LifestyleDecoding canine depression. How to spot and address the silent suffering in your dog

Decoding canine depression. How to spot and address the silent suffering in your dog

Depression in a dog - how to recognize it?
Depression in a dog - how to recognize it?
Images source: © Adobe Stock | Rick Sause

11:17 AM EST, January 18, 2024

Depression in dogs, much like in humans, presents itself as a decrease in mood that hinders normal functioning. Regardless of whether one has two legs or four paws, the disease provokes feelings of sadness and anxiety. The animal's motivation to be active dissipates, and they become more anxious. Even a change to a more peaceful environment won't alleviate the condition of a dog suffering from depression.

Biologically, depression in dogs disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters; these chemical substances play a crucial role in transmitting information between nerve cells within the nervous system. When a dog experiences this state, behavioral changes become apparent — often enduring and occasionally intensifying over time. This is unequivocally recognized as a disease that requires treatment.

Identifying depression in dogs: signs to watch out for

The quality of life of a depressed dog significantly declines as persistent sadness and anxiety take a toll on the animal's health. A significant distinction between humans and dogs is that dogs, unlike humans, live in the present moment. As far as we know, dogs don't suffer from stress that stems from past memories or catastrophic visions of the future, making their recovery from depression potentially easier without the need for drug therapy; although, sometimes it may be necessary.

Unfortunately, identifying depression in dogs can often be challenging. Since dogs can't verbally express their feelings, observation becomes vitally important. Dogs with depression may exhibit changes often associated with other diseases. However, if your pet displays a lack of appetite or, conversely, an increased food intake, excessive sleepiness or insomnia, disinterest in play, fleeting engagement in activities, or a seemingly sad gaze, it may be worth contacting a specialist.

Additional symptoms of canine depression included a lack of tail wagging, self-isolation from family members, or a heightened desire for contact with the owner. If, after a consultation with a vet, it is established that the dog isn't suffering from any other ailments, it is advisable to immediately consult an animal behaviorist.

Preventing depression in dogs

While we can't control life changes or a loss an owner or family member for the canine, there are some situations where small changes could improve the pet's well-being significantly. Ensuring the dog gets an adequate amount of exercise and walks and providing opportunities to explore its surroundings is a good start.

Training, setting challenges for your dog, and rewarding its successes can also enhance its mental wellbeing. Besides, providing a sense of security, belonging, and closeness is important because dogs, as social creatures, dislike being alone. Additionally, a high-protein, well-supplemented diet should be maintained.

How to treat depression in dogs?

One must start the treatment for depression in dogs by identifying the causes of this emotional state. Understanding what the dog is lacking and providing those elements can be beneficial. In advanced cases of depression, drug treatment might be needed. The vet may prescribe psychoactive medications, which restore the body's chemical balance by regulating neurotransmitters.

The effects of this treatment might only become evident after approximately three weeks and could be ongoing for several weeks or longer. Therapy should be conducted under the supervision of a veterinarian due to the potential burden on the dog's body imposed by the medications. Medications alone, however, aren't always enough. Enlisting a behaviorist's help and refining dog-owner behaviors might be key; living conditions should be improved, and a regular daily routine should be maintained. Otherwise, depression might recur.

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