The Winter Blues… Pets Suffer From Depression Too

Short gray days at this time of year can make anyone feel a little low.  I attended college in Binghamton, New York where the sun didn’t shine from late October until late April.  I can tell you with certainty that when I was there, I suffered from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)… winter depression.  It’s a problem for many people.

But how about our pets?  Is it possible they’re affected by seasonal changes too?  And what about depression in general?  Can our pets be depressed?

If your pets are used to enjoying the outdoors—long walks in the park, games of fetch in the yard, hikes in the mountains—you can be sure they’re feeling down if bad weather’s keeping them housebound.

Are you noticing signs of the winter blues?  Our pets don’t care if the weather’s nice or not.  They still want and need to exercise… both their bodies and their brains.  Keeping a regular exercise routine, even if you have to take it indoors to an agility gym or play games of “Find It”, is essential to keeping your pet happy in every season.

But what about just generalized depression?  Have your pets ever been in a bad mood at other times of the year?

It’s likely pets experience depression, but maybe not in the same way people do.  We can’t be sure how our pets feel depressed because they can’t tell us.

In humans, doctors diagnose depression through dialog with a patient.  The patient can tell the doctor what they’re experiencing.  An animal has no ability to explain their state of mind.  So it’s a little more challenging to say they’re suffering from depression, as we think of depression.

But we know our pets suffer from depression-like symptoms.

Because of their inability to talk to us though, we can’t be sure that the symptoms they are experiencing are being caused by depression and not a medical problem.  The signs of depression are also linked to other health issues.

See your veterinarian as soon as you notice any of the behavioral changes I talk about in this article to rule out a health problem that needs treatment.

How do you know if your pet’s depressed?

A pet that’s depressed will act differently.  So take notice of any changes in their normal behavior.  Things like:

Lack of interest in playing

Sleeping more

Changes in appetite

Drinking less

Hiding

Destructive behavior

Aggression

Pottying in the house or outside the litter box

Lack of or excessive grooming

Lethargy

Withdrawing from attention

Moping

Pacing

Whining or crying

What would cause your pet to become depressed?

In pets, depression is short-lived, and it’s generally brought on by change.  A new home, a new baby or pet in the house, or a stay-at-home owner getting a job outside the house.  These can all lead to depression.

But the most common reasons for depression in our pets are the loss of an owner or companion animal.

Unfortunately, loss is a part of life… for everyone.   But there are ways to lessen the blow for our pets.

How can you keep those tails wagging?

During periods of change in your home, try to keep your pet’s routine the same.  Keep up with daily exercise, play and cuddle time—even if your new circumstances make it difficult.  Your pet needs their regular routine.

If your pet is moping, try not to reward that behavior by lavishing affection on them.  Instead, get them to do something that makes them happy and reward that behavior.

For instance, grab the leash for a walk.  If they wag their tail and show excitement, praise that happy behavior.

With a cat, give them their space.  But when they come to you, try to engage them in an activity they like and give them affection when they respond.

If you use this method of behavior modification early on, you can often avoid a prolonged period of depression.

Most pets bounce back in a few days or weeks.  They just need a little more TLC, exercise, and attention.

But if your pet falls into a depression you aren’t able to help them shake, talk to your vet about meds.  Some of the medications used for depression in people are also available for our pets.  Vets often prescribe drugs like Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.

Medication takes time to kick in—up to 2 months.  But your pet probably won’t need to be on it for more than 6 to 12 months.

If you prefer to take a more holistic approach, herbal supplements are available for pet depression.  A holistic vet can help you find the one that’s right for your dog or cat.

But remember, never give your pet any drugs or supplements without talking to your vet first.  They can have adverse effects if your pet is sick or is on other medications.

Depression is treatable in people and pets.  It just takes a little education to see the signs so you can act… because happiness is something we all want for our pets.

Has your dog or cat suffered from depression?  How did you know and what did you do about it?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

Colds… Dogs Get Them Too

In most areas of the country, it’s cold outside.  Snowy, icy, wintery weather keeps us indoors this time of year.  Being in close quarters spreads germs and is a surefire way for us to get sick.

Winter’s cold and flu season impacts us.  But what about our dogs?

Most definitely!  They can’t catch a cold or the flu from us because their viruses differ from ours. But when they get a cold, their symptoms are often the same.  Sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose make our dogs miserable too.

The right diagnosis is important

The thing about these symptoms is they can mean your dog has a cold, or they can be a sign of something else.  Some conditions with symptoms similar to a cold are very serious.

For instance, canine distemper.  It’s a viral infection that can be deadly.  The symptoms include coughing, thick discharge from the dog’s eyes and nose, and a high fever. But with distemper your dog may also vomit, not typical with a cold.

Besides distemper, parasites and fungal infections can get into the lungs, heart and trachea. These conditions also bring on cold-like symptoms—specifically coughing and breathing problems—and can lead to life-threatening complications.

The sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes can also be allergies.  They can make your dog miserable but they’re generally not life threatening.  There’s help for canine allergies.  So talk to your vet.

Many people confuse kennel cough with a cold.  A dog can easily contract kennel cough from another dog that has it.  Usually when you’ve boarded your dog or your dog has come in contact with a dog that has recently been in the kennel.  It causes a dry honking cough and you have to treat it.

How about the flu?  People often say they have the flu when they have a bad cold.  But your dog probably doesn’t have canine flu.  It’s not that common.  But any dog that comes in contact with it is likely to get it because most dogs are not immune to it.

Coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge look the same in canine flu as they do with a cold.  But the flu may bring on lethargy and loss of appetite.  Just like in humans, your dog will seem sicker with the flu than a cold.  If you suspect the flu, call the vet.  A dog with the flu can get pneumonia and that’s serious.

If you suspect that your dog’s symptoms are something more than a cold, it’s always a good idea to get them to the doctor.

Dogs catch colds the way people do

One way a dog can catch a cold is from another dog that has one.  And, surprisingly, your dog can catch a chill just like you can.

When your mother threatened, “You’ll catch a chill”, did you wonder why you should care?

Well, if you catch a chill, your body needs to work harder and use more energy to stay warm.  Expending more energy lowers your immune system.  The same is true for your dog.

So if your dog often gets a cold, try to keep them dry and warm in the winter.  A nice cozy sweater when they go outside is a great idea.

Many dogs will live their whole lives without ever catching a cold.  But some dogs get them every year.  It depends on the dog and their ability to fight infection.

Truthfully, of the eight dogs I’ve had, not one of them ever caught a cold.  But my sister had a dog that had several colds over her life.  Every dog is different.

Keep your dog’s immune system strong.  Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, access to clean fresh water, and a clean living environment are prevention measures you can take to keep colds away.

Treatment is similar too

Just like you would if you caught a cold, keep your dog hydrated.  Feed them healthy food—even chicken soup as long as it’s not too hot and there are no bones.  Keep them warm and dry.

Humidify the air near the area where they sleep if they’re having trouble breathing.  You can also fill the bathtub with hot water to create steam and let your dog lay on the bathroom floor (NOT in the tub).  Steam clears the sinuses and lungs.

If your dog is healthy overall, they’ll be over their cold in a few days.  But some dogs need antibiotics or other meds.  If your dog’s symptoms are lingering for more than 3 or 4 days or they’re worsening, see your vet.

Very young and very old dogs should see the vet at the onset of symptoms.  Their immune systems can’t fight off a cold and may need some other interventions.

If you have multiple dogs and one has a cold, separate them.  Colds are contagious, dog-to-dog.

Just like you can’t give your cold to your dog, they aren’t contagious to you.  Remember, they are different viruses.

Has your dog had a cold?  How did you know?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.