People often wonder, do dogs feel depression at all, and, if so, do they feel it in the same way that we do?
In truth, the hard science on this is still in its infancy, what we do know is that MRI scans performed on conscious, alert dogs have demonstrated that they probably feel the sensation of love in much the same way that people do. How this translates to depression has yet to be explored. Still, let’s be honest, you know your dog and if you think your dog needs some cheering up you’re probably right!
Is My Dog Depressed or Sick?
Your instincts are right on this, just like us, the first thing to determine is whether you’re dealing with a dog that’s depressed or sick . Just like us, our dogs can express physical problems through a change in mood and behavior. Unless you are fairly sure what has caused your pup’s depression you need to rule out the physical first. Anything from a toxin to a rash can give your dog the appearance of depression. Things like decreased appetite, sudden onset of aggression, and regression in housetraining or increased accidents are things your vet needs to know about.
Is My Dog Bored or Depressed?
Bored or depressed? In dogs, boredom and depression is expressed in much the same way…and again trust your instincts here, is she getting enough exercise, interaction, affection? Remember, dogs are pack animals and like us when the pack is away or distracted a sense of loneliness and alienation can occur. When trying to distinguish boredom from depression, ask yourself two things:
Is My Own Behavior Affecting How My Dog Is Feeling?
Dogs, as you’ve noticed, pick up on our emotions, they’re actually better at this than we are! They sense it, there’s even evidence that they smell it (possible internal link at some point)! If you are upset it’s sometimes enough to change your dog’s mood. If this is the case you can take some time to comfort each other. It may not heal everything right away but petting and snuggling your dog releases endorphin-like chemicals in both of you and that’s always a good thing!
What Should I Do?
Your dog is physically fine and you’re fairly sure she’s depressed. What should you do? At the risk of anthropomorphizing we are just going to say it, dogs are emotional creatures, depression happens! So, when your dog is depressed, what should you do to help? Here are a few things to consider:
- Routine: Keep your routine as regular as possible, most dogs take comfort in stability and changes in routine can throw them off balance.
- Diet: Be sure that your dog has a consistent diet, and be sure that she is receiving a high quality food with plenty of protein.
- Medication: Your dog’s vet is the only safe place to turn to for advice on medication, if your dog’s depression has persisted for more than two weeks it may be time to consider a pharmacological solution.
Before you decide to medicate your dog’s depression try adding a little bit of extra stimulation to her day, as we mentioned, boredom and depression are tough to distinguish in dogs.
How Do I Keep My Dog from Getting Bored?
Dr. Marty Becker, author of “Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul” has offered the following solutions to keep your dog from feeling bored:
- Exercise: You know the mantra, “A tired Dog is a Happy Dog”, it’s always been true and it always will be.
- Toys: Keep a special toy, maybe something that hides a treat, that she only gets while you’re away, distraction is the next best thing to exercise.
- Smell: You probably already know that dogs sense the world through their noses, and that for dogs, smell is as important as sight. Let her keep something that smells like you and also try leaving things with new scents around your home. The novelty is good for her.
Distraction and exhaustion are your best friends when you are trying to cheer up a depressed dog; it works for a bored dog too. Artificial intelligence has given us some new and interesting ways to distract and entertain our dogs. We know about the apps that let you keep an eye on your dog when you’re away, but did you know that there are actually products out there that allow you to interact with her? Take a look at a system like Furbo, you can watch her, talk to her and even toss her treat! It is tough to see your dog feeling blue, but you may be surprised by how much some minor adjustments on your part will help her to break out of her funk.