Nobody knows your pet like you do. You know when they've eaten too much, when they’re embarrassed that you've seen them fall over themselves, when they are irritated with you, and when they're excited that you’re home. And right now, you know that something isn’t quite right with your pet. They're lethargic, unanimated, and if you had to put a finger on it, you might even say they were acting depressed. But is this actually possible? Can your pets experience depression?
According to the experts, the answer is a resounding yes. Much like we have our good days and our bad days, so too can your pets experience their own emotional highs and lows. What is important to note however, advise the experts, is when the down days seem to outweigh the up days.
What are the signs of depression?
How do you know if your pet is just having a bad day, or if they are showing the signs of depression? Thankfully there are some easy symptoms you can look out for to identify whether your pet is experiencing depression.
- Weight loss or gain
- Disinterest in food or changes in appetite
- A change in sleeping habits
- Acting withdrawn and unsocial
- Increased inactivity (especially in dogs)
- Definitive change in personality
- Incessant whining (dogs)
- A decline in grooming and increase in litter box issues (cats)
- Avoidance (especially in cats)
- Spraying (cats)
- Hair loss and licking or biting of their skin or coat
If your pet is exhibiting any of these signs or symptoms, it might be worthwhile considering that your pet may be feeling depressed.
What causes depression in pets?
So, how do your pets become depressed in the first place? The reality is that there are plenty of reasons why and how your pet can become depressed. Just like there are a myriad of reasons why we feel sad, your pets too have their own individual and unique reasons for feeling depressed.
For instance, their depression could stem from a change in their environment such as moving houses, adding a new pet to the house, having a baby in the home, their owners getting married, and even changing from a stay-at-home parent to a full-time job that takes you out of the home. Pets are creatures of habit and when a change is made to their routine and environment, naturally they can feel perturbed and even depressed.
Another factor influencing your pet's depression could be boredom, which is particularly common in cats. If you work away from the home, often there is little for your pets to do but hang around all day until you get home.
The most common reasons for depression are the loss of another pet or an owner. It’s natural that when the companionship of an owner or other pet is lost, your pet may feel down and even sink into a depression. Your pets may even have a chemical imbalance which is sending their hormones and emotions haywire.
Another factor is if your house is in turmoil. Remember that pets are also very intuitive and can pick up on the emotions of their owners. If there is any angst or negativity in your home your pets could be responding to that.
Lastly, Elaine Pendlebury, from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), believes that extended bad weather and changes in the seasons can also cause depression in some cases. She believes that like humans who become affected by seasonal affective disorder, pets too can be influenced by the weather.
How can depression be relieved?
Bonnie Beaver from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, reassures owners that while it’s not unusual for your pets to experience sadness and negative emotions, thankfully it is very rare for them to experience long-term depression.
Your first pit stop if you believe your pet is potentially depressed is to schedule in a full check-up at the vet. Your vet will be able to identify any underlying medical issues that could be impacting your pet and advise you on the best treatment methods available. There is a chance that your vet may prescribe antidepressant medication, such as Prozac, Zoloft and Clomicalm. Most likely though, if your pet’s depression is confirmed, they will recommend some things you can do at home to help.
- Giving your pets a little extra TLC. If you know that your dog enjoys going to the dog park, then make an effort to take them there once a week. Do more of the things your pets enjoy and offer them lots of your love and affection.
- Make playtime a priority and take time out your day to allocate to engaging your pets in fun, enjoyable activities.
- Give your pet a new toy. Sometimes we can go for months without introducing a new toy into the household, which leaves your pets playing with the same things day in and day out. Pretty boring, right? Treat them to a new toy and then make time to play together.
- Touch and cuddle your pets. Being affectionate and loving is important, especially if your pet is feeling depressed. Show them that you love and care for them by regularly petting and cuddling them.
- If you own a dog, try puppy play dates and trips to the dog park. Often, depressed dogs feel lonely so taking them to places where they can socialize can positively influence their emotions.
- If your family has lost another pet, you may like to look at adding a new furry family member to your home. This might cheer your pet up, and the rest of your family too. But before you buy another pet, consider whether this is the right decision for you and your family and act accordingly.
And, lastly, although it may feel hard at the time, try not to reward your pet for acting depressed. If you find them moping in a corner, make an effort not to run over and cuddle them straight away. As cute as they may look, you don’t want them to make a connection between isolation and depression and being rewarded by you.
Instead, reward them when they express positive emotions. A wag of your dog's tail, an affectionate rub against your leg from your cat – these are actions that should be rewarded.
And remember, don't stress if your pets seem down. Depression in pets isn't an unusual thing and can absolutely be fixed. With some proper care, love and patience your pet will be on the road to recovery in no time.