Can Dogs Have Mental Health Problems?
It isn’t just humans that suffer from mental health issues. Research from Rover suggests that over 1 million dogs in the UK are suffering from mental health issues. It’s a silent epidemic.
There’s a whole range of mental health problems that can occur in dogs, so today we’re sharing what to look out for, and advice on how to best support them.
How Can Dog’s Be Affected By Mental Health?
Dogs can be affected by the same problems us humans can face, such as anxiety, depression, and stress.
It’s no surprise that half of the owners surveyed admitted they wouldn’t be able to easily spot the signs. It’s more difficult to get to the root of the mental health problems with dogs. They can’t open up and talk to us in our own language, so we need to tune into their body language.
Experts found some of the most common reasons for mental health in dogs are as follows:
- Left alone for too long
- Lack of exercise
- Change in routine
- Lack of belly rubs (yes we’re serious)
- Not going on their favourite walk
- The loss of a companion
- Abuse from former owners
But how can mental health in dogs be recognised and treated? Let’s break down the most common mental health conditions and offer some advice on how to support your pawly pooch.
Stress is linked with many dog’s mental health problems and it can also make existing problems worse. There are plenty of things that make our dogs stressed and sometimes us humans can create that stress without even realising it.
Causes of stress include sudden changes in the environment or routine, leaving the dogs at home alone (causing separation anxiety), moving house, travelling or changes within the ‘pack’. Dog’s can also get stressed when their human is going through a stressful period.
Signs to look out for include: Excessive panting, tail between legs, lip licking, ears pinned back, paw raises, yawning, pacing.
How to help my pooch with stress? First, pinpoint the cause of stress and remove them from the cause of the stress. Find a quiet place where they can recoup, it’s also good to provide your dog with a safe place in the home. Resist the urge to overly comfort them, as mentioned before this will only confirm that their stress is the correct behaviour.
As with humans, exercise can be a great way to relieve stress. A nice long dog walk can help both of you to relieve tension.
As happy and carefree as our dogs may seem on the outside, they can also be depressed. This can usually be experienced when a change of routine occurs, a new household member, a new house etc.
With humans, a ‘change of scene’ can usually be beneficial for depression, but with our furry pups, any change can actually be the trigger of depression in dogs.
Signs to look for include: Similar to those seen in humans. Changes in behaviour and mood, appetite changes loss of or increased, sleeping often, loss of interest in usual activities, obsessive paw licking, avoidance or hiding.
How to help my pooch with depression? First of all, visit your vet to make sure there’s no underlying health condition.
Be sure to give your pooch plenty of love and attention, at the right times. Don’t praise or cuddle them if they’re looking down, but instead, wait until you see some sign of happiness and reward for that behaviour.
Ultimately, the best cure for doggy depression is to keep your dog active and entertained with regular walks, playtimes, and any special activities that you know they enjoy. If they love the frisbee, play with it more often and praise them when they’re happy and having fun.
If none of these tactics works, head back to the vet for medications to treat depression.
Anxiety comes in various forms within dogs. The most popular being separation anxiety. This is where your dog struggles to cope when being left at home alone. It often manifests itself in undesirable behaviours, such as destroying furniture and barking.
Signs to look out for include: Destructive behaviour, vocalisation – howling, barking, whining, toileting or vomiting indoors, trembling, shaking or pacing, salivation or self-directed behaviours (licking or bite themselves excessively).
How to help my pooch with separation anxiety? Our very own dog Charlie has suffered from separation anxiety in the past, and so it’s a topic we’re passionate about at Dog Furiendly. Check out our blog about separation anxiety, and ideas on how you can overcome it with your pooch.
Another form of anxiety some dog’s deal with on a day to day basis is fear-related anxiety. This can be caused by loud noises (or even phone noises in Charlie’s case – yes he’s a sensitive soul), strangers, other dogs, visual stimuli (like hats or umbrellas), new environments, specific situations (like the vets) or even surfaces.
Signs to look out for include: Panting, drooling, toileting indoors, pacing, hiding, shaking, destructive behaviour, tucking their tail, whining or whimpering, yawning or lip licking.
How to help my pooch with fear-related anxiety? First of all, always visit your vet first to make sure there’s no underlying health condition. Then we suggest seeking professional help to the root of the behaviour. While creating a conditioning plan that works for you, control your dog’s environment to avoid the object or situation as much as possible.
Depending on the severity of the problem, you may have training exercises to do at home to counter condition your dog to have a neutral or positive association with the fear.
When your dog is showing signs of fear-related anxiety don’t encourage it by petting or cuddling your dog. They’ll think their reaction is totally normal. Instead, do some training to take their mind off it and reward good behaviour. Learn or work with a behaviourist to desensitise the situation.
OCD in dogs is behaviour that seems out of context, unusual, repetitive, and/or directed toward objects or the dog themselves. This often manifests itself in dogs who are stressed, anxious, or bored. It can, of course, be frustrating or humourous for the owner to watch.
Signs to look out for include: Destructive behaviour, obsessive digging, obsessive paw licking, barking at nothing, attacking inanimate objects, barking at themselves in the mirror or the old classic tail chasing.
How to help my pooch with OCD? Like all mental health conditions in dogs, first, get checked over by a vet to make sure there are no underlying health issues. They may be able to prescribe medication if the disorder has stemmed through stress.
If OCD is due to boredom, it’s time to step up your dog’s activity level. A tired dog is a content dog and not a compulsive pet. Also, look into various enrichment games you can make at home to keep your pooches brain ticking.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Just like humans, dogs can experience severe trauma after an event. PTSD tends to happen after a traumatic event (more often seen in rescue dogs). Events can include mistreatment, physical violence or abuse, from humans or other dogs.
Signs to look out for include: Sleep disturbances, hypervigilance, irritability, distress, avoiding familiar areas, shaking, displays of other anxiety and depressive symptoms (as above).
How to help my pooch with PTSD? As with other mental health disorders, PTSD can cause your dog to act out or display uncharacteristic behaviour. It is recommended that head to the vets again to ensure there’s no underlying health condition and to see if medical assistance is required. A dog behaviour specialist can assist you to move forward with the correct treatment.
Improve Your Dog’s Mental Health
Does your dogs have mental health problems? Share your experience below. How did you overcome your experiences?