Depression is a mental disorder that is often considered specific to humans, although it is unfortunately frequently observed in dogs. The most difficult part of treating this condition is its diagnosis, which is complicated by the absence of verbal complaints from the animal...
Indeed, how to detect and understand a negative emotional state in a dog when it cannot put words on its feeling? To answer this first question, it is in fact possible to diagnose depression in dogs by paying particular attention to their postures and behavior.
Contrary to what some owners may assume, depression is not a condition to be taken lightly: it is a real pathology that can have a very harmful impact on the animal's physiological health! In this article, we take a closer look at this soul condition that plagues our four-legged friends as much as our fellow humans.
What is depression in dogs?
Depression is a pathology that modifies the way a dog perceives its environment and the world around it. Thus, the elements that make up its "world" (basket, kibble, master, toys, other dogs) can suddenly lose all their interest in the eyes of a depressed animal.
This new perception of its universe makes the animal apathetic, insensitive to the living beings and events that surround it and complicates the communication and interactions that usually bind it with the members of its household. Depression is intimately linked to the concept of emotion and psychology, notions that are increasingly integrated into the study of animal behavior.
Many scientific sources tend to prove the existence of a real emotional sensitivity in animals, a postulate that has long been disputed. While it was previously difficult, if not impossible, to consider a dog as a being endowed with feelings, this paradigm is now at the heart of the study of canine behavior.
Understanding the feelings of your pet is therefore essential to diagnose a depressive disorder, to identify its causes and to help him overcome this very particular illness.
How to recognize depression in dogs?
The symptoms of depression in dogs are clear: owners usually notice a marked change in behavior, which materializes through a decrease in interest in all objects and humans around the animal. In short, the dog seems to have given up on interacting with its environment.
Dogs with depression may also suffer from anorexia, lethargy, insomnia, uncleanliness or bulimia. If the owner does not respond, physical symptoms may add to the change in the dog's behavior.
In particular, the dog may develop skin problems, including compulsive itching that can lead to skin superinfections. Unwanted scratching or licking are also part of the signals a depressed dog may send.
This type of behavior can also lead to serious injury, such as gnawing on the tips of the paws or tail.
What causes depression in dogs?
There are many causes of depression in dogs and they almost always vary from one individual to another.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common sources of depression in animals who have difficulty coping with the absence of their owners. The loneliness is unbearable and generates anxiety and stress that can lead to depression.
Changes in his environment or habits
Change is one of a dog's worst enemies, and even the smallest change in your pet's daily routine can make life difficult for him! The causes of changes in your pet's life are often the easiest to identify: have you moved? Did you change the layout of your home? Adopted a new pet?
Reaction to a traumatic event
The most frequent depression in dogs is called "reactionary depression" and occurs following a violent stress. It is often due to a bereavement, the loss of a master or a fellow dog to whom the animal was particularly close. The disappearance of a reassuring element of his daily life to which the dog was attached is extremely difficult to overcome for him. Bereavement is not the only event that can traumatize a dog: a family imbalance (divorce, moving, arrival of a child) within the household can lead to the same result.
Some dogs suffer from chronic anxiety, sometimes without the owner ever being able to understand the cause of this discomfort. Often, however, it is a case of distress following a long illness that has altered the dog's physical and psychological capacities. The dog then struggles to find its bearings in its environment, which generates uncontrollable anxiety that regularly manifests itself in whining or long wanderings.
This type of depression mainly affects puppies, especially those sold in pet stores. Young dogs deprived of sensory stimuli from a very young age - as is the case in the stores mentioned above - may not cope well with their arrival in a more animated environment. They may feel overwhelmed and withdraw into themselves in an attempt to protect themselves from all the sudden stimuli. If this disorder is not taken seriously from the start, it may have a lasting effect on the dog, which will be particularly likely to develop phobias and never be able to communicate and interact normally with other dogs and humans.
Aging and loss of senses
As a dog ages, his hearing and sense of smell can become impaired, a situation that can be very difficult for him. During this ordeal, he experiences the loss of all his bearings, which generates a consequent stress at the origin of many depressive behaviors.
Boredom and idleness
Boredom is the source of many ills in our friends the dogs, and in particular in the working dogs very fond of intellectual solicitations from their master and eager to demonstrate their skills. Dogs with little or no stimulation quickly sink into a deep boredom that generates pathological anxiety. Anxiety and depression are closely linked in dogs, and one thing leads to another: the animal begins to lose interest in the world around it and to adopt destructive behavior.
My dog is depressed, what should I do?
The most important thing to do to give your dog the best prognosis is to take care of his depression as soon as the first symptoms appear. I therefore recommend that you always pay attention to your dog's attitudes and behaviors, and note any changes that seem suspicious.
A dog that loses interest in its toys, loses its appetite, behaves differently toward its peers or remains deaf to your calls when it usually shows enthusiasm when it sees you is probably hiding some unhappiness. If your pet is already depressed, the veterinarian may prescribe antidepressants to prevent his condition from worsening.
Behavioral therapy may also be used to help the owner and the dog reconnect and to study the cause(s) of your pet's unhappiness. A new lifestyle may also be necessary to help your dog regain his footing.
In cases of mild depression, which have not yet had an impact on your pet's health, long walks, more regular play sessions, lots of affection and regular contact with other dogs will probably help your best friend's moods.
Preventing depression in dogs
The most effective activity to prevent depression in dogs is walking, which should be done daily and for a sufficient length of time. If your dog is aging or not very athletic, there's no need to schedule walks lasting several hours!
Outings once or twice a day for fifteen to thirty minutes, strolling quietly to give your dog time to sniff out what seems important to him, will be perfectly suitable for fragile animals. Regardless of their age, health and need for physical activity, all dogs need to spend a minimum amount of time outdoors to get some fresh air and maintain good physical and mental health.
For your dog, going for a walk is not only a way to stretch his legs: it is also an opportunity for him to stimulate his sense of smell, his hearing and all his senses! We are talking about both intellectual and physical stimulation, both of which are necessary to maintain an animal's mental balance.
The ideal is to walk your dog in places where he can meet other dogs. Socialization is an important aspect of a dog's well-being, as dogs are social animals by nature. On the other hand, a dog deprived of any link with its fellow creatures may quickly develop deviant and destructive behaviors.
In any case, you must do everything you can to fight against your dog's boredom to prevent it from suffering from temporary or severe depression. If you're going to be away from home on a regular basis, remember to teach your puppy positive separation from a young age!
Don't skimp on stimulating toys (noisy or smelly) to keep your pet busy while you're away. Seeing your pet lose its joie de vivre and its bonhomie can be very hard for the owner, but it's even harder for the dog, especially since it is often misunderstood.
I hope that this article has been able to enlighten you on the causes and consequences of depression in dogs so that you can better detect the sources of stress and possible discomfort in your companion.
Loving and educating your pet also means protecting it against the hazards of life. This is why we strongly recommend that you take out health insurance as soon as possible. This will save you astronomical veterinary fees in case of accident or illness.