Is dog depression a real phenomenon? Everyone from pet owners, behaviorists and veterinarians have their own opinions on the matter. Based on my own experiences, my personal opinion is that dogs do experience emotional states that are similar to clinical depression in human beings. Every dog owner can attest to the wide range of emotions displayed by their pets; happiness, anger and fear to name a few. There is no reason to believe that dogs don’t also experience the more complex emotional roller coaster that is depression. It is a medical condition and it is indeed very real!
Events Triggering Depression in Dogs:
- Loss of a companion- the sudden absence of a primary owners, member of the family, or another animal in multi-pet households. The death of a loved one is the classic example
- Traumatic injury- often observed in dogs that have been hit by an automobile or are the victims of a dog attack. Also observed in rescued or adopted pets that may have been physically or emotionally abused by their previous owners.
- Bullying – dominant alpha pets often abuse and intimidate weaker and more submissive pets. This can have an extreme and lasting effect on the former.
- Recent changes in the household- the arrival of new baby or pet. Moving to a new home.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – changes in the day length (decreased hours of light during the winter months). Even short term events like rain or thunder storms may act as a catalyst.
Clinical Signs Associated with Depression in Dogs:
- Loss of Appetite- A loss of interest in food and especially treats. Left-over food remaining in bowl after meals. This is often time accompanied by a noticeable weight loss in the affected dog as well.
- Decrease in Activity Level- reduced interest in going for walks or to the dog park. A decrease in playful behavior or a failure to excitedly greet owners when they return home.
- Isolation and other anti-social behavior- hiding from companions and owners. Reclusive behavior.
- Changes in sleep patterns- usually this means an increased amount of time spent sleeping and signs of poor quality sleep (restlessness, tossing and turning, failure to get into a comfortable sleeping position)
Treatment Options for Depressed Dogs
- Often times no treatment is recommended- for example, dogs that have lost a companion often simply need to time to go through the normal process of mourning. After this period has passed, the clinical signs of depression will often resolve on their own as the dog’s behavior and activity return to normal.
- Socialization therapy- This does Not mean that you should run out and purchase a new pet or puppy for your depressed pooch. Rather, it is recommended that the pet owner make more of a concerted effort to socialize their depressed dog in a controlled environment. For example, have friends bring their dogs to your home for visits and play dates. Take you pet outside to enjoy the sunshine; if only in your back yard.
- Remove or try to minimize stressful stimuli from the immediate environment- provide the dog with a area in your home that can function as a quite “safe zone”.
- Medication – Prozac is regularly prescribed to dogs for a variety of medical conditions. It’s therapeutic benefits in veterinary medicine is well-documented and accepted within the medical community. Other popular medications for depressed dogs are zoloft and the anti-anxiety medication clomicalm. Speak with your veterinarian about this and other possible pharmaceutical options that may help to ease the clinical signs.