If you own a dog, you know that they are capable of an array of emotions, even some that may surprise you in their familiarity.
While so many of the emotions our dogs express are a joy to us, others may be difficult for us to witness. Unlike us, when dogs feel depressed they can't tell us so we are often asked by confused pet parents, "Can my dog be depressed?" We wish that our loyal and loving dogs couldn't feel depressed, but studies show they can.
However, with plenty of love and some strategic implementations, you can provide your dog with natural remedies for depression.
How Can You Tell if your Pet is Depressed?
You know your dog better than anyone and what makes them unique. Because of this, the signs of depression in your dog may vary. But that also means, no one will be better at catching and remedying it than you!
Your first major clues will be things you easily notice. You may find that your dog stops getting as excited about their favorite things and opts for sleeping rather than keeping up certain routines.
Universal signs of depression in a pet are a decrease in or loss of appetite, changes in body language when interacting with humans, and lethargy.
What Causes Depression in Pets?
The first way to help your pet is to identify if they are depressed at all. If you can recognize it, you should be able to work at the root of the problem.
One of the biggest elements that can bring on depression in a dog is change. This can mean a recent move, a new baby, or the loss of a canine companion.
Another set of reasons for depression in canines is from lack of mental and/or physical stimulation. If your dog's mind and body are not being engaged often they may start to feel down as a result.
If you suspect your dog could be suffering from a medical condition causing depression, it is best to rule this out by taking them to their veterinarian.
What can you do for a depressed dog?
Engage their Mind
Often, boredom can create depression in dogs. This is especially common in dogs with extra problem-solving abilities like shepherds, terriers, and poodles.
You can help stimulate your dog's mind with puzzle toys and challenges. You can go the store-bought route with toys designed to challenge your pup or make your own enriching games with frozen treats and peanut butter for dogs.
You can also provide enrichment for your dog by teaching them new games and tricks. The extra focus needed for them to learn these things can reduce their anxiety by eliminating excess energy.
We have also often heard from pet parents that providing stimulating elements while they are away is a great benefit to pets. Dogs love to watch the dramas of nature so if you can provide a bird feeder and/or access to a window they will be entertained for hours! You can also leave on music or Dog TV while you are away to keep them more occupied.
One on One Time
Have you recently gone back to the office after working from home? Or maybe you have new obligations keeping you away from home? Either way, your dog may be feeling your absences and this can cause their mood to dip as a result.
If you can, try to find ways to spend more time with them. You may even want to ask your co-workers if bringing your dog with you is an option!
However, we know that more time is not always in the cards for busy pet parents. If so, you can increase the quality of the time you spent together, rather than the quantity. You can do this by playing new games with them, going on walks, teaching them tricks, or providing some loving grooming!
If your dog is suffering from depression related to a change in environment or previous patterns, incorporating routines into their life can help boost their mood. Studies have shown that dogs find great comfort from consistency!
Exercise can help your dog work out anxiety jitters as well as boost their mood with increased endorphins and better physical health.
Get by With a Little Help from Friends
Not all dogs enjoy socialization, but if your pup is one who does try to fit in more to their schedule. Taking your pup to a dog park or meeting up with some friends are great ways to boost their mood. Or, if a dog has just lost another pet in the home, adding another companion could be the solution.
CBD and Supplements
CBD has been found to be a natural way to increase serotonin and reduce anxiety for those looking to avoid medications for depressed dogs. Adding CBD into your pet's routine can be a great way to help them feel less depressed. It may serve as a foundation on which you can build as you identify what specific factors may be affecting your pet's mood.
You may also want to introduce other natural supplements to support your pet's mood. Fatty acids and omega-3s are well known to support both the brain and body. Look for treats or supplements that provide fish oil. Probiotics are also linked to mental wellness.
Identifying Behavior Challenges
Some pets come to us with phobias or behavioral challenges which can make them feel down. You will want to identify if these fears or challenges are contributing to their feelings of depression. Depending on the root cause, you can implement behavior training to try to ease the phobia or change the behavior.
Rewarding their Wins
Dogs often pick up on their owner's disappointment when they fall short in training or with behavioral challenges. You can help improve their mood by rewarding them when they do well. This does not always mean just when they perform a routine or habit well. You can also reward them when you see them wagging their tail or displaying other positive behavior.
You also want to make sure to implement positive reinforcement techniques when training your dog. This will help them perform the needed tasks without feeling frustrated or punished.
When to Seek Extra Help
The first way to know you should consider the help of a professional is if you cannot identify why your dog may be feeling depressed. This becomes an especially big concern if the change is very sudden.
If a vet finds that there is no underlying health cause for your dog's depression then the next person to reach out to is a canine behavioralist. A canine behaviorist is an expert, trained in the field of dog behavior. They will use their training and understanding to implement science-based tools like behavior modification.
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