Depression in dogs may seem like an unusual idea, but according to veterinarians it is a very real concern and more common than you might realize.
If you've ever noticed that your dog seems attuned to your emotions, instinctively knowing when you are feeling sad or sick, there's a reason for that. Dogs have very developed senses and are very emotional beings, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they can suffer from psychological disorders such as depression.
The problem with treating canine depression is that many of the common dog depression symptoms are also indicators of physical problems as well.
You don't want to assume that your dog is simply depressed if, in fact, he's got a serious underlying health problem that is causing him to seem withdrawn and lacking in energy. Before you can begin treating dog depression you should take your dog to the vet for a thorough medical exam.
Though it might seem like an unusual diagnosis, depression in dogs is really quite similar to human depression. Like humans, dogs can be deeply affected by significant changes to their regular routine such as introducing a new baby or pet into the family or moving to a new location. Dogs are very dependent on routine so even the smallest change, such as an owner getting a new job that keeps him out of the house, can have a significant effect.
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Before attempting to treat a dog with depression it is important to confirm with a vet that the symptoms are not due to a physical cause.
Also, since your dog is attuned to your own emotions, if you are feeling down or depressed it may affect him as well. If their owner is grieving, dogs are likely to pick up on that and begin to feel upset themselves.
By far the biggest cause of canine depression, though, is the loss of an owner or a companion animal. Often, after experiencing a loss, a pet will begin to exhibit common dog depression symptoms.
Since dogs can't tell us what's wrong, it can be difficult to know if you should be treating dog depression or whether something else might be wrong with your pet. In some cases, the dog himself may be fine and he may just be reacting to your own altered emotional state. If that is the case, then he may not actually need treatment. All of which makes it pretty obvious just how tricky it can be to properly diagnose depression in dogs.
In order to make a diagnosis it is important to understand the common dog depression symptoms. The more you understand what to look for, the better prepared you'll be to handle the situation should your dog become depressed. Simply moping about the house may not necessarily indicate depression but there are certain specific symptoms you can look for.
Changes in appetite – as with humans, one of the big indicators of depression in dogs is a sudden change in appetite and eating habits. If your dog loses interest in food and begins to lose weight, it may be necessary to consider treatment. In other instances, eating may actually increase as dogs use food for comfort.
Changes in sleep patterns – this is another of the dog depression symptoms that is also common in humans. Again, the changes may go in either direction. While it isn't unusual for dogs to sleep a lot, it is strange for them to do so during the daylight hours, particularly when their owners are present.
If your dog continues to sleep when you come home after being out for an extended period and shows little interest in your presence, that's a pretty good indicator that something is seriously wrong. In other cases, depression in dogs can manifest with lack of sleep and a restless, agitated state.
Losing interest – Treating dog depression may become necessary if you notice that your dog is not interested in doing the things that used to engage him, like playing, going for walks or going for car rides.
In active breeds like the Australian Shepherd this can include a lack of interest in things they usually love, like working or participating in dog sports like agility training. That's a particularly critical warning sign as Aussies normally live to work or follow commands, so if your dog is failing to respond it might mean he's feeling depressed.
Excessive paw licking – while dogs will often lick themselves as a simple grooming habit, excessive licking or chewing of the paws can be a sign of depression in dogs. Licking or chewing the paws can become a security blanket of sorts, as the dog seeks anything that will give it comfort. This can also be a sign of skin disease like acral lick granuloma.
Hiding or avoiding – Dogs are normally very social animals, so if your dog is suddenly hiding or avoiding you that can be one of the prominent dog depression symptoms.
Dogs will also exhibit this behavior if they are physically sick or injured, however, so you don't want to automatically assume that you're dealing with depression. Take your dog to the vet for an exam first so that you can be sure there isn't a physical problem causing his symptoms.
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Dogs generally respond well to treatment for depression.
Once a diagnosis has been made you can then consider treating dog depression. Fortunately, unlike humans, dogs tend to bounce back from depression rather quickly and with little outside encouragement. In most cases, it will take anywhere from a few days to a few months to fully recover. Only in rare cases will depression in dogs be prolonged.
If your pet is exhibiting dog depression symptoms, treatment is generally as simple as keeping them engaged and encouraging them to do the things they've always enjoyed and then rewarding them when they do so.
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It's important not to try and ply your dog with treats or other rewards when he's moping or acting down, as that will send the message that you are rewarding that behavior and actually encourage it.
In cases where depression in dogs is caused by the loss of a companion, the solution may be as simple as getting another pet. This should be done with care though, taking your own needs and those of your dog into account.
Don't rush out and get another pet if you aren't physically, emotionally, and financially able to care for it and if you do get a new pet take care to introduce it to your existing dog gradually so that they can get used to each other.
If nothing else works, then treating dog depression may require the use of drugs. The drugs used for dogs are the same as those used to treat human depression: Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. While humans suffering from depression may need to remain on these medications for a prolonged period, dogs generally only require 6 to 12 months of treatment and can then be taken off medication.
Dealing with depression in dogs is all about showing patience and understanding and providing a little extra TLC. Recovery will happen naturally, on its own schedule, and should never be forced.
If you suspect your dog may be suffering from depression take him to the vet for an exam and diagnosis and then you can begin the necessary steps to get him on the road to recovery. With the proper care, you'll have your happy, energetic companion back again before you know it.
For more information about Aussie health issues see the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute (ASHGI).
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