What to do when our dogs are down in the dumps
Negative feelings, including depression and anxiety, are being more widely reported in dogs – but what can owners do to help their pet feel better? Professional advice and a lot of love can go a long way, says Molly the Jack Russell, from pet food company Town & Country Petfoods.
You only have to look at some of us pooches (particularly the Bassets and Bloodhounds) to understand where the phrase ‘hangdog expression’ might have come from. When we watch you with our sad eyes, you’d be forgiven for thinking the world was coming to an end when all we really want is a bite of your dinner and some attention.
Facial appearances aside, most animal behaviour experts agree that dogs experience similar feelings to humans, albeit at a more basic level. Like you, we act out our emotions – from wagging our tails enthusiastically as we greet you at the front door to languishing in our basket if we’re a little blue.
Canine depression is a debilitating condition and while we can’t articulate how we feel in the same way you can, signs like low energy, listlessness, poor appetite and disturbed sleep can indicate something is wrong.
If these symptoms last more than a few days, your mum and dad might take you to see the vet, since there may be another underlying cause. Loss of appetite, for instance, could indicate dental disease, parasites or even cancer, so you should get it checked out straight away.
Once other conditions have been ruled out, and your vet suspects that it is depression, it’s time to look at what’s going on at home. Most of us are highly sensitive to changes to our routine and bereavement, illness or the arrival of a new baby or pet in the household can leave us unsettled. Separation anxiety can be another issue for dogs, with some feeling distressed whenever you go out to work or on holiday.
Treating depression in dogs can be relatively straightforward, although you should always follow the guidance of your vet. Just as good nutrition, exercise and quality sleep can lift your spirits, so too can they help us feel better. Dogs who feel overwhelmed by changes in the home may also appreciate a quiet space where they can retreat to if needed.
In more serious cases, a vet may advise a course of anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Although your owner can buy tablets online, they should never attempt to treat you without seeking professional guidance first, as there can be dangerous side effects. The vet will also be able to advise them on the length of treatment, dosage and how to administer it.
The good news is that a few simple lifestyle changes can really help us if we’re feeling depressed, even if it is just extra cuddles or our favourite dinner. For rescue dogs like me, who have had a difficult start in life, the journey can be more challenging and some may need extra care and training to address their anxiety and/or behavioural issues. But most of us believe that living in the moment is what counts – and in the right environment, we can do just that.
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