Videos of unexplained pet behaviors and dog health problems often surface on social media, and most of us watch and get a good laugh. But did you know that these strange behaviors could be indicators of a dog’s mental health? For instance, a “Zoomie” implies your dog is happy, while excessive spinning or tail chasing isn’t. Learn how to identify normal and abnormal behaviors in your pet and how to improve your dog’s mental health.
Yes, it is possible to perform a mental health check on your dog. But before we go into that, let’s take a moment to understand why it’s important to do so.
In 2013, scientists at Emory University discovered that dogs can suffer from mental disorders as their brains are remarkably similar to humans. Unfortunately, they also tend to harm themselves as a result of these illnesses.
Thus, as a responsible dog owner, it is important to be aware of how to keep your dog healthy and live longer by taking measures to prevent the onset of mental health conditions.
Since dogs can’t communicate in a way that most pet owners understand, it begs the question, how will you ensure that your dog’s mental, emotional, and physical needs are being met?
The answer is simple—observe, identify, and act. Here’s how to go about it:
Dog mental illness symptoms differ slightly from those of humans and depend upon the illness in question.
Depression and OCD are prevalent in all canines, and understanding how their symptoms manifest can help you figure out how to keep your dog happy.
Also known as Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD), OCD can refer to any unusual or unfounded behavior, especially if it’s directed towards specific objects.
Though it may seem amusing or quirky at first, it is abnormal for your dog to repeat certain obsessive behaviors such as excessive grooming, digging, tail-chasing, etc.
Some common symptoms of OCD include:
- Intensified, excessive behavior
- Obsessively chasing their tail
- Decreased playfulness
- Dullness and lack of liveliness or excitement
According to research on dog health statistics, certain breeds such as Mastiffs, Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Great Danes are more susceptible to OCD or CCD than others.
Though long-term depression is uncommon amongst canines, depressive episodes can have long-term consequences for your dog’s physical and mental health.
Depression can cause your dog to become lethargic, withdrawn, and sadder than usual.
Other common symptoms of depression in dogs include:
- Decrease or loss in appetite
- Weight Loss
- Less activeness
- Lethargy and increased sleep
- Anti-social behavior
- Refusing treats and water
- Shedding excessively
- Drastic behavior changes that occur suddenly
Once you’ve identified the signs and concluded that your dog is indeed suffering from a mental health condition, you’re probably going to want to do everything possible to help them get better.
Read on to find out how you can improve your dog’s mental health.
You are your dog’s biggest source of comfort, so if there’s anyone that can help them get better, it’s you.
Here’s what you can do to help your dog heal.
Depression can be caused by an inactive lifestyle and result in your dog behaving destructively or erratic.
Dogs are energetic, enthusiastic creatures that need to run around and spend time outdoors daily. Thus, it is extremely important to make time to exercise your dog to prevent and cure depression.
It will also help keep them physically fit and benefit their overall health and wellbeing. Bored of daily walks and need ideas? How about a weekly trek or hike? Vacation with your pet or invest in new toys that will motivate both you and your dog.
Mental stimulation is important to enrich your dog’s life and keep them from mentally stagnating. Brain games also prevent your dog from boredom, which often leads to behavioral issues like excessive barking and chewing.
Some easy ways to exercise your dog’s brain are:
- Allowing your dog to explore and sniff on walks
- Make them play with puzzle toys
- Teach them new tricks
- Make an obstacle course
- Teach your dog the names of their favorite toys
As the primary caregiver, it is important to know what your dog likes and dislikes. Paying attention to your dog and discover what they enjoy and what makes them tuck their tail can help you give them a good life.
Encourage your dog to pursue the activities they love, as this will keep their spirits high. Avoid activities, toys, and places that your dog seems to dislike to avoid causing them any type of distress.
- Invest in chew toys if your dog likes to chew
- Play a game of fetch if they enjoy running around
- Encourage your dog to learn new things by using their favorite treats or toys to incentivize them.
You may be tempted to be a helicopter dog parent when your dog is depressed, and understandably so. However, smothering your dog with affection and constantly showering them with unsolicited attention can be counter-productive.
Your dog may feel anxious if you hound them too much, so it’s always best to take a step back and give them some space.
If you do wish to keep an eye on them, do it from a distance. Here’s how:
- Stay in the same room as them, but don’t constantly pet or talk to them.
- Call your dog’s name out once in a while but don’t frequently go up to them.
- Allow your dog to hang out alone in the backyard and keep a check on them from the window.
- If you’re out on a walk and it is safe for your dog to wander around alone, let them off the leash.
Dogs are sensitive creatures and tend to get anxious easily. There are several reasons your dog may be stressed.
Prolonged Or Chronic Anxiety Can Be Caused Due To Constant Exposure To Stressors, And Can Severely Harm Your Dog.
Knowing the different causes of anxiety can help you safeguard your dog from anxiety-inducing situations.
The following are the most common types or causes of anxiety.
This is an extremely common condition amongst all dogs. It refers to a disorder whereby your dog begins to panic every time it suspects that you shall be leaving them alone.
Previously neglected or traumatized dogs tend to develop social anxiety more often. Dogs that have survived abuse can be crippled with anxiety when around other dogs or humans and can also become excessively aggressive or bark a lot.
Everyone finds loud noises startling. However, dogs suffering from noise anxiety have a more extreme reaction as they do not understand the context.
This is especially common with firecrackers, thunderstorms, and other situations that involve sudden, loud noises.
- Compulsively licking and grooming themselves
- Hiding behind furniture or under the bed
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Behaving Destructively
Sudden Changes In Your Dog’s Behavior Is A Clear Indication That They Are Stressed.
Never ignore your dog’s abnormal or erratic behavior in hopes that it shall diminish over time. Regularly visiting your vet for a health check is essential to keep your dog mentally healthy.
Frequent check-ups help you diagnose or prevent illnesses from developing and stay alert in case of inconsistencies in your dog’s behavior.
If your dog starts to show drastic behavioral changes between your scheduled checkups, make an appointment at the earliest to ensure no life-threatening condition is causing this sudden change.
Seeing Your Vet At Least Twice A Year Is Necessary To Stay Updated On Your Pet’s Physical And Mental Changes.
Dogs are an extended part of your family, and it is incumbent to know about symptoms of depression and anxiety and other indicators of your dog’s depreciating mental health. After all, without this information, how will you improve your dog’s mental health?
Knowing what to keep an eye for and how to care for a vulnerable dog at home effectively is a stepping stone to providing your dog a healthy, happy life.
- Note sudden, drastic changes in your dog’s behavior as they may indicate an underlying health condition.
- Care for your dog as you would for a young child – pay attention, take time out to enrich their lives, and provide them with mental stimulation.
- Avoid noisy, stressful situations and try not to leave your dog alone for long periods at a stretch.
- Visit your vet at least twice a year for regular health check-ups, and more often if required.