Boo, titled ‘the world’s cutest dog’, died last week due to heartbreak. This followed the death of his best friend Buddy, who passed away in 2017. The death of the Pomeranian, who was an internet sensation and had more than 16 million fans on Facebook, has raised questions about depression among pets.
There could be multiple reasons for a pet dog to slip into depression, says Dr Champak Naik, veterinary doctor with Precise Pet Clinic and Diagnostics.
“The demise of a companion or somebody who regularly interacts with the dog can be upsetting. Until the dog sees the person’s lifeless body, for almost a week it doesn’t realise what is happening when a person goes missing. They assume that the person might have just gone away. But then the usual scents diminish and reality hits. It’s often a very slow process; could take up to a week,” he explains.
The situation could lead to withdrawal and altered eating habits and lack of interest in usual activities. “There’s not much we can do in such a situation clinically. The pets will take time to get over it,” he adds.
Another reason for depression could be certain illnesses and chronic pain; this could affect dogs, leading to mood swings or depression. “Imagine big dogs like Great Danes or Labradors experiencing pain in joints due to arthritis or injuries. Sudden changes in routine or diets (to counter the illness) can also put them off track. When the person feeding the dog restricts their food, the pet tries to get treats from others. When everyone refuses to oblige, fearing for the health of the pet, their changed behaviour confuses the dog,” he says.
Physical abuse could be another reason. “This could teach them to show aggression and subdues their social personalities. A depressed dog would have minimal to no facial expressions; depression shakes their confidence,” Dr Naik adds. Symptoms of depression include the dog becoming too possessive of certain things or turning moody, says Dr Aswin K, veterinary doctor, Cancure Pet Clinic.
“Increased licking or chewing and the hair between the paws turning brown are signs to watch out for. This will be more prevalent when the owner is missing,” he says, adding that if the dog persists in these all the time, it could also be a skin disease.
Yasmine Claire, who owns six Indie dogs and is fostering two Labradors currently, says she has observed dogs experiencing mood swings and showing signs of depression.
“Just like people, there could be a range of symptoms depressed dogs exhibit. Stress-related injuries by gnawing of paws or back, moody or snappy behaviour, sitting in a corner etc could be some signs to look out for,” she says.
From a new dog coming to the house to the owner administering medicines, anything could upset pet dogs. “Ruling out medical issues is the first corrective step. When it is decided that is not the case, find out the reason and cajole and calm the dog using a soothing tone,” says Yasmine.
'Bigger dogs deal better with depression’
“Handheld or smaller dogs like Maltese, Shih Tzu and Lhasa often have more health and psychological issues. They are more used to touch regularly and the sudden demise of an owner or a loved one could affect them deeply. Bigger dogs deal better and faster with depression.”
Dr Champak Naik, Veterinary doctor with Precise Pet Clinic and Diagnostics.
Abandoned dogs are most depressed: rescue centre director
Sudha Narayanan, director, CARE, says that almost 40 per cent of dogs brought to her centre are abandoned ones.
“Dogs abandoned by their families suffer depression. We don’t expose them to too many people but we assign a volunteer to assure them and take care of them. Around five per cent of street dogs brought in are depressed. We do trauma care for street dogs; they have either suffered cruelty or are depressed because of being moved from their territory. It takes a while for them to trust and be cured,” she says.
Sometimes depressed dogs can be aggressive too and they need to be handled with patience, she adds.
Signs to watch out for
- Obsessive licking despite no fleas or ticks
- Hiding or staying out of sight
- Droopy eyes
- Snappy/ angry behaviour
Is your furry buddy depressed?
Reasons could be...
- Losing a companion.
- Relocation or change of homes
- Injury or chronic pain
- Physical abuse
How to deal with the situation?
- Smells comfort everyone. If there was a death in the family, retaining some of the deceased person’s items or clothes could help the dogs.
- If a pet died, get another pet. If you have a big dog, get a smaller dog or cat and vice-versa.
- Go on a holiday with the pet and change some activities temporarily.