We just got back from vacation on Sunday and Ozzie was depressed. He’s usually a pretty easy-going dog who enjoys just hanging out in his yard or my office. Since we’ve been back, however, he’s been listless, not really wanting to do anything, not interested in his snacks or his meals. I know he isn’t ill in the traditional sense of the word; what he is is depressed. He is sad about being home. Ozzie really enjoyed our vacation on the Oregon coast. It was so much cooler there and everything we did revolved around the dogs. They went everywhere with us for a whole week, so lots of new smells, new adventures, and our undivided attention. Now that we are home, we are back to work and the usual routine. We are having triple digit heat, so dogs need to be indoors with fans and the A/C running. No adventures in the car for sure as it’s way too hot. No wonder Ozzie is depressed! Hey…I’m a little sad too!
Depression is a very real thing for our pets. There are documented cases of depression across all animal species. Some animals experience depression with changes in their living situation such as following moves, end of summer/return of the kids to school, vacation, etc. Many animals experience depression with the loss of family members, whether those family members are human, canine, or feline. Some animals can move through their depression on their own, while others really do need our help. The signs of depression in animals are lethargy, increased sleeping, lack of desire to pursue things they would normally enjoy, loss of appetite, and change in mood. Sound familiar? The symptoms are very much like those you might see in a person experiencing depression. The big difference, however, is that animals cannot verbalize their feelings and thus must rely on their humans to help them overcome their depression. Treating depression in animals involves environmental enrichment with new interactive toys and games, increased exercise, and an enforced change of scenery. For many animals, these steps are enough to overcome their depression, while for others a trip to see their veterinarian is also necessary as a short course of Elavil (Amitriptyline) is needed to get them back on their feet and enjoying life again. If the cause of the depression is the loss of an animal companion, exploring the addition of a new animal companion may even be in order.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that depression is a very real experience for our pets. Psychological issues can most definitely affect physical health and well-being and as such must be taken seriously. Just telling your pet to “snap out of it” or ignoring the symptoms and expecting them to just “cowboy up” won’t work and may even result in profound repercussions. Thus, while mourning periods can be observed by both humans and animals after the loss of a loved one, for certain individuals more must be done to be able to successfully move forward with a quality of life.
For Ozzie, after a couple of days of being cajoled into walks and enticed with tiny bits of human food, he is back on track. He still isn’t happy about the heat, but he is back to his usual goofy self, hanging out with us and is eating his meals again. He is so different from Desi who I think really is happy to be home and back to the usual routine. Dogs, like people, approach life differently. We know that there are certain personality types in humans that are more prone to depression. That may be true in animals as well, though it is a bit more difficult to explore with them and more research is needed.
Have any of your pets ever experienced depression? What did you do to help them overcome it? Let me know your thoughts.