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How I Helped My Pet Overcome Anxiety and Depression

I am a proud owner of Rusty, a cocker spaniel who is simply adorable. He was the inspiration for me to write this article.

Healthy pets can also be depressed.

Healthy pets can also be depressed.

Most Important Member of the Household

Our cocker spaniel Rusty rules our house now. My daughter got a one-month-old puppy and the moment I saw him I realized he belonged to our household. At first, my husband was not keen on adopting a pet, but he soon got very attached to him. From taking Rusty on walks to feeding him to keeping up with vet appointments, he took care of everything.

Rusty on his part adores my husband. His expression would change the moment he realized that his master was going out. So my husband made it a point to tell him he would be back soon before leaving the house. Now he has become a very important part of our life. We decide everything, whether going on a vacation, attending functions, visiting friends and family, etc., based on his comfort and liking. He is an important part of the household now. We cannot think of our lives without him. He is extremely pampered by all of us in our home.

Time spent with my pet is Precious

No matter how difficult the day is, when I come home and play with Rusty, I feel at once relaxed and happy. He seems to understand everything that we say. And when I am sad or down, he snuggles and licks my face, trying to comfort me, which is so endearing. His eyes are most expressive and he communicates aptly with his expressions and barks. He is uniquely possessive about my spending time with him. When I take out the yoga mat, he wants to play with it and out goes my exercise routine. When I try to read the newspaper, he sits on it and starts chewing it. Once he even tried to climb atop my laptop when I was working on it. It was so funny. And when we take out the suitcase to pack, when getting ready for travelling, he sits right inside the suitcase. But his favorite activity is a ride in the car. The moment the car keys are taken out, he starts jumping with joy and crying impatiently. His most endearing trait is the warm welcome he offers when we return home.

Anxiety Issues

His only problem is he has anxiety issues. As he is very attached to my husband, he instantly gets depressed when his master goes out. And the pandemic created a tough time for our furbabies. At first, while we were navigating through the new normal, our pets were simply happy to have us around all the time. They got accustomed to all the extra attention. As the situation has improved and many pet parents are returning to offices and started to socialize more, many pets are grappling with minor to severe anxiety and depression. So when my husband had to go out of town for about a week, we were naturally concerned about his mental health. We had a discussion with our vet on dealing with the issue. Our vet had some great advice.

Natural Instincts Help Them In the Healing Process

The vet explained that pets had natural instincts which help them with the healing process. So it is best we allow them to reconnect with their natural instincts. For instance, dogs love digging, chewing, sniffing, rolling in the grass etc. Giving them no rules attached to time is important. Doctors agree that though transition can be tough, a majority of the pets can come out of anxiety and depression with coaxing and positive energy. Herbs like chamomile also work. As treatment is about individual cases, the pet’s history also plays a crucial role, say specialists. But rewarding pets to make them happier is not advised as it encourages them and they start to believe that their behavior is being appreciated.

Some of the steps to prevent depression in pets:

Our vet gave us a list of dos and don'ts to prevent depression in pets which came in very handy for us to manage Rusty's anxiety issues:

  • Spend time with the pet daily doing their favorite activity
  • Take them out on drives and playtime
  • Teach them to be independent by leaving them alone for small periods and then slowly increasing the time
  • The pet parent should stay calm while leaving home and returning, which teaches the pet that it is normal activity.
  • It is always safe to use reliable pet daycare and pet sitter.
  • When pets have to be left alone, special treats like safe toys to cuddle, play with or chew should be given.
  • Exercise is a wonderful remedy for depression in dogs. A long walk in natural surroundings will improve the pet’s mood. It also boosts the immune system of the pet.
  • In severe cases, the vet can be consulted for medications.
  • Sticking to daily routines makes the pet feel secure and safe because dogs are creatures of habit.
  • Brush and comb them regularly so that they feel clean.
  • Indulge in new play and teach him new tricks to keep him interested and stimulated.
  • Change walking routes which engages their brains as they analyze new smells.
  • Socialization is a must. Taking them to dog parks gives them an opportunity to interact with other like beings and feel connected and motivated.
  • Rewarding positive behavior. Praise and healthy treats encourage and improve the mood of pets. Our pet feels very happy when we say he is a good boy.
  • Play soft music when you need to go out and leave the pet alone at home.
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  • An atmosphere conductive to sleep is essential like low noise and dim lights, as dogs need their required sleep to stay healthy.
  • Dogs have sensitive hearing. They hear sounds four times farther away than we can. Thus, they can hear sounds which cannot be heard by humans. Noisy environs must be avoided for pets.
  • Though they do not understand the language we use; they observe the tone and body language and know when you are upset or angry. So yelling at your pet is a bad idea. It causes agitation and distress to the pet.
  • A stern reprimand without raising the voice and a "good girl" or "good boy" to applaud always works better than anger and punishment.
  • Many dogs do not like being hugged. Hugging is not an animal trait, so they do not understand it and may cause it to get aggressive or fearful. Our pet hates being hugged.
  • When on walks or outside, discourage strangers from touching or petting them as it can cause a lot of stress to the pet. It needs to get familiar with the person first.
  • Dog experts say staring into the dog’s eyes can make it extremely uneasy and needs to be avoided.
  • When going on walks. pet parents need to ensure that the pets are not on a tight leash. A pleasant walking pattern is recommended by trainers.
  • Many people dress their pets in various costumes, which makes them uncomfortable and is better avoided.

The vet also shared that almost 40% of the cases he deals with nowadays are of pets suffering from separation anxiety. In some pets it can be severe, resulting in panic attacks. It is important the pet parents stay calm as most pets mirror the behavior of their parents.it is important not to stress them out or make them anxious.

If it is stressed, certain changes in their characteristics are noticeably. Like dogs will not react to their usual stimulus, or be less playful. This depression can manifest in many health conditions too.

Warning Signs of Anxiety in Pets

Some of the warning signs of anxiety are:

  • Destructive chewing, obsessive paw licking
  • Panting, trembling, disinterest in playing with people, toys
  • Sad expression, lack of energy, growling, howling, and aggression
  • Sleeping too much/ too little and decreased appetite
  • Change in behavior and acting needy or clingy

It is best to take note of the warning signs of anxiety and depression at the initial stages and treat accordingly to avoid further complications. But first and foremost we must ensure that there are no physical causes because pets can get depressed when they are unwell or in pain.

Causes of Depression in Dogs

  • Lack of play and boredom. When pet parents are busy with their own schedules, the pet often feels neglected and this leads to anxiety and depression in the pet.
  • No interaction with other animals is another reason the pet feels lonely and sad. Animals need to interact and play with each other. This keeps them energetic and in a good mood.
  • Some breeds are habit conscious. Any change in their daily routine can distress them. For example, our pet has to compulsorily follow his daily routine. Any change makes him angry and aggressive.
  • Change of scene or environment changes like weather change can also trigger anxiety in pets. And it takes time for them to adjust to the new scenario.
  • Grief is another reason for the pet to get depression. When the pet’s favorite person or playmate moves out, they start missing them and slowly lead to depression.
  • Phobias or fear can also make the pet depressed. Our pet has a strong phobia for the sound of crackers (fireworks and firecrackers). He gets panic attacks and tries to hide underneath chairs and tables when he hears its sound. Diwali festival is like a nightmare for our dear pet.

Be Patient

But as our vet suggested, the most important factor in dealing with depression in pets is patience. The pet parent needs to give him all the love and comfort necessary to make him feel safe and secure. And that’s what I did with my pet. I gave him full attention, immense love, encouragement and invested time in exercising him apart from keeping track of his food and other habits. Without a single change in his routine, he felt safe and happy. I was able to maneuver the days without much adverse issues, thanks to the advice of our veterinary doctor. We both bonded well and have been each other’s source of comfort during these hard times. It is not a wonder then that they say “a dog is man’s best friend." They are loyal, stay with us their whole lives without much expectation, and give us unconditional love. Pets are an indispensable part of our life.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 VIDYA D SAGAR

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