage vs. just coddling, so as not to reinforce negative behavior.
#6. See Your Vet
Depression can be a sign of something medically wrong. It’s important to get a checkup, if the depression persists after simple, problem solving steps. If your dog doesn’t seem to bounce back, is losing weight or uninterested in even mild, play activity, a physical exam and possibly blood work is indicated to search for a deeper medical problem.
- Portions of this article are quoted from Phil Mutz’s blog spot on Littlethings.com