Fall 2011 Magazine

Dogs and Depression

By Claudia Bensimoun

Depression doesn't just happen to humans. It happens to canines, too. But as long as we recognize the symptoms, certain changes can be made to combat it.

Symptoms of canine depression

Change in environment may create stress and depression in canines.

Visit any shelter and you will see a few withdrawn, passive aggressive dogs. These dogs don't bark excitedly. They seek shelter at the back of their stalls and look up at you with no excitement or interest. Serious emotional trauma affects many shelter dogs as they wait for a new family. Often these dogs will not eat, suffer from anxiety and tend to sleep a lot. Even after being adopted, these dogs may be stressed while forming a bond with their new family.

Change of schedule.

Less exercise in a dog's daily routine is a sure depression inducer. When exercise decreases, as it does in the shelter, a dog produces fewer endorphins. Endorphins are naturally occurring chemicals in the body which trigger a positive feeling. Endorphins play an important role in your dog's sense of well- being.

Change of status in bonding with their humans.

Tests show the behavioral reactions of a canine and small children are similar. Separate a canine from his family and you will have a depressed canine. An anti-depressant, such as Prozac, which is prescribed by your veterinarian, may help alleviate canine depression. This is because the same biochemical processes are at work in humans and canines. Aromatherapy also helps, if you are more inclined toward a holistic approach. A combination of exercise and aromatherapy is often a favorite approach.

Change of behavior pattern.

Submissive behavior patterns, such as those exhibited by the low ranking dog in a pack, may become evident. Bonding with their families is an expression of canine love. Should a change in the family occur, such as the death of a family member, or a loss of attention or affection toward the dog, your canine will be emotionally affected. Emotional identification connects your canine to his human family. Should this connection be broken, depression may set in.

Change in a canine's social circle.

The death of a canine companion who has lived side by side with your dog creates the pain of a loss for your dog. Humans feel it too. Canines may refuse to go out for a walk, refuse to eat and become depressed. Research has shown that the pain of a loss and death are two separate concepts for canines. Canines feel death and behave in ways that suggest grieving.

A new addition to the canine home pack may bring out your dog's feelings of jealousy and anxiety, possibly expressed as disgust or disdain towards the new puppy or dog. If too much attention is placed on the new canine family member, disdain can turn into depression and if not looked into very quickly, this condition can last for months. One has to look at all the variables within the canine's family home, to determine if there are any contributing factors adding to his depression.

Changes in health.

Sometimes depression is brought on by illness. Make sure your canine has regular visits to the veterinarian and a full physical at least once every year. Brain chemistry can be affected by your dog's sense of smell. Certain odors may improve his mood by changing your canine's brain chemistry so that it produces proteins, making him feel good. Lavender is used to induce relaxation.

Changes that help ease depression in canines.

Whether one is a shelter volunteer or has been recently affected by the depression of your canine, here are a few suggestions that may ease a dog's depression.

. Introduce your canine to the pack at the dog park. Initially your dog may
   be shy or just too depressed for interaction, but encouraging him to play
   ball or Frisbee, will get those endorphins going. Even a slight wag or grin from
   your canine is a sure sign that things are improving.
. Make him a home cooked meal and possibly hand feed him his favorite meal.
   Sitting next to your canine, with Bach or Handel in the background and a
   tad of salmon, broccoli and sweet potatoes, is going to help him relax and
   start nibbling.
. Have extra alone time with your furry friend.
. Consider aroma therapeutic massages which any holistic veterinarian can
. Take trips with Fido to Petco or any pet supply store. There are many great
   interactive canine toys on the market and these help ease boredom and help
   Fido focus on something else.

Dogs have emotional ups and downs. As long as we are committed to pin-pointing these lows and creating effective changes in Fido's environment, canine depression can be treated.

For more information on this subject consult the following books.

Vilmos Csanyi, If Dogs Could Talk
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog
Patricia McConnell, PhD - The Other End of the Leash
Patricia McConnell, PhD- For the Love of a Dog

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance writer. She lives in West Palm Beach, FL where her German Shepherd and Yorkshire Terrier keep her company.

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