It was Charles Darwin that first suggested that the emotional experiences of animals are comparatively similar to our own. In the decades since then, scientists and veterinarian professionals are discovering that dogs have both physiological and psychological problems that are recognised in humans and should be taken just as seriously if we want to provide man’s best friend with a happy and healthy life.
Conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and cancer are all physical problems that dogs can suffer from, but so are psychological disorders such as dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.
The Science Bit
A domestic dog’s brain has evolved to be more similar to that of a human’s than their ancestors. The American College of Veterinary Behaviourists advises:
The cerebral cortex holds the limbic system which controls emotions such as happiness, pleasure, fear, and anger. However, although similar, a dog’s cerebral cortex is still nowhere near as developed as an adult human brain.
If anything it can be likened to that of a young child. They can experience the same emotions in the way we do but do not have the same sophisticated level of understanding, response and control over them.
Can Dogs Get Depressed?
The short answer is Yes. It might not be as complex as human diagnosed depression but dogs do suffer from similar symptoms in response to a major upheaval in their lives or continued suffering.
Dogs are sensitive to changes in their routines. Some might become upset when an owner disrupts the usual walking schedule, whilst others might become anxious when their owners are away for a few nights. Dogs are highly social animals.
They instinctively desire to be part of a pack and domestic dogs thrive when closely bonded with a family. This unique desire to be man’s best friend is what makes them the cherished family pet they are today.
However, the downside to this loveable characteristic is that a lack of close connections, social activity or disruption to their currently happy situation can bring about sadness and depressed feelings. I have seen dogs come into a shelter after being separated from their owner or family and fall into a depressed state.
Not wanting to engage with anyone or any other dogs, not eating and barely moving all day. It is heartbreaking to see and only time, patience and persistence can bring them around. Much in the same way you would help a human suffering from a loss and suffering great sadness.
Symptoms of Depression in Dogs
It is worth noting that when seeing certain symptoms you might associate with depression, owners should also consider the environmental changes. Dogs whose behaviours suddenly change could also be in pain or unwell. I would always recommend a trip to the vets to rule out any medical conditions.
Symptoms of depression in dogs to look out for include:
As with humans, dogs that are sad will often look like they have the blues. Sad eyes that might look in an owners direction but be unwilling to join in in their attempts to play tug of war or even take a treat.
Causes for Depression in Dogs
As we have established, dogs are highly sensitive to changes in their environment. Some cope better than others to small changes but when a major disruption happens, most dogs will show signs of anxiety, sadness and depression.
Causes of depression in dogs include:
Being able to identify depression is the first step in being able to help a dog through their feelings and become a healthy happy hound.
How to Help a Dog with Depression?
Dogs are resilient animals and most will bounce back with a little additional TLC and attention directed their way. Focus on their mood and capitalise on times when they seem to be interested in engaging.
Increased time spent doing the things they love, getting them active and increasing the hormones that release positive chemicals around their bodies will start to move their mindset away from emotions of sadness to emotions of joy.
With some, it might take a few weeks of persistent coaxing and cajoling but it will be worth it when they are smiling and once again enjoying life. With others, it could simply involve changes to their daily routine to introduce more exercise, toys and games.
Involving a dog more in the household set up has a huge impact on their emotional state. I have seen dogs change in a matter of hours when they are included within the family home rather than confined to a kennel or outbuilding.
However, if all attempts to engage with a dog fall short and they are not eating, a visit to the vets and calling in a canine expert is the next step. More and more veterinarians are understanding that dogs have emotional issues similar to our own.
Behaviourists are recommended and often, in severe cases, a combination of behavioural stimulation alongside natural remedies or prescription drugs is the course of action. The most important thing is to do something to ease the dog’s depressive state.
Any Questions? What Are Your thoughts?
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