Have you had a serious conversation with your dog lately?
Chances are they are going through some rough times, and YOU, my friend, are the source of most of it.
Please Note: The following is a semi-satire piece meant to shine some light on depression in dogs.
How did we get here?
Dogs had it good for a long time, heck it was only getting better and better for them over the years, but it all peaked probably somewhere in the late ‘90s. Ever since the rise of the mobile phone, and eventually the invention of the dreaded “smartphone,” dogs have been slowly sinking into the deep oceans of depression for which not even the strongest antidepressants could serve as an elixir. And though they may seem ecstatic on the outside from time to time, they are simply putting on a masquerade to draw your ever diminishing attention. All because YOU cannot put down that hypnotizing device that consumes your every last bit of attention!
Put the “
smart dumbphone” down!
We get it, there’s all these pictures and videos on your feed, your friends are doing all these seemingly awesome things. You dare not miss out on dishing out that ♡ and fueling their egos even further into the solar system. Maybe even a comment is in order, that’ll really make you feel like you’re a part of that awesome post. Just a couple more scrolls and you’ll be done, you’re sure.
What’s that? Someone just posted a picture of their dog!? Tons of likes! Quick, immediately navigate to the camera, find dog, stage a picture, choose the filter, insert comment about how adorable they are, POST! Cash in on likes and comments. A formula for social media success, no doubt. Back to being immobilized and scrolling through the feed for more pleasure. It’s 11pm now, a little too late for the walk, you feel bad, but there’s always tomorrow. It’s just one night. Darn, where did the time go!?
What you look like through the dogs eyes
Saying goodbye that morning, as with every other morning, was super duper hard! Now it’s time to roam the house all alone for the day, or am I going to that place with all the other dogs today? Either way, am gonna miss my best friend again! Things just haven’t been the same lately.
They used to be so happy to see me, play with me, remember to take me on walks; but that was all before they started carrying around that thing. They keep pointing it at me ALL THE TIME, I get really excited when they do, but then they just put their heads down and continue to play with it, instead of me. I try my best to get their attention, but it’s getting harder and harder. I’ll even do some stuff I know they don’t like, but they just yell at me and it makes me feel bad. I’m starting to lose hope.
I cherish the attention I get these days, as it doesn’t come often anymore. Even the enthusiasm is different, and I always have to share it with that stupid thing in their hand. What’s a dog to do?
Just as we do, dogs get sad too!
First off, it’s sad enough to know that your best friend will outlive you by who knows how many years! On average, dogs live about 10 to 13 years, with the smaller ones living longer than their bigger counterparts. Average human lifespan in the USA is almost 80 years, see the difference!?
Similar to us almighty humans, among other reasons, when dogs don’t get enough affection and compassion, they get sad and dopey! How can this be? It’s because dogs are amazing and heavenly creatures who can experience a wide range of emotions, for which any pet owner can vouch.
Dog depression vs. human depression
If only dogs could speak, oh the tales they would tell! The fact that they can not and do not, means that we will never know more than we perceive when it comes to dog depression. Let us elaborate on this a little further, shall we?
When we (humans) are diagnosed as clinically depressed, it usually falls into one or more of various depression subtypes. According to chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society Jerry Kennard, PhD; major subtypes include: dysthymic disorder, depression with melancholic features, depression with atypical features, depression with psychotic features, depression with catatonic features, depression with postpartum features, and depression with seasonal onset.
Depression can be general, and happen even when nothing “wrong” is going on; and it can also be situational, in which a life event is the trigger. The key takeaway here is the diagnosis of human depression. It involves speaking to the person, getting to know their life, their past and present, perhaps also important, their future goals and ambitions.
It’s pretty involved! Mainly because depression is the result of how a person perceives the world. One must get inside the head of the patient to re-trace their steps and see exactly how they got to their depressive state, where they made the wrong turns, identify the key triggers, etc. Language plays the key role in diagnosis and treatment.
But dogs can’t talk, unfortunately! So unless you’re Dr. Dolittle, diagnosing clinical depression in dogs in the same manner as we do in humans, is pretty much out of the equation.
Basically what we’re trying to discuss in this article, when it comes to depressed dogs, is the exhibited change in their behavior that has been ruled out as being correlated to all other physical health, or diet causes. For example, a dog who has lost interest in some of their favorite activities, and has changed their behavior towards the family.
Your dog used to get super excited about the daily walks, not anymore. Food has become just a necessity and no longer the delicious meal to hastily chow down. Reacting to you walking through the door after being away for a while, is met with no more than a forced raised eyebrow. What is going on?
Causes of depression in dogs
- a dog experiences a major life change
- a dog experiences a traumatic event
- a dog emulates or is affected by the grief of those around them
- a dog is suddenly ignored by his loved ones
- settling into a new house
- bringing a newborn into the mix, a spouse, or a new pet
- traumatic physical event (i.e. an injury)
- a big change to their daily routine (i.e. an unemployed owner gets a job and is gone most the time)
- the death of an owner, or their lifelong animal companion
BUT keep in mind:
- all of the above could also very well be a secondary symptom of a serious medical condition.
Symptoms of dog depression
According to John Ciribassi, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, dog depression symptoms are pretty similar to those seen in humans. But let’s be honest, once you rule out tiredness and any health issue, it’s not hard to tell a normally happy-go-lucky dog from a grief stricken one.
All we have to do is pay attention to some of these symptoms of possible dog depression:
- a dog becomes withdrawn
- a dog becomes inactive
- a dog loses his normal appetite
- a dog sleeps a lot more than they would normally
- a dog causes more “accidents” in the house (regression of house-training)
- a dog loses their interest in (once fun!) exercises
- a dog has a sudden onset of aggression
- a dog acting lost or disoriented at home
Treatments for dogs with depression
You’re probably a ball of anxiety by this point, after reading all of the above. Probably trying to figure out whether your dog could be depressed? Don’t worry, there’s good news!
Most dogs will recover and transform back into their happy selves withing a few weeks, or maybe a few months in some cases. All with just a little tender, love, and care from your side. Help them by trying to engage them, do the stuff they used to love, and encourage exercise.
Take note of what gets their tail wagging, and do more of that!
- Reward happy behavior and refrain from rewarding gloomy and depressive behavior. Keep an eye for happiness when doing activities, and reward them for it.
- Raise your dogs activity levels back up by keeping them on the go. Take them for a walk, play with them, or whatever specific activity you know they enjoy. Be sure that you yourself are engaged and giving them your full attention; don’t look at it as a chore, it’s your dogs happiness!
- When the depression stems from the loss of their animal companion, before bringing another animal into your lives, consider your family’s and your dog’s needs. Perhaps your family is not in the best position for another pet, and maybe all your dog need during this time is to be around other dogs (neighbors dog, doggie daycare, dog parks, etc.)
Treating Dog Depression with Medication
Karen Sueda, DVM, a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists says that should all else fail, medication are a from of last resort. The meds used are actually the same as those used for treating people, typically: Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.
She stresses the importance of countering the problem before it get’s too bad and meds need to be introduced; saying most cases can be overcome with modifying behavior and environmental enrichment.
If your dog just can’t seem to snap out of their funk, medications that treat depression could help. The medications used on dogs are the same used by depressed humans, however unlike most people, many dogs recover from their depression after 6 to 12 months on the drugs, after which they can stop taking them. Some dogs, however, may need to remain on antidepressants indefinitely.
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