Dog depression is a common problem for pet owners in today’s world. Dogs with depression often exhibit behaviors such as lethargy, loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, and at times even aggression. A study by author Milla Salonen and her colleagues had analyzed the behaviors of 13,715 pet dogs from Finland and found that the prevalence of canine depression has increased significantly in recent years. Despite this alarming statistic, dog owners are largely ignoring the signs and failing to seek help for their pet’s mental health issues.
Since I have already addressed some of the most common queries related to depression in dogs in my previous articles, today in this article, I will solely focus on 10 scientific ways to treat dog depression.
1. Get Your Dog to Move
Most pet owners these days, especially in cities, often make their dogs spend time indoors, away from the sun and other animals, which has resulted in a sedentary lifestyle. Stop doing this. According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), every dog needs at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. If you cannot get your dog to run around outside, then at least take him for a walk so that he can get some fresh air and expend his energy.
You do not have to go all the way to the dog park and marathon your pet. Getting your dog to move around and discover new places is good for both of you. It allows your pet to get out and experience things that they normally would not get a chance to see and it also helps them use up some of their energy faster.
2. Change Your Dog’s Diet
Diet plays an important role in any training program but it is especially significant with dog depression as the dog may tend to avoid certain foods because of how they make her feel or simply because she is bored with certain foods she has grown accustomed to. Switching your dog’s diet has been shown to make dogs eat better and exhibit fewer symptoms of depression, according to a study at the AVMA.
You should also encourage your dog to eat certain types of food by giving her individual portions. It will help reduce boredom and make it a bit more challenging for you as a pet parent. Make sure you keep track of your dog’s nutrient intake and consult a vet if you find the change in food is not helping.
3. Establish a Set Exercise Routine
Many depressed dogs resort to getting into trouble around the house or becoming aggressive out of frustration because they are not getting enough exercise. Dogs do need exercise but not the kind that involves running around outside after chasing frisbees for hours on end. They need exercise that involves mental stimulation such as tricks and puzzle toys.
As Dr. Karen Becker says, exercises that involve making them interact with their environment and respond to simple commands will not only help treat dog depression but also help your dog stay healthy and active throughout his life. For example, instead of making your dog run around the house for hours after a tennis ball, try teaching her some tricks so that she can impress you with her cleverness instead.
4. Make Sure Your Dog is Socialized
This may sound like common sense but sadly not every pet owner is aware of its importance. If your dog only spends time with you and not with other animals or people, it may lead to extreme insecurity which can cause dog depression. Make sure your dog meets and interacts with other animals regularly. If you are working during the day, take your pet to daycare, training classes, or playdates so that they can meet new friends. Even indoor dogs need to socialize; they should be able to spend time with other pets in the neighborhood even if it’s only through a window.
5. Make Their Crate Cozy
For some dog owners, the use of a crate is considered cruel but this is actually one of the best things that you can do for your depressed pet. Crate training is a very useful tool when it comes to managing your dog’s behavior and training and it will also help you in dealing with depression in dogs. Remember, dogs in the wild often den and spending time in a crate imitates this natural behavior.
While crate training is effective for most dogs, there are some that do grow anxious or depressed when they are kept inside for long periods of time. If your dog falls into this category, then make sure that she has plenty of toys to keep her occupied and comfy bedding inside the crate. Also, try feeding her dinner inside the crate so that she can associate it with something enjoyable.
6. Provide More Sensory Stimulation
A depressed dog may often become distracted while doing something he loves to do if he does not get enough stimulation to keep his mind occupied. Most dogs love to romp outside after a good run and play ball. However, with dog depression, the dog may no longer be interested in these activities because nothing exciting or exciting enough to keep them from getting bored. If this is the case with your dog, then make sure that you establish a regular schedule of playtimes with your pet. For example, if your dog usually runs around for a half-hour after a good walk then try to establish a new activity that will keep her busy for that same time period.
7. Rule Out Medical Causes
Most dogs with depression are suffering from a number of medical conditions but it is also possible that your dog is suffering from a medical problem that is causing their emotional or behavioral changes. If you suspect there may be a medical issue such as a thyroid disorder, then take your dog to the vet to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
It is very unwise to wait until your dog becomes extremely agitated and aggressive before you bring her in for treatment, as it could be a sign of depression and your pet may become worse if left untreated. So, if you suspect there may be a medical issue, make sure to contact your vet immediately for a thorough checkup.
8. Reward Positive Behavior
Dog depression often occurs out of boredom and frustration so the next best thing they do is engage in undesirable behavior. It may sound obvious but rewarding desirable behavior can go a long way in allowing them to get back on track with their life without being punished for acting out. Reward your dog for making the appropriate choices, or just for being a good dog. You can also consider adding some positive reinforcement to their training so that they know you are happy that they are doing what you want them to do.
9. Try Natural Remedies and Supplements
There are a lot of natural remedies and supplements that can help treat dog depression. Unfortunately, a lot of them only work in a limited number of cases so you might have to try a couple before finding one that works for your dog. You can try melatonin, which is an all-natural anti-depressant that is normally used for children with ADHD and other behavioral problems. It will help your dog sleep better and calm down when necessary if they’re having trouble being on their own when left alone. In some cases, melatonin can also be used to treat seizures or chronic pain in dogs.
10. Teach Them a New Trick
You may not be able to cure your dog’s depression completely but you can teach them new behaviors that he will enjoy. In the past, some dog owners have taken it upon themselves to teach their dogs new tricks simply because they knew these tricks would make their dogs happy. This turned out to be a terrible idea as many of the tricks were very demanding and not everyone had the energy or patience to practice enough to master them.
Nowadays, however, there are a lot of resource materials on the internet with easy-to-learn dog training methods complete with tips from professionals on how you can successfully train your dog. These programs will show you how to train your dog for various activities such as retrieving, obedience, agility, and more.
When you find out that your dog is depressed, you want to make sure that she is getting the right care and attention before it gets worse. In addition to the tips we mentioned above, you should also consult a vet if you think your dog is already in the pre-depression stage. Taking additional medications and behavior modification sessions might be necessary in order for her to recover in some cases. If she does not recover completely after one week then it is possible that she has a more serious case of depression that will require an extra treatment plan such as anti-anxiety pills or even medications like Riluzole.
To explore more, check out our other articles on depression in dogs.
Have you ever experienced a case of depression in your dog? How did you handle it? We would love to hear about your experience! Share it with us through the comments section below.