Temple Grandin and many scientists acknowledge that animals share several core emotions with us humans. These emotions help them communicate, explore, and learn about the world around them just as they do for us. As pet owners, we have seen our dogs and cats express panic, rage, fear, play, and hunting behaviors. But do dogs experience depression? Or do they simply mimic our depression as a way to express their bond to us?
Sometimes we may place our own humanized emotions onto our animals such as saying, “Oh, he’s embarrassed” or “He’s pouting because he has to wear the cone on his head.”
Even if it’s unsure if our pets experience depression the way we do, we can certainly see signs that clearly indicate they are not happy such as refusing to eat, interacting less with their playmates or us, refusing to engage in activities like a walk, and laying around with increased lethargy. Whether or not they are actually clinically depressed is still being studied but we do know that anxiety, fear, and the process of submitting or in extreme cases shutting down do occur in dogs.
What can we do to help our canine companions?
Anticipate changes – changes in your household, changes in who lives there, changes in routine can bring on anxiety, mourning, and depression-like signs. You can help lessen the unknown for your dog and possible depression by slowly introducing changes. For example, if your child is moving to college and she always takes him to the dog park, begin changing who takes him there. If a baby is going to be a new addition to the house, move and add items to the house little by little so your dog has time to adjust to each new thing. Allow your dog time to experience change gradually. Moving to a new house can be overwhelming to a dog and stressful to him just as it is to us and that can be lessened by packing early and pacing out the process.
Take Care of Yourself – A dog may appear depressed as a response to our own depressed state of mind. If the owner is finding it hard to maintain activities such as long walks with the dog, playtime, and other enrichment, the dog may also experience a type of lethargy from the change in routine. If you can address your own lows and highs your dog may also benefit.
Let Your Dog Help You – We all know that dogs are often used in facilities to help people there have a few moments of smiles and laughter. Petting a dog can relieve stress, depression, and help people. Your own pet can be your personal therapy dog if you let him. Taking care of your dog can help you deal with the blues. Dogs can help pull you out of your depression for a little while with their funny antics, wagging tail, and kisses. If your dog loves to play fetch and that’s part of your routine, go play fetch and praise him when he brings the ball back. You’ll find yourself smiling automatically when he comes back to you each time. If your dog loves to give hugs and show affection, there’s no way you won’t be smiling.
See Your Vet – If your dog still doesn’t seem like himself regardless of your own moods, a visit to the vet can’t hurt. Sometimes signs of what we believe are depression can indicate an illness. It can’t hurt to be safe. Let your vet check your dog over for any underlying issues and talk to your vet about any changes that may have brought on the change in attitude in your dog.