In recent years, animal behavior experts have discovered what many of us already knew – that animals are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions similar to those of humans. If you’re a pet owner, you know when yours is angry, unhappy, joyful and listless. Unfortunately, these complex emotions can be accompanied by persistent depression in animals as well.
Life changes can be as stressful for animals as they are for us. A new baby, a housing change, the loss of another companion pet and the death of an owner all can cause serious reactions. They grieve just like people do, and the signs to look for are similar as well. Changes in eating and sleeping patterns, loss of interest in otherwise enjoyable activities, being withdrawn and sullen are tell-tale indications of depression in companion animals and should be addressed immediately.
The first order of business is a vet visit to rule out a physical cause for the behavior. Once a physical cause is eliminated, it’s time to address the emotional needs. Remember that every behavior has a cause and a meaning, and should be interpreted in that light.
If you have a new baby, make sure that your pets get a little extra attention and TLC so that they don’t feel abandoned or displaced. Tell them what is going on, and include them in your usual activities when possible.
Most animals are territorial, and changes of residence, a new roommate or live-in significant other can also trigger depression. Tell your dog or cat what is happening, and allow them to explore the new environment and pick their places to eat, relax and play. Death of a human or animal companion can also trigger depression. Give your pets some time to grieve, and then get a sense of their need to either be an only, or to have another companion to keep them company.
Above all, provide your animals with fun activities to occupy their minds and reward them for good behavior with praise and treats. If you give too much attention to the depressive behaviors, your pet will think he is being rewarded for them. So, be attentive and comforting, and only reward happy behaviors.
In extreme cases, vets may prescribe an antidepressant like Paxil or Prozac for a short time. These drugs are used as a supplement to behavior modification and love and attention, not as an alternative.
Your animal companions need your awareness and your love most during these stressful times
A communication session can be very useful to help you and your animal to understand and comfort each other. Feel free to schedule a check-in whenever you wish.