Depressed and anxious? How about your dog?
Global events may have left us all feeling a bit stressed recently, but how do you know when your dog is feeling depressed or anxious, and what can you do about it? Sure they probably haven’t been tuning into the news and worrying about the same stuff as you – but there are some things that can affect your pooches mental health and it’s a good idea to be aware of them so that you can step in and help if needed.
Depressed dog photo by Bacila Vlad on Unsplash
What are the signs of depression and anxiety in dogs?
A new study by the Guide Dogs charity has revealed that up to 74% of UK pups have exhibited behaviour associated with depression and anxiety and that 18% of these are displaying symptoms every week.
According to Guide Dogs, the most common sign of poor mental health in dogs were:
- Loss of appetite (36%)
- Destructive behaviour (32%)
- Lethargy/Low activity levels (31%)
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy (30%)
- Hyperactivity (29%)
- Non-stop barking (29%)
The latter three could be signs of frustration or boredom and these can also contribute to depression and anxiety in dogs.
In addition to this, only 36% of dog owners admitted that they were able to spot signs of anxiety or depression in their pet – and 24% said that they didn’t even realise that dogs could suffer from poor mental health. Of course, this doesn’t mean that UK dog owners don’t care about their dog’s wellbeing, they just don’t know how to spot the signs or what to do about it. Some said that they had tried to raise their dog’s mood with long walks, cuddles and attention and some of their favourite treats. However, these are not long term solutions and it is important to ensure that if your dog is bored or frustrated that they are getting some kind of mental stimulation too.
Anxious dog Photo by Michelle Tresemer on Unsplash
Talking to Metro about the survey, Helen Whiteside, Chief scientific Officer at Guid Dogs said:
”It’s an outdated viewpoint to think that dogs just need a walk or two a day to be content. Without different forms of mental stimulation, dogs can begin to show signs of behavioural issues, such as anxiety and frustration, which can have a huge impact on their mental wellbeing.
“Dogs can thrive when given new tasks and opportunities to engage. Integrating a mix of canine enrichment activities into your dog’s day-to-day life is the best way to help stimulate their senses, encourage them to practice natural behaviours, and improve their wellbeing – as well as being a lot of fun for you and your dog.
“Not all dogs are able to take on the exciting challenges of being a guide dog, but they can all benefit from other forms of canine enrichment.”
Sad pug photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash
How to help your dog if they are anxious or depressed
Guide Dogs suggest that more UK dog owners should start to incorporate things that will stimulate their dog mentally into their routine and add some variety so that they don’t become bored. You don’t have to go nuts, think quality rather than quantity and little and often.
Here are Helen’s top suggestions for keeping your dog healthy and happy:
“Food-based problem-solving puzzles: These are a great way to slow down food consumption but also a good opportunity to test your dog’s mind, before it is rewarded. Why not play pick a cup with your dog? Simply hide a treat under a cup, encouragingly moving it around each time, releasing the treat when the dog is correct. Dogs can get frustrated if you give them something too difficult to begin with, so start simple – once your dog has mastered the basics you can slowly build up to more complex puzzles.
“Lickimats: For some dogs, licking can be a very soothing activity so lickimats are a creative way to help enrich your dog’s eating habits. They have dozens of shapes and grooves built into the mat that extends a dog’s snack time, offering them the feeling of having to hunt and problem solve for their food.
“Foraging for toys and treats: This is the best way to satisfy your dog’s natural urge to hunt, problem-solve and play. You don’t even need to spend lots of money on toys – instead make them from household items yourself. For instance why not arrange used toilet rolls in a box with a treat at the bottom of each to be found.
‘”Sniffari” walks: Try steady walks that go at the dog’s pace, allowing them to stop and sniff wherever they like, take in the environment and who might have been around. Some people compare this to a dog checking their social media.
“Interactive toys: Although not a substitute for walks, interactive toys give less active dogs a reason to move – and most importantly encourage owner and dog to play together. Why not try playing fetch or using rope tuggy toys and “flirt poles” perfect for throwing, tugging and waggling for your dog.
“Sensory activities: Set up fun activities that simulate your dog’s senses, such as teaching them to find smelly items or treats or turning on a bubble machine in the garden. You can get bacon-scented bubble solution especially for dogs.
“Physical activities: Exercise is essential for dogs to keep them in shape but is also very important for their mental health. If you want to challenge your dog’s physical fitness and its mind, an agility course might suit some breeds, once fully grown. You can actually create your own agility course using tree stumps, low walls or other obstacles you come across.”
Have you tried any of these methods to help your pooch? As always, lets us know in the comments section below.
Main photo by Robert Larsson on Unsplash