Do pets have the capacity to truly love?

Many times in an extremely close relationship between two humans there develops a feeling of “oneness.” I have even encountered several people who have developed such a strong feeling of connection that it seems to include the whole of creation. Sometimes the question arises as to whether our pets have the ability to truly love and if they have a soul similar to that of humans. Most people who have felt or heard a cat purring when touched or a dog wagging his tail when near a certain family member would argue that animals do have the ability to love unconditionally. That being said, there are many people in the scientific community who would argue that pets only seem to love others in their “pack” simply as a survival instinct.

Yesterday, my friend Abby showed me a video with a goat sitting in the corner of his pen, refusing to eat. Apparently the goat, Mr. G, had developed a special relationship with his burro friend, and the two had been separated when the burro was relocated. The goat refused to eat and exhibited signs of severe depression which was immediately “cured” when he was reunited with his burro pal. This behavior goes against everything we think of as a survival instinct. As a matter of fact, it seems as though Mr. G had lost his will to live and if the burro had not been brought back, the depression would have most likely killed him. Although this was extremely touching and seemed to prove the fact that animals can and do love, a concern comes to mind: what if the caretakers were not able to return the burro for whatever reason? Can this depression from a “broken heart” be treated?

Pet depression usually presents with symptoms of restlessness, possible aggression, sleeping for long periods of time, and possibly a lack of interest in grooming. Depressed cats may decide to stop using the litter box; pets may also begin misbehaving in an effort to get attention. Other symptoms may include a lack of appetite which in extreme cases may be life threatening. Most depressed pets also appear more withdrawn and show no interest in things that used to provide pleasure, such as a particular favorite toy or a walk around the neighborhood.

Treatment for depression may include increasing the pet’s activities, taking the pet for walks, or playing games that the dog or cat usually enjoys. For dogs, going to the dog park may help improve the mood. Socialization is one of the best things to improve mood. Socializing with new pets may help even more in cases where the depression is caused by a “broken heart.” Get the pet moving, running, playing, and do not tolerate your pet sitting in the corner day in and day out. If the depression does not respond to these environmental measures, the veterinarian may need to prescribe medication.

Fluoxetine is an anti-depressant medication

The medications used in pets exhibiting symptoms of depression are quite similar to the ones that humans use such as fluoxetine and clomipramine. These medications are generally used for separation anxiety and have been also prescribed to treat depression. After a few weeks of being on some of these prescription medications, most pets will have a dramatic turnaround. The spark, the enthusiasm, and the will to live will seem to have returned overnight.

Comfort Zone releases a calming pheromone

Another product that has been found to be helpful for both dogs and cats is called Comfort Zone. This product is an over-the-counter plug-in diffuser that releases the proper amount of pheromones that keep the pet calm and feeling safe. This feeling of safety may be beneficial in helping the pet overcome other attachments that resulted from the loss of someone that they loved.

If depression is suspected, it is important to take the pet to your veterinarian. Many symptoms of depression could actually be caused by something more serious. Even though it may appear that the cause is obvious in cases when a pet has lost a close companion, sometimes something that is overlooked could also be contributing to the symptoms. Enough continuous emotional stress or physical pain usually ends up leading to symptoms of depression. The veterinarian may do some testing to make sure that the pet is in fact depressed and doesn’t have some other treatable medical condition. If the pet is acting differently and depression is suspected, then it’s time to go in for an exam. A good relationship with your veterinarian is one of the best ways to keep the pet in good health.

As always, if you have any medication related questions your 1800PetMeds pharmacist is more than happy to answer those for you.

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  1. Our 16 year old Jack Russell, Rusty, passed away last week after an extended debilitating period. Max, our 10 year old Border Collie, has been despondent, is eating poorly, chews on his sides, and goes to Rusty’s sleeping place to check for him. We took him to our vet today and he does think that Max is grieving. We are starting Vetri-Science’s Composure chews tonight to see if this natural composition will help to relieve anxiety and stress that he may be feeling due the loss of his long-time companion. We feel for sure that his behavior is a manifestation of grief.

  2. Lana I absolutely agree with you. We are going through the very same thing. We have a male and female boxer and the younger one has never been alone. His companion died last week and he has been grieving ever since. He won’t play ball (he used to do that every waking moment) and we will find him laying where we buried Lola. It is so sad to watch. We are wondering if it is a good idea to get him a new friend. Would a female his age be a good idea or perhaps a puppy would be better? So much to consider.

  3. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJune 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Sounds like could be grief. I also find bach flower essences like Be serene from 1800petmeds can also help. Also consider the homeopathic remedy Ignatia in 30c potency, giving 1 pellet twice daily for 3 days, which also may help state of grief.

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