The typical reaction when a person is faced with a dog that shows marked behavior changes like lack of appetite or interest in his or her usual activities, no response to the previously exciting stimuli or other atypical behavior is to “diagnose” the pet with dog depression. Have you ever been faced with any of the above in your own animal?
Although there are similarities in both, human and dog depression, it is important not to confuse them so easily.
When we, as humans, encounter certain situations in our lives, many of us do not know how to handle them properly and may fall into a depressive state quite easily. As a matter of fact, with the problems humanity is facing nowadays, depression has become one of the most commonly diagnosed reactions.
What are some of these problems? I believe we can mention just a few and you may even recognize some of them present in your own life as you read:
- Loss of work
- Loss of a loved one
- Financial difficulties
- Lack of opportunities
- Relationship problems
- Problems at work and fear of losing it
If we can just think of a common denominator to all of the above, does the concept “change” come to mind? When things function properly, there is no need to feel differently, right? Well, there may be exceptions, but I don’t want to go there now, because it is not the topic at hand.
Bonnie Beaver, DVM, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, said veterinarians don’t really know if dogs suffer from depression the same way people do. “It’s hard to know because we can’t ask them,” said Beaver, who also is a veterinary specialist in animal behavior at the small animal clinic at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine. “But in clinical practice, there are a few situations where that is the only explanation.”
Beaver said although it’s not uncommon for pets to get down, especially during periods of change, it’s rare for dogs to suffer from long-term depression.
We mentioned above a few of the most usual changes a person may face in life. What are the ones that affect our beloved pets? Remember change.
Before going into the subject of dog depression per se, the first thing we should always keep in mind when we observe behavior changes in our dog is to consider possible medical, in this case, veterinary, conditions. We may be confusing signals very easily and the best way to avoid that terrible mistake is simple: discard physical problems.
Our dogs, especially if they have been with us for some time, get used to a “way of life” we teach them: their feeding hours, exercise, play, moments to show affection and enjoy with the family, trips and perhaps other dog companions.
If any of these is altered in a significant way, our dogs may react with some of the above mentioned symptoms and immediately be considered as part of the dog depression family. Take for example, if there have always been more than one dog in the house and one of them suddenly dies. If you, as the owner, mourn your pet’s passing, what do you think may happen to its pal? Nothing different, with the exception that it cannot tell us directly how much it is suffering the same loss. What it does is show us in its behavior, i.e. depression.
Let us consider other possible and common changes that occur without our even thinking they may affect our pet. We just make the decision and that is it. Opposite to the above, we decide to bring a new pet into our house, or if we are single and the dog is used to being alone with us, now we fall in love and a new person suddenly forms part of the household. If we were married without children and one just arrives, that is also a very direct and important change in our dog’s life that we have to consider and be there for him or her to help them get used to those.
Suppose, and many of these cases have been documented, that the dog’s owner is the one passing. We are not going to even go into the cases where there is an owner and a dog, but no true relationship exists there. The dog is just an instrument and that is it. We are talking about the true relationship that should always exist between owner and dog, the one based on love, respect and companionship. If this is the case and the owner dies, the animal will react to that death the same way we do when we lose a loved one. It will show signs of what we call dog depression.
The same way humans are, even though I believe it is done in a very disproportionate manner, dogs can also be medicated for their depression when nothing else seems to work, but that should certainly be the last step to take.
Using basic psychological principles, do keep in mind not to just show love and affection as a means to help the dog get over the depression. That may have precisely the opposite result to the one you want, because you will be rewarding the depressed state and the dog may confuse that with the one which is appropriate. Do the opposite, that is, produce situations that may be agreeable to the dog and reinforce every single positive reaction she has. That way, the connection to be established will be the correct one and you will again enjoy the company of your beloved pet.