By Regina Boyle Wheeler | Medically reviewed by Jennifer Garcia, DVM
Even the most chipper kittens and playful pups can get the blues. Here’s how to spot the signs of pet depression — and how to help your four-legged friend get back to his old self again.
Just like people, healthy pets of all shapes and sizes can get down in the dumps. “Dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and even iguanas can experience depression,” says Kathleen Dunn, DMV, a veterinarian at the Pet Health Center at North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y.
While pet depression isn’t extremely common, these warning signs can help pet owners recognize if there is a problem.
- Your pet is lethargic
- He experiences a drop in appetite
- She’s just not playing the way she usually does
Dr. Dunn also says to be aware if your active, healthy pet starts moping or your normally calm animal seems agitated. Accidents in the house or outside of the litter box can also signal that you have a depressed dog or cat on your hands, Dunn says.
Diagnosing pet depression is a “diagnosis of exclusion,” meaning your vet will perform tests to eliminate medical reasons that could cause your pet to behave in a depressed way. If medical reasons are ruled out, then your veterinarian will take a look at whether family changes or influences could be at root.
What Causes Pet Depression?
- Death of a beloved person or animal companion
- Stress in the household
- A move
How to Treat Pet Depression
How can you help your depressed cat or dog snap out of his funk? Dunn says to first try to minimize stress in your home. Plenty of exercise and playtime is also a good way to stimulate his mind to focus on other things. Bringing your depressed dog to a local dog park is a great way to help him play and mingle with other animals. When your pet is depressed because of the loss of another pet, bringing another animal into the family can help.
If you’ve moved to a new home with your pets, make the transition easier by confining them to one area. After a while, slowly introduce them to other parts of the house to reduce their stress levels. Dunn says cats are more apt to become stressed or depressed because of a move and may refuse food. If your depressed cat stops eating, call a vet. “A cat that doesn’t eat for 48 to 72 hours can have serious medical issues,” she says.
Rarely, medication is needed to get your depressed dog or cat out of his blue mood. “Sometimes appetite stimulation is required, and sometimes pets are put on specific anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications, just like people,” Dunn says. And as with people, results don’t happen overnight. Dunn notes that it can take several months for the medicine to work its best.
You might not be able to prevent pet depression, but involving your furry friend in family activities and being aware of how changes will affect them can help. Keep your regular veterinary appointments, too — generally a healthy pet is a happy pet. Following these tips can help keep your cherished four-legged family members healthy in both body and mind for years to come.
COMMENTS FROM THE ADMINISTRATOR OF LOVINMYPUP.COM: THIS ARTICLE WAS VERY INTERESTING TO ME. I ACTUALLY WITNESSED ONE OF MY DOGS GO INTO A DEEP DEPRESSION AFTER MY LATE HUSBAND PASSED AWAY. WE HAD A FEMALE RED DOBERMAN NAMED ROXYJANE. THIS DOG WAS WITH MY DISABLED HUSBAND FROM SIX MONTHS OF AGE TO THE DAY HE PASSED. MY HUSBAND CAME HOME UNDER HOSPICE CARE ON A FRIDAY. HE PASSED AWAY ON WEDNESDAY. THE ENTIRE TIME ROXYJANE LAY BY THE HOSPITAL BED IN MY LIVING ROOM WATCHING. IT APPEARED THAT SHE KNEW WHAT WAS HAPPENING. I BROUGHT HER FOOD TO HER. THE ONLY TIME SHE LEFT THE BED WAS WHEN SHE HAD TO GO OUT.
THE DAY AFTER THE DEATH, ROXYJANE WATCHED THE MEDICAL SUPPLY COMPANY REMOVE THE BED AND OTHER MEDICAL EQUIPMENT. AFTER THE MEN LEFT, SHE CRAWLED INTO A CORNER F THE ROOM AND STAYED THERE. SHE WOULD NOT EAT. SHE ONLY MOVED WHEN SHE COULDN’T HOLD HER URINE ANYMORE. SHE WENT OUT, DID HER BUSINESS, AND CAME RIGHT BACK IN WITHOUT PLAYING. AFTER 2 WEEKS OF THIS BEHAVIOR I TOOK HER TO THE VET AND HAD HER PLACED ON AN HERBAL ANTIDEPRESSANT. SIX MONTHS LATER SHE DIED. HER BEHAVIOR NEVER WENT BACK TO NORMAL. I FIRMLY BELIEVE SHE DEVELOPED THE BLEEDING ULCER FROM THE MISERY OF NOT HAVING HER LOVING OWNER AT HER SIDE. SHE IS HAPPY NOW, REUNITED WITH HER LOVING OWNER IN HEAVEN.
KEEP COMING BACK! THERE IS MORE TO COME. MAKE SURE YOU SHARE YOUR LOVE WITH YOUR DOG OR CAT TONIGHT!