Pet ownership is beneficial to our mental health, but are you aware that they can get depression too? Like humans, healthy pets can have depression, said Regina Boyle Wheeler of Everyday Health, a website that inspires and empowers people to live their healthiest lives every day. Depression in pets is not common, but it is recommended to observe the following signs: lethargy, poor appetite, and poor activity levels.
Kathleen Dunn, DMV, a veterinarian at the Pet Health Center at North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y., said to be aware if your active pets start moping or when your normally calm pet becomes agitated. She added, “Dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and even iguanas can experience depression.”
Pet Ownership and the Human-Animal Bond (2016)
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), a non-profit research and education organization, collaborated with Cohen Research Group to conduct an online survey involving 2,000 pet owners. 71% of pet owners have heard scientific research on the human-animal bond that shows how pet ownership can improve one’s physical or mental health.
Owners were also aware that pets can reduce stress (88%), depression (86%), and anxiety (84%). They were aware of other benefits of pet ownership such as helping those with conditions like PTSD in war veterans (80%), supporting healthy aging (68%), helping those with conditions like autism (65%), and improving heart health (60%). The respondents also were aware that pets support child cognitive development and reading skills (47%) and classroom learning (45%) and prevent child allergies (32%).
83% of baby boomers and 82% of greatest/silent generations said they had more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets compared with millennials (62%) and Gen X (72%). Likewise, 75% and 55% of owners said a friend’s or family member’s mental and physical health improved from pet ownership, respectively. When owners are educated on the scientific research related to the health benefits of pets, 92% of owners were likely to maintain their companion’s health, which includes updating their pet’s vaccines and preventative medicine.
Moreover, 89% were likely to take their pet to the vet for regular check-ups and 62% were less likely to skip veterinary visits. Owners educated scientific research on the benefits of pet ownership were more likely to microchip their pets (75%) and less likely to give them up for any reason (74%).
80% of owners who were aware of the health benefits of pets said they spend most of the day or a big part of their day with their pets, unlike 71% of those who were unaware. 97% of owners held a favorable view of their veterinarian. However, 66% of owners (77% of millennials) would hold a more favorable view of their veterinarian if the latter discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond. 61%Only 25% of millennials always talk to their veterinarians about the health benefits of pet ownership unlike 16% of Gen X, 6% of baby boomers, and 4% of greatest/silent generation.
Causes of Depression In Pets
Depression is defined as something that “causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed,” according to the American Psychiatric Association, an organization of psychiatrists, cited by stated Dr. Jennifer Coates of Pet Coach, whose objective is to provide the best care and attention to pets. Common causes include the death of a beloved person or animal companion, household stress, or a move. But most of the time, depression is associated with change or loss. For example, pet parents spending more time at work or children going back to school can trigger depression among pets.
However, feelings of worthlessness are not easily observed in animals, complicating the diagnosis of pet depression. Hence, your veterinarian will say that your pet exhibits “depressive behaviors” rather than diagnosing it with depression. Pets can also become depressed if they are left alone for several hours. It is also possible that your pet is mirroring your own mood. Dunn said, “Pets are sensitive to their owners’ moods and know when their owners are upset.” Medical problems may also masquerade as depression. For instance, pain, hypothyroidism, and cancer exhibit symptoms similar to depression.
Decreased activity levels tend to be more prevalent in younger pets than older ones, stated Dr. Wailani Sung MS, PhD., DVM, DACVB, of Vet Street, a website that offers advice on pet care and health. Some pets will slow down as they age and do not need much encouragement from its owner. Regardless of your pet’s age, behavioral changes can range from gradual to sudden.
Treating Pet Depression By Improving the Animal-Human Bond
Minimize household stress. Give your pets ample exercise and playtime to stimulate their mind, helping them focus on the said activities. Try bringing your dog to a dog park to let it play and mingle with other dogs or animals.
Offer novel toys or toys that have different sounds or smells like catnip, mint, or rosemary to help stimulate your cat. Consider practicing basic training exercises that your pet is familiar with. Offer new food rewards or interesting smells to keep your pet mentally stimulated. You can bring home another pet if depression is caused by the loss of another companion. Moving to a new home with your pets can be a stressful experience. Confine them to one area to make the transition more bearable to your pets. Take your time introducing them to other parts of your house to minimize stress.
Dunn reminded that cats are more susceptible to stress and depression because of a move. Felines may also refuse food. In this case, call your veterinarian. Dunn said, “A cat that doesn’t eat for 48 to 72 hours can have serious medical issues.”
Medication is rarely needed to address depression. Your veterinarian can also perform a diagnosis to confirm if any medical conditions contribute to depression. Dunn explained, “Sometimes appetite stimulation is required, and sometimes pets are put on specific anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications, just like people.” Depression cannot be alleviated overnight and it can take several months for the medication to work.
Engage your pets in family activities and be aware of how changes in routine will affect your pet’s mental health. Don’t force your pet to play with your family if your furry friend is unable to enjoy it for the time being.
Pet depression can manifest as lethargy or poor appetite. Causes range from loss of another pet to isolation. Medications may be needed, but owners should interact with their pet or introduce gradual changes in routine. Veterinarians and owners should also discuss how to maintain a strong human-animal bond (ex: engaging in activities with pets) to their pet’s mental health, not just the benefits of pet ownership.