Helping Pets with Depression: What You Need to Know

pet depression

Depression and anxiety affect us in many different ways. Sometimes losing a loved one or experiencing a massive trauma or life event can trigger mental health problems. However, what many owners don’t realize is that just like humans, our pets can also experience mental health struggles and disorders. Even the most playful, healthy, and happy pets can feel blue at times, and it is not always easy to detect since, unlike people, our furry friends can’t tell us that something is wrong.

While it is true that pets are capable of suffering from depression and anxiety, understanding your pet on such an emotional level does not come easy. However, responsible pet owners can usually sense when something isn’t right with their pets and quickly try to determine the cause.

So that begs the question – how, as a pet owner, can you detect those symptoms or signs of depression and anxiety within your pet? And, more importantly, what steps can you take to help prevent such a situation from happening or working so that your pet will overcome it?

There are some warning signs and symptoms that can alert you when your pet may be feeling depressed or starting to show behaviors that coincide with depression. Since our pets are intelligent creatures with a range of emotions, certain factors, experiences, and situations can sometimes trigger a pet to become depressed.

Here are some of the traits that pets display when depression starts to kick in and how you can combat certain situations to help cheer them up.

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What Causes Depression In Pets?

Before you can accurately assess if your pet is feeling depressed, it can help understand what may be causing the depression first. Most of the time, a significant change, a traumatic or distressing event that occurs in your pet’s life can bring about anxiety symptoms. 

For example, perhaps you had more than one pet, and one of them passed away. Losing a companion animal and friend can trigger an emotional response, especially since your pet can sense the grief experienced by those around it. Their emotions will be affected by knowing that something sad or depressing has happened.

Other factors include environmental changes, such as moving to a new home, bringing another pet into the house, or having a baby. Pay attention closely when significant changes within your life are occurring because chances are they are affecting your pet as well. Pets crave structure and routine, so when they sense that their everyday daily life is being interrupted, it can quickly bring about an emotional response. 

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Pets

To help you recognize that there is a problem and possible depression in your pet, you can look for these telltale symptoms and signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent shivering
  • Tail-tucking or hiding
  • Panting or pacing
  • Aggression
  • Howling, whimpering, or whining
  • Low activity (not as playful as usual)

There are even some physical symptoms that may also manifest due to depression. For example, you may find that your pet starts having diarrhea or sores on their body due to them biting or licking constantly. 

You should contact your veterinarian with any of these signs or symptoms immediately so that your pet can get help. The animal vets at Kips Bay/Murray Hill vet clinic state that even though many of the symptoms of depression seem challenging to assess, most pet owners can tell when their pets just don’t seem themselves or are acting out. 

They advise that you should be aware if your ordinarily healthy and active pet begins acting or seeming more mopy, agitated, or starts having accidents in the house or outside of the litter box – these are also telltale signs of depression. The good news is, though, the vets from Kips Bay also noted that while it is not uncommon for pets to undergo depression, it is rare that they suffer from any long-term effects. 

How To Know If Your Pet is Depressed

Bringing your pet to the vet is the best way to accurately diagnose depression since many of the signs and symptoms displayed can indicate other health issues. Therefore, your vet will typically perform a few tests, which may include drawing some blood, to eliminate that there is any physical or otherwise medical condition with your pet’s health.

Once the other health problems or issues have been ruled out, your vet will evaluate your pet’s home and care dynamic. Doing this helps them determine if something like a significant change within the family, environment, or other influences is the root cause of the emotional shift. Some pet owners become a little defensive during this evaluation since the vet is figuring out what kind of situation the pet is in, but don’t worry – you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s just a way for your vet to understand the cause of the depression. 

Knowing what triggered the outcome of depression can be helpful to you as well. Once you know the kinds of changes or situations that may trigger your pet to feel depressed, you can work to prevent it in the future.

How To Help Your Pet Feel Better

You may not understand or prevent situations from making your pet depressed, but that is okay. Since many of the conditions with pet depression are short-lived, you can take some steps to help your pet feel better and cheer up sooner. Start by keeping regular vet appointments once you know that your pet has depression so you can ensure it stays healthy since a generally healthy pet is a happier pet.

Some other things you can incorporate to help a depressed pet include:

  • Provide your pet with more attention – you can work to reward them for happy behavior, such as wagging their tail when you spend time with them. Give your pet a treat for displaying happiness in that fashion, and you will see your pet perk up when you give it more attention.
  • If there was a loss in the family or a pet that may have been a companion to yours, consider getting another pet. Then, your pet will perk up having a new friend to play with again. Another option to consider is to socialize your pet in other ways, such as making time to play with a friend’s pet or bringing it to a pet park where animals can play together. 
  • Exercise is another excellent way to help a pet through depression. Like humans, exercise is a healthy activity that will bring about a rush of endorphins and allow you to feel better. Keep your pet active by taking it on regular walks or coordinating playtimes to ensure that it is getting enough stimulation and activity.
  • Mental stimulation is another form of distraction, and allowing your pet to stay busy will help it overcome its feelings of depression. You may want to invest in some interactive pet toys, puzzles, or games that will help to occupy your pet’s mind and give it something to enjoy doing. 
  • Medications for depression and anxiety – though this is rare, it can occur in cases where a pet’s appetite is lost and needs to be revived, or the severity of their mental symptoms needs a more considerable boost. Pets may be put on specific anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications that will assist them in coping with their emotions, and the results can take some time to show improvement.
  • Prepare ahead of time for lifestyle changes. Taking time to prepare your pet is a huge factor in helping it cope easier with these kinds of experiences, and then it will not succumb to feelings of anxiousness or depression. 
    • For example, you can start introducing your pet to your newborn by letting it become familiar with the nursery or help your pet with a big move to a new home by bringing it to the house on a daily basis before the move happens. While some things happen unexpectedly, such as the loss of a family member or other pet, there are some situations that you can take steps and help your pet prepare for ahead of the game.

Wrapping up

Sometimes the cause of the depression or anxiety within your pet cannot be pinpointed to an exact event or situation. There could also be another underlying medical condition that causes depression in your pet. So, even if you have not experienced a significant change in events or had a life-altering experience that might affect your pet, but you detect that it is demonstrating symptoms, you should consult with your vet. 

Working with a vet is the best approach to assisting not just your pet but you as well to understand what is going on and learn how to help treat it. As long as you have a great connection with your pet, you can easily detect when it starts displaying odd behaviors. 

No matter what, providing your pet with an abundance of love and care will go a long way to helping your pet overcome its depressive tendencies and stop feeling blue. Understanding and battling depression in our pets helps them to live happier, fuller lives.

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