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
Changes in appetite
Pottying in the house or outside the litter box
Lack of or excessive grooming
Withdrawing from attention
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.