Is Your Dog Down in the Dumps?

depressed dogRecently, I answered questions from a New York Times science writer who inquired about depression in dogs for an article she was writing. The short article received a lot of attention, so I decided to expand on the topic for my readers.

Dogs Have Feelings Too
Depression is a specific psychiatric diagnosis in humans. If you look at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) definition of depression, many of the symptoms of depression cannot be applied to dogs, since they revolve around feelings. While we believe dogs have feelings, they cannot articulate sadness, helplessness, pessimism or suicidal thoughts as would humans suffering from clinical depression.

Yet, there are some signs of depression in dogs similar to those experienced by humans. Their owners may notice abrupt changes in behavior including irritability, loss of interest in activities, decreased energy and changes in appetite, all of which may signify depression. Dog owners frequently report these symptoms in their dog when a child in the family goes away to college, a favorite human or animal family member dies or the family moves to a new home. But because these are non-specific findings, they could be attributed to medical conditions as well. So it is wise to bring your pet to a veterinarian whenever you see behavioral changes in order to rule out illness.

Depression Means Two Things
Because veterinarians use the term “depression” in a different way than physicians do about their patients, some pet owners may misunderstand a diagnosis of depression. Veterinarians use “depressed” to describe one of five levels of consciousness in their four-legged patients:

  1. Normal. Of course there are many variations of normal between pets of the same breed. Veterinarians will require input from owners to determine if the pet is behaving in its normal manner.
  2. Depressed, dull, quiet. These pets prefer to sleep and have responses to stimuli that are appropriate. Animals diagnosed with a disease may be dull quiet, or depressed. A thorough examination of a pet with these signs and symptoms is required to rule out behavior resulting from a change in environment or illness.
  3. Disoriented, demented. This is similar to a dull animal, but responses to stimuli are inappropriate. Pets may be hyperactive, hysterical or irritable.
  4. Stuporous, obtunded. These pets do not respond to normal stimuli but will respond to strong, noxious stimuli such as a toe pinch.
  5. Comatose. These pets are unresponsive to all stimuli.

Not Just Depression
The NIH says depression in humans is often associated with other mental health disorders such as anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders. Veterinarians do diagnose obsessive compulsive disorders, PTSD, aggression, separation anxiety, and noise phobia (commonly fear of thunderstorms) in dogs and urine spraying and predatory aggression in cats. These disorders are commonly treated with antidepressants and behavioral modification therapy, suggesting depression may also be associated with these other mental health disorders in pets.

Antidepressants for Your Dog and Cat
Some of the antidepressants veterinarians use in pets include:

  • Clomipramine [Clomicalm®] is approved by the FDA for treatment of separation anxiety in dogs.
  • Fluoxetine [Reconcile®] is approved by the FDA for treatment of separation anxiety in dogs and contains the same active ingredient as Prozac®.
  • Selegiline (L-deprenyl) [Anipryl®] is approved by the FDA for treatment of cognitive dysfunction in dogs.
  • Nortriptyline, amitriptyline [Elavil®] and doxepin are not FDA approved for use in dogs or cats, but are frequently prescribed by veterinarians “off-label.”

If your pooch is punky or your cat is catatonic, it is important to find out the cause. Have them checked by their veterinarian immediately.

7 Responses to Is Your Dog Down in the Dumps?

  1. Lauraine Hather says:

    My sons dog is down in the dumps her sister his being nasty to Hershey has come to stay with me for a bit to see how things go she. Is eating again so I must get a bit of meat on her now she has lost so much you can feel all her bones were she hasent been eating ,but weare doing ok after just 4days she had 2 meals to day Holy …….

  2. Mary Hallgren says:

    Beau was as depressed as I was after Angel passed. He was a part of the reason that I adopted Cody so soon. Cody got us both out of our depression with his antics. Unfortunately, he also got me into the ER with a broken shoulder. LOL But I still love him so much. He can sense my moods and helps comforts me in the bad times. he has his head on my thigh right now.

  3. junefit says:

    Dogs and cats definitely have deep feelings , form attachments and have responses to loss, environmental changes similar to ours and they may even experience them even more deeply due to the lack of reasons for these changes. One important thing though is that they also may be responding to our moods. Dogs in particular, study us and are very sensitive to our feekings. Guardians can help being aware of this.

  4. Reblogged this on Adrienne's Chat Lounge and commented:
    Because so many of us have dogs and depression!

  5. Thanks for reading our blog!

  6. ssgt leslie says:

    great article, my sisters cat was depressed after her losing her 2nd dog within a year of the sibling. now she is doing better, it was touch and go there for a while. thanks for bringing this to attention.

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