Music therapy could help dogs cope with depression

Music therapy could help dogs cope with depression

Bengaluru is slowly becoming aware of mental health problems among dogs, but has a long way to go when it comes to providing timely intervention

Amrut Sridhara Hiranya says allowing dogs to be their natural self is important.

Depression is as common among dogs as among humans, and a new study suggests music can help them cope.

The first hurdle to any treatment is that parents are not aware of the state of their pets’ mental health.

American rapper Gnash’s dog says he worked on various kinds of music when his dog Daisy had spells of depression and snappiness. He says he saw a difference in her behaviour when she heard a particular kind of music.

Devisri Sarkar says calming essential oils help dogs with anxiety.

Devisri Sarkar, canine behaviourist and founder of The Urban Dawg, says music therapy research into music therapy for dogs is “still very nascent”.

“Gnash realised music with a combination rhythmic beats like that of a heartbeat (60 to 70 beats a minute, almost at the pace of a dog’s heartbeat), coupled with resonating sound (like the Tibetan prayer wheels), was able to calm his dog down,” Devisri says.

Depression among dogs, she notes, kickstarts with stress caused by a new environment, a new lifestyle, or a medical condition that prevents them from doing what they enjoyed doing before.

“All these factors end up causing stress, and slowly, as the neurotransmitters start to work differently, one can see either depression or anxiety,” says Sarkar.

Dogs are often moved from place to place. Moving house means the dog is uprooted from a familiar locality, and has to adapt to new stimuli.

It is widely known that factors that stress human beings also affect dogs. For example, the loss of a companion---a fellow dog or caregiver---causes dogs to end up with depression. 

A pet tuned in well grieves when there is a bereavement in the family, observes Devisri.

“When we counsel people, we ask them to turn their grief into something positive and involve the pet who is grieving too,” she says.

Humans can vocalise their feelings, while dogs become lethargic and sleep more.

Dogs are scent animals. You can use calming essential oils along with rhythmic and resonating music to calm them down bring down anxiety, Devisri says.

“However, for depression, you have to slowly and steadily bring them back to the things they find stimulating,” she explains. 

Little awareness

Amrut Sridhara Hiranya, canine psychologist and founder of The Dogguru School, says two major concerns cause depression among dogs — not being allowed to live an animal life and hormonal imbalance.

“An animal life for a dog is to sleep on mud, sand and green grass, running and playing with another dog, and chasing a hen or a bird. For a dog to get drenched in the rain is a lovely
experience. However, most of the time, owners don’t understand these activities are normal,” he says.  

Male dogs want to mate every day. Whereas every female dogs are in heat only once a year.

“The female dogs have fewer chances of being depressed than male because their hormones are balanced.
That is why, if you are not a registered breeder, you should have your dog sterilised. Sterilisation controls their hormones, and sort out a major cause of depression,” he says.

Is dog therapy popular in Bengaluru? 

No, the city is not familiar with therapy centres for dogs with mental ailments. It has only a handful of canine behaviour therapists. However, dogs are used to heal people with illnesses, and with animal-assisted therapy comes an understanding of dog emotions. When dogs work with humans with emotional distress, they tend to pick up those emotions. “We have to alleviate them so they can continue to stay fit enough for animal-assisted therapy,” says canine behaviourist Devisri Sarkar.

How does music come into play?

Dogs have ultrasonic ears and they hear sounds more than 20,000 hertz. Soothing music tends to relax them. “It helps a dog only when it is stressed out by a death or accident. Music also comforts dogs when going through trauma because of a medical condition. But it can’t be a replacement for their daily routine,” says Hiranya, canine psychologist. 

What kind of music is ideal?

Instrumental music with the flute, piano or harmonium, played at the lowest volume. Avoid steel sounds like drums and guitars. Primarily anything that puts your dog to sleep is good music therapy, says Hiranya. 

Sleeping all the time; Looking bored.

Disinterested in things it once liked.

Lethargy; Loss of appetite; Looking for dark corners (under the bed, cupboard). *Not caused by medical condition.