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Do pets get depressed?

About a month back, when I returned from a week-long trip, I noticed something very unusual about my dog Lucy’s behaviour. She was cold and distant. I thought she was upset with me for being away from her and that bothered me. Days passed by and I noticed Lucy started isolating herself. She was no longer our ever-cheerful and active pooch, running and jumping around, warmly cuddling up to us. She seemed angry and vengeful most of the times, often snapping, growling and barking at us. This wasn’t our affectionate Lucy, there was something very wrong. Besides, it wasn’t just the change in her behaviour, but also her growing obsessive skin licking habit that bothered us. It was abnormal. I noticed deep wounds around the licked areas.

My dad didn’t waste any more time and got in touch with a vet, who diagnosed her with depression and anxiety. We were alarmed. We had no knowledge that like humans, even pets suffer from depression. The vet told us Lucy’s incessant licking habit, also known as Acral lick granuloma was associated with her depression. He put her immediately on antibiotics. But, we still had to address the underlying cause for her depression—giving her more quality time. I acted upon the vet’s advice of giving Lucy more attention, almost immediately. Be it by taking a day off for her, working out together or including her in family and social gatherings—I did it all to make Lucy feel wanted, loved and cared for.

I also consulted a pet psychologist who advised me to exercise Lucy’s mind that would help in stimulating her mental health and avoid stress. Playing fun games and some challenging brain workouts did help improving her condition. Within two weeks, I witnessed a change in her behaviour. Lucy was back being her original self—the cuddly and jovial little pup, always jumping around the house with joy. We were so happy at her recovery and so much more aware about how to take better care of our furry baby.

However, unlike me, not all pet parents can spare long hours with their canines nor can they spot signs of depression in their pets. They can talk to dog consultants, who can introduce depressed canines to interesting games like sniffing, puzzles and other fun mental games. Exercising a pet’s mind is like pranayama—enhances its overall wellbeing.

When we adopt pets, they become a part of our family and get strongly connected with each member in the house.


Yet in some case depression proves fatal. For instance, when my friend Ankita got a parrot home, it badly affected her cat, Tim. Tim used to be a very loving and playful kitten. He suddenly went into isolation. Neither love nor any medical intervention helped Tim come out of that state and he passed away six months later. According to Dr Lohith, a renowned vet surgeon at Bangalore Pet Hospital, “Sometimes a new animal in the family can make your pet depressed. They easily get upset and disturbed when that love and attention gets divided.” In fact, it’s almost the same when a baby is born in the family that already has an older pet. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the family to prepare the pet prior to the new arrival. If you have a dog, sign on for obedience classes so that it gets well-trained and prepared for the new member. In case of a new-born, gradually try to expose your pets to children’s parks and grounds, take them for evening walk, and teach them to be friendly around kids. Hiring a dog trainer can also be an option in such cases.

However, it’s not always a new addition to the family or an illness that causes depression in pets. It is often seen pets that get separated from a loving home slip into depression and other psychological disorders. When we adopt pets, they become a part of our family and get strongly connected with each member in the house. Any form of separation takes a toll on them emotionally. They undergo terrible emotional trauma due to such separation anxiety. Sharing her own experience with depressed pets, Sanjana Madappa, an adoption counsellor at CUPA, recalls the case of a German Shepherd that started falling ill after his owner left him at the centre. “It looked like he wanted to die. He stopped eating for the first 5-6 days and lost all weight. It was very heart-breaking to see him in that condition and later he was sent to a foster home where he started getting better,” Sanjana said. Sometimes pet parents are forced by circumstances to leave their pets in shelter homes, without realising the consequences. So, if you are planning to put your pets up for adoption or separating them from you, make sure to prepare them well. While seeking a good foster home make sure you introduce the pet to its new family and help them establish a good relationship. Once the pet becomes friendly enough with the new family, you may sometimes try leaving it at their home for a few hours to observe its reactions and behaviour at the new place. You may also consult a pet psychologist to ease in the change for the pet.

Pets are like our own babies—all they need is love, care, attention and some quality time. When we fail to do that, they get depressed or sad just like human do. It takes a great deal of responsibility, awareness and patience to understand their unspoken, unsaid feelings and address their mood swings and changing behaviour. So, look out for the signs of depression, seek professional help and ensure you revive your pets back in no time! Their wellbeing, is after all, our wellbeing too.

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