Your little furry one’s wagging tail and cheerful little face might lead you to believe that they are forever happy. It might come as a surprise, but this may not always be the case because just like pet parents, depression can also affect dogs. The main reason for dogs being affected by depression is that they are intelligent creatures that are capable of feeling and experiencing a wide range of emotions, people who have a pet or have had a pet can attest to this fact.
Apart from depression, dogs can suffer from other mental issues as well such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviour, possession aggression etc. Mental health for dogs is as important as it is for humans. In fact, the symptoms and causes of depression in humans and dogs are very similar. Pet parents should understand that mental health plays a major role in maintaining overall health. If your dog is struggling with mental health issues, then they may even start losing their physical health . Thus mental health should also be given the same importance as physical health.
Causes of Depression
There may be a various set of reasons that can bring about depression in dogs, but a few of the main reasons are-
- A major change in their life, like moving to a new house or a sudden change in the dogs daily routine can cause a lot of stress to dogs. This stress may lead to depression.
- A traumatic or distressing event can also bring about depression in a dog. This trauma can be physical in case of a major injury or surgery or even emotional in nature.
- Loss of an owner or companion is one of the main reasons a dog goes into depression. Just like humans, dealing with the loss of a fellow companion is a very difficult process for a dog. The loneliness and heartache caused by this loss may lead to depression.
- Addition of a baby or a new pet into the family can also stress a dog out. A decrease in the amount of attention that they were used to can cause the dog to feel neglected and alone.
- In some cases, depression is a secondary symptom of an underlying disease or ailment that may be distressing your dog. It is also possible that this medical condition isn’t visible at first.
The symptoms of depression in dogs are very similar to those shown by humans. However, since dogs can’t communicate, you will have to be more vigilant to identify signs at the right time, just as you are to identify any warning signs of any physical illnesses in your dog. Although you might not be able to make out whether your little one is going through depression or not at the first sight, you can always be aware of the warning signs. Some very common warning signs seen in dogs are –
- Appetite changes- Dogs tend to eat much more or way lesser than usual when they are depressed. They eat more as food becomes a source of comfort to them, some dogs may even stop eating altogether as they lose interest in food. You can also become aware of this change by being watchful of any behavioural changes or sudden change in weight.
- Changes in Sleeping Habits– If a dog is depressed, then they tend to sleep a lot. Humans tend to do the same when they are depressed. Excessive sleeping is a major sign of depression.
- Loss of Interest- A lot of dogs going through depression start to lose interest in things that they used to love doing. Going for walks, playing with their favourite toy or even being around people may lose its spark.
- Avoidance or Hiding- A strong indication that something might be bothering your dog is when they starts hiding and wanting to be left alone more often. Sometimes dogs find dark and enclosed spaces and stay there for hours when suffering from mental health troubles.
- Excessive Licking- Dogs lick themselves to soothe and relieve themselves from pain. If you see your dog excessively licking or biting their paws or other body parts, it might be a sign that they are depressed.
Again, symptoms shown by dogs during depression are remarkably similar to those shown by humans. Thus if you see or notice any such behaviour in your dog, it is advisable that you take them to a veterinary doctor and have them checked.
How to Help
The good news is that dogs can overcome depression on their own, though this may take a long time. Some dogs are able to deal with it better than others and get back to normal within a few weeks, but for some it may even take months. Most of the time the love and care provided by the owners is enough to surpass this, but sometimes extra help may be required. Here are a few things that you can do to help your gloomy fluff ball –
- Spend some quality time with your dog by offering more love and attention. But remember to do this at the right time, avoid over pampering your dog. If you see some signs of happiness in your dog, try rewarding them for that behaviour.
- Try to keep your dog active and entertained. For example, if they like to play a particular game, start doing it more and offer praise when you see them having a good time. Being physically active can do a lot of good.
- If your dog is depressed due to the loss of an animal companion, you can think of getting another pet. But do so only if your situation permits. There are various things to keep in mind while getting a second dog in any case, but in this situation, with a depressed dog, it is even more complicated. If you are not confident that this is the best idea for your pet and family, an alternative to this can be visiting parks and other places, so that it allows your dog to socialise with other dogs and people.
- Sometimes all the love and care you give may not be enough to help your dog battle depression. In such cases there are some medicines that can help. Consult your vet and do some research to understand the best remedial actions.
An important thing not do is assume that your dog is in depression right off the bat. As stated above, depression in a dog may arise due to some other underlying ailment such as an injury or pain within the body, this might not be visible to us, thus consulting a veterinarian before taking any steps is important. No matter what the underlying cause, any questionable change in behaviour is worth checking out and investigating. Whatever we can do to ease our pet’s stress and depression is worth the effort. The amount of joy and happiness that dogs bring into our lives is incomparable, and it is our duty to nurture them and protect them from any harm.