There’s no arguing the fact that pets bring us great amounts of joy. In fact, our lovable furry friends are scientifically proven to boost our mental health through their unconditional love and companionship.
Dogs may be a man’s best friend, but that friendship isn’t just a one-way street. Canines can help their humans cope with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, but how can we make sure that we’re doing the same for our pups?
It’s easy to prioritize the physical wellbeing of our pets. We all know that a healthy diet and consistent exercise are crucial to maintaining a pooch’s health. Mental health is just as much of a priority, though; dogs can experience “human” feelings including stress, anxiety, depression, and grief. Because dogs can’t tell us how they’re feeling with their words, it’s important to know how to recognize potential mental health issues in our pets.
Common Mental Health Issues in Dogs
There are several mental health conditions that can affect canines, including dog dementia. The most common mental health issues found in dogs, however, are:Anxiety
This can include separation anxiety, social anxiety, and noise anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety tend to panic when they are left alone, wondering whether you will ever come back. In those moments of panic, they can display destructive behavior (such as chewing or destroying household items), bark frantically, or have indoor bathroom incidents.
Dogs with social anxiety, often due to a history of neglect, can experience high levels of anxiety around other dogs or humans. Sometimes, this anxiety can be displayed in the form of aggression.
If your pooch doesn’t understand the source of a loud noise, or the reason behind a chaotic environment, he may start to feel stressed and anxious. If your dog is exhibiting signs of stress during a thunderstorm or fireworks, he is likely experiencing noise anxiety.
Pet Honesty’s Hemp Calming Chews, with ingredients such as chamomile, ginger root, passion flower and hemp oil can help to ease anxiety during stressful situations such as car rides or fireworks,; they may even be used to calm your pup while you head out for the day if he’s prone to experiencing separation anxiety.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, can affect dogs just as easily as humans. Canine OCD behaviors are generally repetitive and seemingly arbitrary. Common symptoms of OCD in dogs include spinning, tail chasing, self-mutilation, overgrooming, and eating non-food items.
Treating a dog for OCD often includes prescription medication and behavioral modification therapy.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, occurs after a traumatic incident. If your dog has experienced trauma, such as abuse or a severe fight with another dog, he may have PTSD. When triggered, this will cause him to respond as if he is in the same situation that caused the trauma in the first place.
If your vet diagnoses your pet with PTSD, take comfort in the fact that it is treatable. Perhaps your pup may be prescribed with anti-anxiety medications; when he is feeling stable, slowly reintroduce your dog to the things that make him anxious (within reason), and help him to rebuild his confidence.
As with humans, many symptoms of depression appear in physical form. If you notice changes in your dog’s behavior such as becoming more withdrawn, decreased energy levels, loss of appetite, and general lethargy, he may be feeling depressed.
Canine depression can be caused by a variety of factors. Your dog may be feeling down due to an illness or physical pain; confinement and social isolation can also cause dog depression. A major life/lifestyle change can also be hard on a pet—a different routine or a new family member, such as a baby, may be an unwelcome change. Loss of a companion (animal or owner) can cause a dog to experience grief, which can lead to depression.
Research shows that living with anxiety, fear, and other psychological stressors is linked to a shorter lifespan. Not only that, it can cause skin problems in dogs. Pet Honesty’s Salmon SkinHealth Chews help to reduce shedding, improve dry and itchy skin, even support healthy brain function.
Consult your vet before self-diagnosing your dog if he’s showing symptoms of depression or other abnormal behavior. Some common mental health issues can also be signs of physical ailments, so it’s best to avoid any guesswork when it comes to maintaining the health and happiness of your four-legged friend.
Treatment and Prevention
Because there are a variety of factors that can lead to mental health issues in dogs, genetics included, there are also a variety of ways to prevent and treat these issues. Some pet owners prefer prescription medications, while others go the holistic route. Maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle and keeping your pup’s body and mind sharp is also never a bad idea.
Avoid punishing a distressed dog, especially if he is acting out due to anxiety or PTSD. It’s also important to note that some behavioral problems, such as stubbornness when it comes to potty training, may stem from mental health issues.
Just like humans, dogs can get bored. A lack of mentally and physically stimulating activities can lead to anxiety and destructive behavior, so providing proper outlets for your pup is important for keeping his spirits high. For example, if your dog loves to run, play a game of fetch every day. If he loves to chew, get some sustainably-sourced rawhide alternatives to munch on.
Spending some quality time together to work on learning new tricks provides necessary mental enrichment for your pup while also giving him some time with the person he loves the most—you!