A Provocative Look Into The World of Dog Depression

Would you be shocked if I told you there’s no such thing as dog depression?

It is a shocking statement and, frankly, I don’t believe it.  When I conducted my research, however, it was hard to find a reliable study to report the reality of depression in dogs.

When you consider all the literature available to help dog owners deal with canine issues such as fears, phobias and separation anxiety, isn’t it fair to say that dog depression is real?

There doesn’t seem to be any recent scientific evidence to support clinical dog depression, at least nothing I could find. That said, there are countless reports from regular dog owners who report symptoms that sure sound a lot like depression.

 

DEPRESSION IN DOGS SHOULD BE EASY TO DIAGNOSE, RIGHT?

If your dog is showing any of the following signs on a regular basis, it’s only fair to consider dog depression.

  • no interest in play
  • sleeps more
  • no interest in daily walks or other normal daily routines
  • doesn’t want to eat or eats very little
  • is found sleeping around the house in places where the dog never went before
  • shows more aggression
  • lacks energy

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If you’re seeing some or all of the behaviors above, don’t hesitate to bring your dog to the veterinarian.  Sometimes, what we see as dog depression could actually be an illness or physical ailment.

 

DOG SPEAK 101

You don’t have to be able to speak “Dog” in order to understand what they’re feeling.

People feel guilty when their dogs aren’t happy, as if more play, more walks, more anything-they-want is going to change the situation. The reality is, it’s not you. Yes, it’s true that dogs can get lonely and bored, and their behavior (chin on the floor, no motivation) makes it evidently clear.

 

DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP!

Unless you have the luxury of staying home all day, the reality is that we can’t always be with our dogs.

My dog constantly wants to play ball. It’s a relentless obsession.  Should I feel guilty because I have to leave for work in the morning?  No, but I do.  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to guess you feel the same. In fact, here are a few things I will admit to doing:

  • Leaving the television on so that he doesn’t get bored.
  • Leaving a few lights on in the house.
  • Giving him extra treats.
  • Letting certain behaviors slip by because – after all – I haven’t been home for him.

 

DISEASE CAN MASK ITSELF AS DEPRESSION

Before you assume  your dog is depressed, a number of other possibilities have to be ruled out first. Make an appointment with the veterinarian to rule out things like:

  • Parasite infections
  • Parvo
  • Lyme Disease
  • Injured paw
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer

If your dog is acting strangely and you suspect illness, there are a few things you can do, including taking your dog’s temperature.

 

HOW TO PROPERLY TAKE YOUR DOG’S TEMPERATURE

It’s not pleasant, but sometimes it has to be done.  The best way is with an inexpensive rectal thermometer that can be thrown away after.  Take some time to gently groom your dog, or sit quietly next to him/her.  Make sure the atmosphere is relaxed and you’re not in a hurry.

The following short video will illustrate how to safely take a dog’s temperature with a thermometer.  Watch the entire video to learn about the danger’s of fever and what’s considered a “high” temperature for a dog.

Once you’ve determined whether your dog has a fever or not, follow this 3 step process to check for signs of body pain or injury:

STEP 1: Wrap both hands lightly around the top of the dog’s leg and gently squeeze while slowly running your hands down the leg towards the paw. Note any sudden shifts or jerks from the dog. Does he pull back? Continue this for each leg.

STEP 2: Gently lift each paw and check for tears, redness, swelling, embedded rocks or gravel, etc. 

STEP 3: If the dog allows it, gently look into his mouth, particularly around the gums. Healthy, hydrated gums should be fresh and pink. If you’re able, gently push your finger against the dog’s gums. When you remove your finger, it should be white for a second, but quickly revert to pink.

 

  • BLUE GUMS COULD SIGNIFY THE NEED FOR OXYGEN.
  • WHITE GUMS COULD SIGNIFY INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL BLOOD LOSS.

 

I’m sure you can see why it’s important to rule out illnesses that mimic signs of depression.  Dog depression is one thing, but failure to address any serious underlying disease could be dangerous.

In my attempt to find peer-reviewed articles on dog depression, I was surprised at what I found. Many scientists disclaimed the observation that dog depression exists. On the other hand, these same professionals offered evidence to suggest that dogs feel fear, happiness, and anxiety.

It seems reasonable that dogs would also be able to experience depression, given the acceptance and treatment of these other “psychiatric” conditions.

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, is an animal analyst determined to educate society about the power of animal emotion. He wants us to view animals as equal to the human population. 

When I unravel that short synopses, I’m inclined to think the professor might believe that dog’s can, in fact, suffer from depression in much the same way we would.

In addition to his many books on the subject, Bekoff has a blog posted at Psychology Today called Animal Emotions. Each blog post focuses on a particular animal of the wild with stories designed to showcase an animal’s ability to empathize, care, and react, characteristics we would normally associate with the human condition.

You’ll find countless articles designed to help us interpret the behaviors of animals. These interpretations lead to the question, “Do animals feel emotions?” Professor Bekoff would argue that yes, they most certainly do.

I’M CONVINCED MY POOCH HAS DOG DEPRESSION AND I WANT TO KNOW HOW TO FIX IT!

It’s interesting to note that some of the same things that can kick-start us away from the blues, are the same things that can help treat your dog’s depression.

  • Exercise

We’ve heard it all before.  Get outside. Get some fresh air. Go for a walk to clear your head and lower your blood pressure.  These same benefits apply to your dog as well.  Dog’s weren’t designed to sleep all day. They need to get outside where a multitude of smells in the wind trigger their minds to work. 

Walking a dog stimulates their physical and mental health. You could also take the dog swimming or on a hike. If you’re going away for a short trip, consider bringing your dog with you. Call ahead to make sure the hotel is pet-friendly.

  • Get a hobby

Dog’s don’t have hobbies, but they sure love to play. Playing can mimic the instincts that drive them in the first place. When a dog feels as if he’s doing what he’s designed to do, he’s going to be happy.

  • Get Social!

If a plain old walk isn’t doing the trick, consider taking the dog to a dog park or a doggie daycare where he can play and socialize with other dogs.

A FEW EXTRA TIPS…

  • Fetching and retrieving mimics the hunting instinct inherent in certain dog breeds including hounds. Additionally, it’s like giving your dog a job. He’s doing what he was designed to do.
  • Dog’s love to give stuffed animals a good shake. That’s because it mimic the process of killing prey heralding back to their wild ancestors.

Once illness has been ruled out, try some of these examples to see if your dog’s mood or behavior improves.

 

 THE 1990’s were the DAWNING OF THE PROZAC ERA FOR DOGS

Anti-depressants work on the brain’s neurotransmitters that pass signals from one nerve cell to the other.  A dog’s brain chemistry has never been tested in such a way as to determine whether this type of chemical imbalance is happening.

It’s interesting to note that while I couldn’t find any definitive study on dog depression, it is a fact that dogs were treated with antidepressants in the 1990’s (and possibly today).  The argument for administering psychiatric medication to dogs seemed to be related to the treatment of separation anxiety and aggression.

In my opinion, this argument loops back to the question begging to be answered: If a dog can have fears and anxieties, why can’t it be said that they can also suffer from depression?

 

IS YOUR DOG MIRRORING YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR?

  • MIRRORING OR PROJECTING BEHAVIOR

Dogs are sensitive to our own moods and behaviors. Examine yourself and determine how you’ve been feeling lately. Have you changed your routine in any way that would affect the dog? No more long walks or less time for play? Has something big happened in your life caused you to feel down or depressed?

Dogs need reassurance that their pack leaders are in charge. If there’s any sign that the pack leader relationship is slipping, a dog will look for another pack leader. without one, the dog may exhibit signs of withdrawal or more anxiety and bad behavior. That doesn’t mean the dog is depressed. He just needs you as a pack leader to show him that nothing has changed in his world has changed.

Mistaking health problems or unaddressed fears and bad behavior can cause a host of problems including aggressiveness towards family, friends, or strangers.

When you’re used to seeing something for a long time, it’s easy to overlook signs and symptoms. If the decline has been a slow, gradual process, you might not have noticed it. Lack of energy, dog fur loss, not eating enough…these are all things that might initially be overlooked in our busy lives.

 

2. ASSOCIATIVE MEMORY ANXIETY

You’ve probably witnessed or at least heard about the types of dogs who cower around men, or pull their tails between their legs in fear whenever someone has a stick in their hand. It’s not because the dog remembers bad things of the past. There is, however, an imprint planted in the dog so that certain smells, actions, personal demeanor, etc., trigger that same feeling the dog had whenever that bad thing originally happened to him.

Does that make him depressed? No. Dogs rely heavily on survival instinct so that the awareness they have of smells, sounds, and images, push them in that direction or protecting themselves. Not wanting to go for a walk, for example, probably isn’t because he’s depressed, it could be that he’s terrified of a certain sound or smell he experiences on that route.

 

3. BOREDOM

Dogs are not meant to sleep all day, yet most of us have to work for a living. How else can we afford to buy our beloved dogs all the treats and toys they want? However, if you come home to chewed furniture or shoes, or other mishaps within the home, it’s more likely your dog is bored than depressed.

Think back to the times you’ve been bored. It’s like a buzz inside your body screaming I NEED TO DO SOMETHING. Now put that feeling into a dog’s mind and you’ve got a restless canine who needs to relieve that pressure.

The longer the dog is bored, the worse the behavior is likely to get.

Sniffing the ground and other environmental things actually stimulates the dog and helps to tire him out more. You know the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of “good”tired you get after a hard workout, that’s how your dog feels. Expending all of that physical and mental energy releases the anxiety and fear in him, which will in turn reduce or eliminate some of his behaviors.

 

4. DOGGY DAY CARE

Is your dog home alone a lot? Most of us have to work for a living and there’s no sense feeling guilty about that. As long as your dog is left in a safe, comfortable environment with food and water, he’s fine. Never leave your dog chained in the backyard for hours at a time.

Maybe your dog needs to be with other dogs. Some breeds are naturally more people-oriented than others and some thrive in the company of other canine companions. If a doggy day care is an option, try signing your pooch up for that.

Research a reputable company. They will show you around, have good referrals and reviews, and will treat your dog as unique as the others. Doggy day cares will alert you if they recognize any unusual behavior and will be safe.

 

5. GIVE THAT DOG A BONE 

Dog’s are creatures of the wild, no matter how domesticated we’ve made them. Chewing on a thick, meaty bone offers that primal response that they love. Be safe and don’t leave your dog alone while eating a bone.

CONGRATULATIONS! You’re officially a caring, loving, dog owner.

The fact that you took the time to research dog depression and look for ways to bring that spark back into your dog’s eyes says something about you as a person.  Let the guilt go and stop blaming yourself.  You’ll get it! The most important thing is providing a safe, loving home with a solid routine – including regular exercise – for your pooch.

He or she will soon be leaping for joy!

 

 

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