How do you fix a depressed dog?
A cause of unsocial or disruptive behaviour in dogs
Like humans, dogs do occasionally suffer from bouts of depression.
They become, lethargic, stop eating and drinking properly, lose weight and loose interest in their favourite toys. They will sleep more and may lie down with their heads turned to a wall or start hiding behind furniture.
They can become irritable, hyper-vigilant and suffer from sleeping disorders
They can even loose enthusiasm for walks and playing and may become rather clingy.
They can be twitchy, on the alert all the time and cower at sudden movements and noise and seek to spend a lot of their time alone, shutting out external stimuli.
Dogs can suffer from many of the same causes of depression as humans — even PTSD.
The loss of a family member or another family dog. Even the loss of a doggy friend they would regularly meet and play with on walks. A move to an unfamiliar area or house. Seasonally affected Disorder (SAD). Physical illness.
Even picking up on the sadness or ill health of it’s family or chosen leader.
We humans do not give that much credit to the intelligence and cognitive abilities of other animals.
Perhaps it is a need to convince ourselves that we are somehow a superior race rather than just a more developed species of animal. Maybe that attitude helps us justify our total exploitation of other species for our own benefit.
But as time goes by we are beginning to understand that in many respects we differ very little from many of the other species we share the planet with and we share many common traits, needs and abilities with a lot of them.
We also have many problems in common, both physical and mental so to understand animals better we should look at ourselves and understand what affects us, how it affects us and how we deal with these issues when we are affected.
Physician, heal thyself.
Animals grieve and some species, like dogs, grieve in a similar ways to us. they share our feelings on more ways that we think. There are correlations between the intelligence of an animal and the depth of grievance it can suffer from.
Dogs are pretty smart so they are likely to suffer more powerful feelings of loss and grief and when they do it can become just a difficult to snap them out of it as it can be to turn around a human suffering from the same problem.
It is important to spot these problems early and take action quickly. This will prevent the problem from becoming ingrained or habitual and make the chances of a successful and speedy recovery more likely
If you are an observant person you will be in tune with the moods of your dog and if your dogs is depressed you will look at it and know something is wrong. By looking closely you will identify the problem as depression but the cause can be elusive.
In most cases of depression in humans we turn to medication — anti depressants. These work by increasing serotonin and noradrenaline, the group of chemicals in the brain which can improve mood and emotion.
One drawback with reaching for the pills too quickly is that these neurotransmitters also suppress chronic pain to a degree so if the issue is a physical one which requires another form of intervention it may well cover up the real cause which could result in a bigger problem further down the road.
It’s not easy to recognise depression.
It’s not something that manifests itself physically until it is quite advanced so picking up on early symptoms can be problematic as some of these symptoms can also indicate other problems.
A dog may suffer some of the symptoms but not others.
Treatment will very much depend on the cause so if you do detect depression in your dog, look around and see if you can identify what may have brought it on.
Have there been drastic changes in routines or have you moved house or has some family member or close friend or playmate left home or passed on?
Is someone in the family ill or depressed themselves? Could the dog be picking up on their mood? Has the dog gone through a traumatic experience of any kind or an extended stressful period for any reason whatsoever?
Could the dog be sick? Is there something going on that is causing chronic pain that is not obvious or visible on the surface?
It is important to know the reason behind the issue before attempting to apply a cure.
The first step is to eliminate the possibility that there is a physical problem affecting the dog.
A trip to the vet, a thorough examination, some blood tests and maybe an x-ray if a damaged bone is suspected may save your dogs life and remedy the depression after treating the problem.
It may simply be a case of chronic pain brought on by a rheumatic condition like arthritis. Anti inflammatory drugs will alleviate the pain and the depressive effect should go with it.
In cases of loss or a dramatic change of circumstances, time is often the best healer.
If you are absolutely sure this is the case then try and lighten the dogs mood, interact more frequently, offer praise and stimulation and try and identify and then implement some activity or situation that seems to make the dog more enthusiastic about life. Keep it distracted and busy.
Keep light and cheerful around the dog. Emanate confidence. Reassure the dog that all is well by behaving like it is.
Whatever you do — do not make little sympathy sounds. Poor dog, poor little mite just act to assure the dog that something really is wrong!
Your own moods can have a great effect on your dog.
If you are feeling down in the dumps don’t be surprised when your dog joins you.
If your dog has a bond with you it will sense your moods and this will affect it’s own so another thing to look at if your dog is showing signs of depression is at yourself.
You should also look at your family to see if anyone else has a problem or are unduly anxious about a situation or another individual.
Canine PTSD is a more difficult problem to treat.
A traumatic experience will leave your dog with associated triggers that bring back the state of fear that the dog previously went through.
Physical abuse. Long term neglect. Insecurity and fear. Accidents. Isolation and deprivation of companionship can all bring on this condition. Dogs that are born with a fearful and timid temperament or those poorly socialised are most at risk.
In the case of an obvious physical experience identifying the cause could be straightforward.
A near death experience or involvement in an accident is a common cause of PTSD. Exposure to something unknown or frightening can also bring on the condition. Being left alone too often and for long periods is traumatic to any pack animal that thrives on companionship.
Dogs are particularly sensitive to companionship deprivation and of all breeds of dog, the Border Collies suffers most.
Systemic Desensitisation is a form of behavioural modification that can be used to treat CPTSD
It should be applied very carefully as misuse can make matters worse.
It works by the gradual exposure of the dog to the triggers that bring on the CPTSD, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of the exposure until the dog become inured to it.
Couple this with positive re-enforcement training and distrations with the occasional treat thrown in and the results can be astonishing. But this form of behavioral training can easily go sour if the dog is outfaced by being over exposed to the trigger that brings on the CPTSD.
Seasonally Affected Disorder also affects dogs.
In fact changes in the weather can have an impact on a dogs mood. Prolonged periods of low pressure and overcast sky can make a dog depressed — people too!
When there is less daylight the brain produces more melatonin and less serotonin which can have an adverse effect on their mood. For a start their bodies, like ours, will produce less vitamin D.
Long periods of overcast and short days with very little direct sunlight can cause a dog to start to lose it’s coat because it’s Pineal gland has less exposure to the sun. Another effect of dysfunction of the Pineal gland is the disrupting of the production of melatonin which also effects moods.
We humans reach for the vitamin supplements and start to increase our intake of vitamin D but as dogs are sensitive to high levels of this vitamin it is unwise to use this as a solution. A balanced diet should provide enough vitamin D.
Instead you can make sure the dog has adequate exposure to sunlight by getting it out more often and for longer periods and by changing lighting in your home to a type of bulb that imitates natural light.
You can also buy light boxes that provide high intensity natural light. Both you and your dog will benefit.
Companionship Deprivation is a common cause of depression in dogs.
It’s extreme manifestation is a form of behaviour known as ‘separation anxiety’.
Border Collies are very prone to this condition.
Why get a dog and then leave it alone for long periods of time? Dogs are social animals. They live in social groups and isolation is an abnormal condition for them. For a dog, to be left home alone all day is an unpleasant experience and can lead to mood swings, irritation and depression if it goes on too long.
This is a form of depression that can easily be avoided. Spend more time with your dog. Make sure it has your company and interaction.
Do not expect the situation to be rectified if you get another dog — it is your company the dog desires.
Don’t expect the situation to be rectified by getting a dog walker to come in and take your dog out — it needs you.
Don’t expect taking the dog to ‘doggy day care’ to be a substitute for your responsibility for it’s welfare.
If you cannot provide a dog with the companionship it requires you should not have a dog. Simple as that!
Before asking the vet for Prozac — briefly — here are a couple of softer solutions.
First in any case of a dog needing any form of medication for any reason — consult your vet.
If you want to use any herbal or complimentary medicines make sure your vet is aware and preferably sympathetic.
Homeopathy — Ignatia has proved to be a good tool in fighting depression in humans and dogs.
Bach Flower Remedies — Rescue Remedy is a popular choice for stress, shock and depression and there are other flower remedies that are useful in depression — Mustard — Star of Bethlehem — Gentian — Honeysuckle — Gorse.
Herbal — St John’s Wort — Sandalwood Oil — both useful in lifting depression.
Aromatherapy — Lavender — Bergamot — Ylang-Ylang — Chamomile — all are essential oils used to treat depression.
Acupuncture and Acupressure are now also thought to help depression by inducing a relaxed state of mind.
If administering any of these treatments, or any other, it is important to keep your vet in the loop.
All said, having eliminated any physical cause, the best thing to do for a depressed dog is to give it security, affection, respect, companionship, interaction, communication and love.
This is what a depressed dog needs and it is all within everyone’s ability to give if they make the effort.
You may find that this is all that your dog needs to overcome the problem.
If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm Tuesdays to Thursdays)
Please do not write to us or email us about adoption — we want to speak to you before we start the process.
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Help! My Dog Seems Depressed After Having Surgery. Is This Normal?
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Dogs who’ve recently had surgery often appear a bit down in the dumps after returning home. This concerns many owners, who don’t know if the problem is serious or what to do to cheer up their pet.
We’ll try to help you understand post-operative depression below and explain some of the most common symptoms of depression, so you know what to look for. We’ll also provide you with a few tips for putting a bit of pep back in your pooch’s step.
Why Do Dogs Become Depressed After Surgery?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons dogs may become depressed after surgery, but it is likely due to a combination of the following factors:
Dogs will often be in a bit of pain or discomfort following a surgery. This alone is enough to trigger mild depression in some pups. Be sure to talk to your vet if you think your dog is in pain – your vet may be able to prescribe medications to keep your dog more comfortable while he heals.
Hormones play a large role in your dog’s emotional state, and when surgical procedures disrupt your pet’s hormone levels, depression often follows. Dogs who’ve been spayed or neutered are the most likely to suffer hormonally triggered depression, thanks to the removal of their reproductive organs.
Reactions to Medications
The medications used during and after surgery may cause your dog to feel depressed. This not only includes the anesthesia medications used during the procedure, but the medications you come home with too.
The Stress of the Experience
Stress alone can trigger depression, and surgery can be a very stressful experience for your pet. Having to go into the vet’s office, being poked and prodded by the staff, and then having to recover in a lonely kennel until mom or dad returns can overwhelm a dog and trigger a depressive episode.
The Cone of Shame
Dogs occasionally need to wear an E-cone or E-collar to prevent them from licking their surgical wounds. Dogs often hate wearing these devices, and they may become mildly depressed while being forced to do so.
How Long Does Post-Operative Depression Last?
Different dogs will suffer from depression for different lengths of time, but most dogs probably start to feel normal again after a few days or weeks . The duration of the depression will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of procedure performed, your dog’s mental state before the surgery, and his age.
As long as your dog’s depression appears to be easing over time, and it doesn’t seem to be getting worse, there’s likely no cause for concern . Just call your vet, explain the symptoms you are observing, and heed the advice provided.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Dogs
It’s usually pretty easy to tell when your dog is depressed. In fact, depressed dogs often exhibit many of the same symptoms depressed people do. Each dog is an individual, but most depressed pups will exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
Note that while depression is rarely dangerous for dogs, and it will often resolve itself with time , it is important to ensure that your dog isn’t suffering from some other malady .
For example, dogs suffering from arthritis or hip dysplasia may become withdrawn and less active than normal because of the pain they’re experiencing. At other times, the depression may be linked to a hormonal problem or an underlying illness, such as diabetes, which will require treatment.
So, while you needn’t load the pooch in the car and race over to the vet because he is acting a bit blue, you should seek veterinary assistance if your dog isn’t able to snap out of the depression within a few days. You’ll also want to contact your vet if your dog exhibits any signs not associated with depression – such as skin or coat problems, intestinal distress, or obvious pain.
A fever (especially one associated with depression) can also be a sign of trouble, as it may indicate an internal infection. So, seek immediate veterinary attention if your dog’s temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Tips for Cheering Up Your Pup
There are a variety of things you can do to help cheer up your pet and help him feel like his old self. Some of the most effective include:
Engage in Activities Your Dog Likes
This is the simplest solution to doggie depression: Just do some stuff he likes doing .
Does your dog like fishing treats out of his KONG? Does he like going for a ride in the car? Does he like lounging on the back porch with you? Well, get to it and put some wag back in your pupper’s tail.
Just be sure to obtain your vet’s blessing before engaging in any vigorous activities, as some surgical procedures will require you to keep your dog calm and quiet while he heals.
Heed your vet’s specific advice, but he or she will normally caution you to prevent your dog from running, jumping, swimming, or engaging in any other type of vigorous play until the stitches are removed or dissolve on their own (usually about 10 to 14 days).
You can still give your dog some love and attention, but you’ll need to keep things relaxed (check out a few creative solutions for stimulating post-op pets here).
Spending some time with other dogs often helps dispirited pooches snap out of depressive episodes . This obviously won’t work with all dogs, as some don’t seem to like palling around with other dogs as much as others. But dogs who are social butterflies will often respond favorably to a trip to the local dog park.
Just be sure to keep your dog on a lead to prevent him from running or playing too wildly. Also, use a bit of extra caution as some dogs become a bit more irritable than normal following an operation. So, keep an eye on your pooch and make sure that he plays nicely with others.
Spend More Time with Your Pet
Some dogs simply need more attention from mom or dad following a surgery . You may want to move your dog’s bed closer to the places you spend lots of time, or you may need to make more time for play. It may even be a good idea to work from home for a few days, if that’s possible in your situation.
If you rely on the services of a dog walker, you may want to schedule more frequent (or lengthy) visits. Dogs often bond strongly with their walkers, and this can help perk them up too.
Stimulate Your Pup’s Coat, Skin, or Muscles
Another great way to lift your pup’s spirits is through some basic physical stimulation and pleasure. So, consider brushing him in a slow, relaxing way, or just giving him an extra-long, extra-awesome scritching session. You could even give him a canine massage if your pup enjoys this kind of attention.
But no matter what kind of stimulation you offer, just be sure that:
- Your dog enjoys it — don’t brush your pup if he hates grooming time
- You carry out these activities in an even gentler than usual manner
- You keep your canine calm while doing so
The last one is really important, as you don’t want him to get worked up and pop his stitches. But a half hour of ear massaging or gentle scritching while you watch TV may help him feel much better.
Medications: When Nothing Else Works
Although most dogs who suffer from post-operative surgery begin feeling better pretty quickly, some dogs may suffer from a prolonged bout of depression. In such cases, consider speaking with your veterinarian about medications that may help your four-footed friend feel better .
Your vet may prescribe a common canine-friendly antidepressant or antianxiety medication originally developed for humans, such as Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft. These medications are often quite effective, although they may take several weeks to begin generating results.
Of course, on the flip side, some post-op medications may actually contribute to your dog’s depression. But in such cases, your vet may be able to reduce the dosage or switch up the prescription to help your pet feel better.
Ultimately, postoperative depression isn’t much different than depression arising from other causes. Just try to do your best to comfort your pooch and mix up your routine a bit to help drag him out of his despondent state. With luck, he’ll be back to his old self in no time.
Has your dog ever suffered from post-operative depression? How did you help him feel better? Do you have any helpful tips you can share? Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below.