Dogs and humans suffer from many physical illnesses that can also be contracted by humans. Cancer, pneumonia and kidney failure are common causes of death in both dogs and humans. But can dogs and humans also suffer from the same mental illnesses? It’s becoming increasingly apparent that they can. Dog owners report grief, depression, anxiety and other symptoms of mental illness in their dogs. Some canine mental illnesses have even been named and studied, including the startlingly common Canine Compulsive Disorder.
Depression is a common mental illness affecting about 7% of humans in any given year. Symptoms include listlessness, feelings of hopelessness, lack of energy, sexual dysfunction, physical aches, weepiness and more.
In dogs, owners report many of the same symptoms. While dogs obviously can’t cry or complain about feeling hopeless, they can certainly lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed. If physical illness has been ruled out by a veterinarian yet a dog continues to seem lethargic and uninterested in fun, many owners begin to consider the possibility of depression. This may occur after the loss of an owner or of another companion animal.
Depression in dogs can sometimes be treated pharmaceutically. Prozac has been prescribed to dogs with some success. If you suspect your dog is suffering from depression, talk to your veterinarian about medical and behavioral therapies.
Anxiety disorders in humans are characterized by generalized or specific fear and anxiety. This may be directed toward particular people or situations, or may present as a constant feeling of fright and nervousness. Shortness of breath, sweating and feeling light-headed may be associated with anxiety disorders.
Dogs with anxiety are very similar to humans with anxiety disorders. Separation anxiety is one of the most common serious behavioral issues in dogs. Pet dogs experiencing this disorder may become extremely destructive, shredding furniture and forgetting their house training. Some even self-mutilate. Other forms of anxiety may also occur, including generalized anxiety.
Mild sedatives may help dogs with anxiety. Some calming herbs and other natural remedies can also have an impact. Lots of exercise is a must; a tired dog is a calm dog. Avoid stress and major changes in the dog’s routine when possible. Some owners report success with massage, acupuncture and other bodywork therapies. Reiki has been used for anxiety but remains unsupported by scientific evidence.
Stay tuned for more on dogs and mental illness, including the disturbing but increasingly common Canine Compulsive Disorder.