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Pet Depression

Ask the Experts

Pet Health Q&A

Ask the Pet Health Expert!

Dr. Mark Verdino

There’s no better feeling in the world than watching your excited pet bursting with happiness. Their joy is contagious and we revel in watching it. But just like people, pets have good days and bad days. They have moods and feelings, and also like people, pets can become depressed.

Pet depression is an actual condition and is more involved than it may seem. The experts at North Shore Animal League America would like to help you better understand pet depression, its causes and how you can treat it. We want to keep those tails wagging, not dragging.

Do pets get depressed?
Yes. Pet depression, like human depression, is a real condition, and is not as uncommon as you might think.

What causes pet depression?
Pet depression can be caused by a variety of reasons. From something as simple as a change in routine, to something more emotional like the death of a human or pet family member, pets can become saddened to the point of depression. Some pets can become depressed when left alone for long hours. Dogs are especially prone to loneliness, as they are pack animals that prefer to be accompanied.

Like humans, pets can also suffer from depression when there is a chemical imbalance, which can be treated with medication.

Certain illnesses can also cause pet depression. If your pet appears to be depressed, you should seek veterinary help right away to rule out illness.

What are the symptoms of pet depression?
Different animals have different reactions to depression. A good guide to follow is to look for out of the ordinary behaviors, i.e. when an active pet becomes listless, when a calm pet seems anxious, etc.

Some behaviors and actions that can result from depression include aggression, anxiety, destructive behavior, lack of or excessive grooming, excessive sleeping, lethargy, loss of appetite, loss of initiative, moping and pacing.

How do I treat pet depression?
Treating pet depression varies depending on the cause of the condition. Depression should be diagnosed by your veterinarian and not assumed. Blood work, x-rays and a physical examination by your veterinarian can help with a diagnosis. Once you are certain your pet is depressed and not ill, you can treat him accordingly.

If your pet suffers from grief, increasing his activity and playtime can be very helpful. Making sure he gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation can be a key factor is his recovery. If your pet is suffering from loneliness from a loss of a friend or family member, regular play-dates with other animals or even adopting a new pet may take his blues away. Dog parks and dog runs are an excellent way for him to mingle. You can also enroll him in doggy daycare, which provides companionship, mental stimulation and socialization.

If your pet has a chemical imbalance, your veterinarian may choose to prescribe anti-depressants or anxiety medication. If you prefer a more holistic approach, ask your veterinarian. They may suggest herbal supplements, which are available to treat the condition.

It’s very important to remember to NEVER give your pet any medications or supplements without consulting with your veterinarian first.

How can I prevent pet depression?
Because depression comes in many sizes and varieties, it’s hard to prevent. You can, however, understand pet depression triggers (things that are likely to cause depression) and deal with them before they cause your pet angst. For example, ease your pet into changes or transitions. Be patient. If you have a dog, give him appropriate attention and affection. Don’t coddle him, as you may be reinforcing the depressed behavior. If you have a cat, give him his space and show him affection on his terms.

Be more involved with your pets and really make them feel like your best friend and a cherished family member. Involve them in family activities and consider how changes will affect them too. Most importantly, always stay up to date on their veterinary care. Good physical health is directly related to good mental health. These tips should keep your pets’ happy, healthy and keep their tails wagging.


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