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Is Your Dog Depressed?

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Is Your Dog Depressed?

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a shelter or puppy mill dog, or one that has been on the streets, struggling to survive?

If you don’t think pets experience sadness and depression, you may want to think again. Changes in routine, a move, a new job that curtails important time together, lack of contact with a family member due to divorce, illness or death, someone going into a nursing home or away to camp or school, the loss of another pet, and other life-altering circumstances may elicit the same response from your dog as it can from members of the family. In fact, because dogs thrive on routine, which provides them with a sense of security, disruptions in general can create stress with its many byproducts that include inappetance, weight loss, minimal intake of water, lethargy, withdrawal, sleeping more or inability to sleep, clinging, and other behavioral changes–not unlike their human companions. So how do you identify signs of depression, and what can you do to make times of transition easier for your cherished pet?

First, it’s best to rule out physical illness or hormonal/chemical changes in your pet with a visit to the veterinarian. Be sure to report all of your observations, whether you think they are related or not, and let the vet do a full examination with blood work and anything else she may consider warranted. In warmer months, tick bites and accruing Lyme disease are also an issue with dogs, with lethargy in many cases a prominent symptom of the disease, so be sure to inquire about testing.

Next, if your dog is pronounced physically sound, consider any household or even neighborhood changes that may have occurred. Did your pet lose a canine playmate? Did someone move out? Is there an increasingly stressful situation going on in the home involving the family? Like small children, animals feel things deeply without the advantage of being able to articulate these feelings, and depression can result.

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So what steps can you take to prevent depression or facilitate your pet’s return to a healthy emotional state if she experiences it?

In situations where a family member has passed away, some people tend to withdraw into themselves and animals are no different. At these times, it is particularly important to interact and spend as much quality time as possible with your pet, which can help both of you heal. Some years ago, in one particularly tragic event, a family’s teenaged son was killed in a plane crash, whereupon his dog, who clearly felt the loss, would spend days and weeks on his deceased master’s bed, whimpering for hours on end. The grief that many animals feel is no less substantial and profound to them than the kind of loss that consumes us. How else can you explain that it is neither uncommon in the animal kingdom nor human society for a surviving spouse to quickly follow another in death, or for a dog in one household to pass away just weeks after the death of his best canine friend.

If another pet in your household has recently died, sometimes bringing a new one into the environment can refocus a depressed dog’s attention. Be sure to pay just as much attention to your emotionally ailing companion as you do to acclimating the new dog, however, or your actions may even exacerbate the depression. Experts agree that gentle, frequent, reassuring touch, maybe in the form of massage (be careful not to rub dogs too vigorously as their muscles are closer to the surface than ours) can work to help soothe and relax a depressed animal.

Increased exposure to sunlight is another option for alleviating depression both in humans and animals, according medical and veterinary professionals, as is more frequent exercise–long, brisk walks; tossing a ball in the park; a run together on the beach–all of which release endorphins necessary for feelings of well-being.

As dogs, unlike cats, are extremely social creatures, depression can also occur in canines left alone for hours at a time, day in and day out. A few days a week at a reputable doggy daycare facility can work to stimulate, energize, and further develop socialization skills. Be sure to check licensing and references, as well as ascertaining if the dog will be isolated in a cage which can defeat the purpose for daycare. It’s the opportunity to interact with other dogs and make friends that’s the goal.

Finally, if all else fails, there are homeopathic remedies on the market (be sure to administer under the supervision of a veterinary or holistic veterinary professional). Some vets will even prescribe conventional antidepressants, though these should always be a last resort as what your pet may need most is you.

The important thing to remember in times of change is to be fully present for your pet, as he would want to be for you. When you think about it, life is a series of transitions, some more easily made than others, but often much harder on those that cannot understand.

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1 Mary-Margaret { 08.13.12 at 2:28 am }

Beth is truly a loving person, and I know from watching her caring for her two dogs that no one could ever be as kind to their pets as Beth. Please follow her advice.

2 Quyen { 08.11.12 at 7:02 am }

I needed to thank you for this good read!! I definitely loved every bit of it.
I have you book-marked to look at new things you postÂ…

3 ddippre { 08.09.12 at 4:21 pm }

thanks for the article. I am dealing with the loss of my dearest friend Loyal my red & white Siberian Husky. I know my Meischka a lab/retreiver mix is missing him too. He was her friend her whole life. Loyal was 13 when he passed with cancer. I notice I miss him so much and when I look in her face – she misses him too. Especially in the mornings – our walks are just not the same. I was blessed with an Alabama bird dog named Cassie that was like her Mommy when I adpoted Meischka. When Cassie passed 3 years ago – Loyal & Meischka didn’t seem too sad but I noticed he started fulfilling the role of mothering her. Cleaning her ears and laying close to her etc… DOG spelled backwards is GOD…there are no coincidences. Every adpoted dog I’ve had is so much more appreciative of my love and caring.

4 jane { 07.22.12 at 10:52 am }

I make up informational packets on the consequences of what chaining up a pup like that. I duplicate material – from sites that people would respect (Humane Society, ASPCA, etc) so they’re not thinking that I am a “know it all.” If you’re close to these people, maybe they’ll let you walk the pup. If they have kids, as to take the kids along. Try to get on their good side so you can have access to the pup and help it in small ways.

One of the things I do is in the summer when I see a dog in a car and can’t find the owner, I have duplicated an informational sheet which is VERY graphic on what happens to a dog when they are in a hot car – even if the windows are open. If I can’t slip it into the tiny opening they left in their window, I put it on their windshield with the hope that they’ll look at it before throwing it away. Then I call the police – and most police stations will take the call on an anonymous basis. Then, I wait around until I see the police come. I have to be honest, I think I would break a car window if I saw a dog already showing signs of suffering. I’ll pay for the window.

5 Zynski { 07.20.12 at 3:34 pm }

How can one teach people who know everything already and don’t have to learn anything new that putting a puppy on a chain in the yard is not good for them?

6 Mary-Alice { 07.20.12 at 9:14 am }

We adopted a little shih tzu mix rescue dog who had been starved almost to the brink of death. Every bone in his little body was showing He weighed 6 pounds and his coat was so thick and matted that when they shaved him at the shelter it came off in one piece like a coat. The angels at the shelter put him in my arms and my husband and I both cried. He stared making these little sighs as if to say, “please pick me”. We did but he was terribly depressed. He looked sad and his eyes were dull and lifeless. He bonded with me from the minute he was placed in my arms. If I moved anywhere in the house he would get up and follow me and just look at me as if to say, please don’t leave me. Our wonderful vet said that he would eventually be okay and to give him lots of love. We did. He doubled his weight and now his eyes sparkle. He is a joyful little guy and makes us laugh with the things he dogs. He is a completely different dog than that sad little boy we rescued. Shelter dogs seem to know that their owners are responsible for rescuing them and they give you unconditional love.

So be patient with your depressed pet and give them love, lots of cuddles and petting, speak to them and play with them. It might take time but the reward of having a happy pet will be worth it.

7 JAMES { 07.19.12 at 12:36 pm }

Our 11-ish Bearded Collie rescue dog, tho very sweet, had always looked “sad” and had some skin issues….UNTIL a new Vet checked her thyroid levels! Now, she’s one happy pup, the skin is clearing up, more energy/less sleeping, and we think the meds have added years to her life! Check it out!

8 Linda { 07.19.12 at 10:56 am }

I work in an office full of animal lovers. Dogs and cats are the sweetest things God ever made. They do love unconditionally, especially dogs. They can be scared and timid and feel many emotions. I only pray that they every one have a heaven to go to for eternity where they will be happy and loved and cared for forever.

9 Roberta Freedman { 07.18.12 at 10:40 am }

Our dog, Ferby was 13 years and 3 months old when he died. He died June 25th 2012. We miss him terribly. He was smart and very friendly but hated cats! Rest in peace.

10 Joni { 07.18.12 at 10:09 am }

I firmly believe that there should be a loving home for every dog. My once empty nest is now overflowing with an abundance of love. I have 2 little rescue dogs that have made my life so full with unconditional love. My 2 little dogs were so depressed when I recieved them, for they had both lost their masters and were about to be abandoned again….they were so fearful that one was extremly aggressive….It was as if they sensed another impending dismal future before them. They are now far more than I ever expected as
companions. They are now happy, playful, loving pets with a love for everything around them….all they needed was to feel that they were loved and cared for and wanted.

11 Linda { 07.18.12 at 10:08 am }

I can’t imagine being without my little Boston Terrier! He’s the highlight of my evening when I walk in the door! He’s so excited to see me and it takes him a few minutes just to settle down and stop giving kisses! LOL My mom and her little dog lives with us, so he’s not by himself during the day which I’m thankful for. Wish people would learn to love like dogs do!

12 Ginnie { 07.18.12 at 9:32 am }

While I’m thinking my pup could be depressed I’m always hugging and massaging her and telling her I feel guilty for having to work so much while she’s having to stay home by herself. The whole time I’m saying this and she’s being massaged she’s spread out on the couch with her legs stretched as far as they can go, her little eyes are in
Dreamland and she’s wagging her tail. I guess my little pup is happy as can be watching over our home while I’m gone.

13 Beth { 07.18.12 at 9:16 am }

Thank you, Roxanne and Thomas. As the writer of this piece, I agree with you and want to add that it is my understanding that more animals are abused and neglected at the hands of human beings in this world than are treated well. It’s bad enough in the U.S. and when you get outside of this country, the excruciating pain (physical and emotional) they suffer is even more unfathomable. Few (if any) protections are in place for them and if there are some, they are often not enforced. We need to regard them as the sentient creatures they are — not unlike us.

14 Thomas { 07.18.12 at 9:01 am }

so sad that in two days there was only one comment about this. pets are our best friends and companions,more so than humans whom always seem to have motives instead of unconditional affection. all my pets have been strays that found me and through the decades my world has been better for them.

15 Roxanne { 07.16.12 at 10:52 pm }

This is so true, i hope people will realize how blessed we are to have dogs as friends. They love unconditionally!

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