“Why is your tail not wagging?”–Understanding pet depression
Every morning Harvey would greet me with a meow that said “I am so happy to see you!” He would then run towards me and leap so I would pick him up. Our daily routine for several years had been me picking him up, flipping him over, hugging him, then putting him back down and giving him a treat. Harvey was truly a special cat.
One week last year I had to travel out of town for 2 weeks. I made sure that Harvey had plenty of visits daily from several friends who had promised to care for him. Three days later I got a call from my friend Leslie who said in a concerned voice “Harvey is not eating and as far as I can tell, he has not moved from under the table.” Fearing that Harvey might have an infection or some other acute illness, I asked Leslie to take him to get examined by his veterinarian. The veterinarian gave Harvey a complete physical and concluded that he was suffering from a form of situational depression. Apparently the change in routine and not having me there to flip him every day had resulted in Harvey getting a depression. The veterinarian suggested Leslie attempt to stick to his routine as much as possible and to play with him a few times a day with one of his usual favorite toys. It took a few days but by the beginning of the second week Harvey was back to his old self.
Although I’ve had several pets through the years, I had never imagined that pets can suffer from depression. When I found out that they do, I decided to learn as much as I could about this condition and its treatment.
As it turns out, pets do get depressed. Many times this occurs when there is a change in routine, loss of someone close to them, being left alone or crated for extended periods of time, pain, certain illnesses, and a variety of other reasons. Dogs are pack animals and depend on being part of pack where they know their place and have a certain amount of security. Whenever the pack unit is disturbed, a dog may get depressed. Other causes include lack of exercise or severe boredom. Sometimes the depression is simply caused by chemicals in the brain and central nervous system not working as they should.
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 lack of appetite or simply being more withdrawn than usual or showing no interest in things the pet used to enjoy.
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. If the depression does not respond to these environmental measures, the veterinarian may decide to prescribe medication.
The medications used in pets 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. 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.
If depression is suspected, it is important to take the pet to your veterinarian. Many symptoms of depression could be something more serious. Sometimes something as little as a small joint out of place could be causing enough continuous pain that it ends up leading to symptoms of depression. The veterinarian may do some testing to make sure that the pet is in fact depressed and not some other treatable 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.
Also, as always, if you have any medication related questions your 1800PetMeds pharmacist is more than happy to answer those for you.