Does my dog have depression?
It may be hard to imagine that your chirpy, tail-wagging friend could get the blues; however, dogs are in fact capable of having depression in the same way that humans do.
Dogs share many of the same neurochemicals that we do and like us, they are also exposed to certain stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, so it follows that dogs may experience something similar to human depression.
As with people, all dogs are different and how their depression manifests will vary. You should be on the lookout for a combination of several signs.
What are the notable signs of to look out for?
- Exhibiting low activity levels
- Loss of interest in the things they once enjoyed
- Change to eating habits, often eating substantially less or to stopping eating altogether
- An increase in amount of time spent sleeping
- Showing signs of anxiety or aggression through sporadic howling or whining
- Excessive licking, especially to their paws
- Flattening of the ears
- Less interaction with other dogs
- Regression in house and behavioural training
Depression in dogs can be brought on by a number of factors including:
- A major change in a dog’s family surroundings such as introducing a new baby, spouse or pet
- An environmental change such as moving home
- A distressing event with the most common being the loss of a canine companion or owner
- An empathy to an owner who is depressed or unhappy themselves
All of these potential triggers can lead to your dog becoming depressed for a time, as can anything that in some way changes their routine.
If your dog has been cleared of any underlying medical conditions, your vet may refer them to a clinical animal behaviourist but there are also lots of practical things you can do together at home to help deplete their low mood.
What are the ways in which you can help your dog overcome their depression?
- Offering your dog more attention. However, it is important to offer this added attention in moderation as you will need to allow your dog time to deal with their feelings at their own pace
- Keeping your dog active with regular walks and playtimes. Again, you may need to build this up slowly if they have developed an increased sense of lethargy with their depression
- Socialising is another key factor. This can be achieved perhaps by organising time with other dog friends, through attending doggy day care sessions or perhaps joining training classes
- Minimise changes in routine as this stability is how your dog will eventually get back on an even keel!
How can I help my dog with depression?
Many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that accompany having a pet. It is only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. A pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners. In many ways, our furry friend can help us live mentally healthier lives.
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes can play an important role in easing symptoms of depression. Caring for a dog can help you make these changes through the following:
CompanionshipA sense of purpose is important for human beings. As in a need to feel connected, which can offset any feeling of loneliness and ultimately bring joy. Pets can be especially valuable company for those later in life and those living alone too.
SocialisingDogs give you a reason to talk to new people while on walks or at the park which can alleviate the loneliness you might feel in a depressive episode. Owners will often stop and talk to one another – some of these new friendships can also be maintained.
Boosting Self WorthSome psychologists say that you build self-esteem by taking ownership and applying skills to a specific task. Taking care of a dog can offer reassurance that you are able to care for another creature, as well as yourself. Caring for a pet can give your day purpose and reward, even a sense of achievement.
ExerciseMuch of the time depression can leave us with a lack of motivation. Dogs need exercise, which means you’ll be exercising right alongside them, even when you don’t really feel like it. Exercise releases certain endorphins such as oxytocin, which assist in fighting depression. Further, because dogs need consistency, you’ll learn how to make exercise a daily routine for both of you.
RoutineMany pets, particularly dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps and animal balanced and calm – and this will in turn have to apply to you too as their carer. Research has shown that consistency in one’s schedule can help reduce stress levels.
SensoryJust by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can give owners a chance to relax and calm their minds. Heightening the sensors can help relax and calm someone with a mental health condition by lowering blood pressure and helping you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.
When mental health takes a nosedive, for whatever reason, either you or your dog companion can offer restorative support that the other needs!