Depression is a common mental disorder. According to the WHO, “ more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression.” But is this a problem for humans only? What about dogs? Can dogs get depressed as well? The simple answer to that is yes, dogs can suffer from depression too. Your canine companion might as well suffer from occasional bouts of depression. There have been cases of dogs that were left alone for too long showing stress-related and even self-harming behaviors. Let’s find out how this can happen.
What Is Depression?
American Psychiatric Association defines depression as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” It can also be described as a feeling of sadness, loss, or anger that interferes with your day-to-day life. People experience depression in different ways, but common symptoms include feeling sad, loss of interest, insomnia, change in appetite, feeling worthless, and suicidal thoughts. Depression can exacerbate other conditions like arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.
Depression is a serious medical condition that gets worse over time without treatment. Yet, it is also one of the most overlooked conditions because people are unaware of the consequences of neglecting mental health.
Depression in Animals
Anhedonia, the loss of interest in pleasurable activities, is one of the core symptoms of depression and there has been substantial evidence of animals exhibiting this trait. Non-human primates show the most convincing observations. National Geographic says that the emotional behaviors of monkeys and apes are similar to that of humans, so we can get an indication if an animal may be experiencing sadness just by looking at their facial expression. But, since animals can’t verbally communicate their feelings, the answer to the question, if they can get depressed, is still uncertain.
Can Dogs Get Depressed?
Experts say yes, dogs can suffer from depression. Like humans, they can suffer from occasional bouts of depression too. Bonnie Beaver from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) said that vets can’t deduce for sure if dogs experience depression the same way as us. However, being left alone for long has also led to them displaying stress-related behaviors like scratching themselves till they bleed or eating away at the door.
A story of dog depression is that of Jodie Richers’ dogs, Terrace and Pumba. The two went through a mourning period when their sibling Bada died in 2002, but got over it. However, when Pumba died in 2007, Terrace was beyond help. At first, she just shook but it only got worse. She stopped eating, drinking, started hiding from people, and was finally diagnosed with depression.
Symptoms of Dog Depression
Different people experience depression differently but the symptoms are somewhat similar. Dogs show similar symptoms when they’re depressed as well. These include:
- Change in appetite
- Loss of interest
- Excessive licking or chewing
- Avoiding and Hiding from people
- Change in sleeping habit
- Behavioral changes
- Attempts to escape
There are no definite symptoms of depression. Your dog can display most of these symptoms and still not be depressed. Maybe that’s just how they are. Or they can display none or only a few of them (which may seem normal) and still be sad. Here is a dog behavior guide that can help you decode your dog’s actions and understand what they’re up to.
Why Do Dogs Get Depressed?
There are several reasons why your dog can suffer from depression. Some of them include:
- Physical illness
- Loss of companion/owner
- Major changes in life
- Environmental changes
- Being left alone for extended periods
- Fear and phobias
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Your own depression etc.
Sometimes, you can never find out what it is that’s making your furry friend sad and as a dog owner, this can be very frustrating. All you can do is try your best to prevent it from happening at all.
How to Deal with Dog Depression
If your dog seems depressed, try to make things fun and lively. Keep them engaged with play and exercise. Make sure to spend more time with them. Praise them when they’re happy. A simple “Good Boy!” or “Good Girl!” makes a huge difference. If your pooch lost a companion or sibling recently, getting another pet usually helps distract them.
Giving more attention to a depressed dog is the right choice. But try not to overly comfort them. This might actually reinforce sad behavior. Do not give them treats if they’re moping around either – they might think you’re rewarding them for that behavior. Just try to stick to their normal routine.
If your dog seems depressed, reflect on your actions too. Was there anything that you did that could’ve hurt your buddy’s feelings? Did you leave them alone for a long time? Didn’t give them much exercise and playtime? You should always know what it is that’s making your dog sad and change it ASAP. If nothing works, it’s time to pay a visit to the vet.
Medications for Curing Depression in Dogs
If nothing works, medications can help your dog get past this depressive disorder. Veterinarians usually give antidepressants to dogs to treat some behavioral disorders. They’re thought of as a last resort, but there are cases where they are the best choice. Karen Sueda, a diplomat of the ACVB, said that depression medications for dogs are the same as those for humans – Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.
Things to Be Careful About
The first thing you need to be careful about is yourself. What doesn’t occur to many dog owners is that dogs are empathetic beings. They pick up on our sadness and mimic our sentiment to try and comfort us. Your pooch knows when you’re angry, sad, or happy, and they’ll change their mood to suit yours. So, try to stay jolly around your buddy and they’ll do the same.
Do Dogs Get Depressed When Their Owners Are Away? Yes, they do. So make sure you’re giving them enough attention and love. If you have a busy schedule and can’t fix it, get them a companion so they don’t get lonely. Or you can always get a breed that doesn’t mind being left alone for long. Give them enough exercise and playtime whenever possible. Give them lots of cuddles but remember that they have their own personal space as well.
Symptoms of depression might not actually mean that your dog is depressed. Maybe they are just sick or injured. Consult your vet to make sure. Slowly introduce your pooch to new environments and people so that sudden changes don’t bother them as much.
Can Dogs Get Depressed? Yes, dogs do suffer from depression. And while the causes may be different, they show similar symptoms to us humans. Make sure to spend a lot of time playing and cuddling with your pup and give them lots of love. Remember to consult your vet if you suspect that your dog may be suffering from depression.
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