As pet parents, we are used to making sure that our pooches are in good physical health by exercising them, feeding them a balanced diet, grooming them properly and making regular trips to the vet for check ups. But many people aren’t aware that dogs can suffer from the same mental health conditions that humans can - such as anxiety and depression. But how do you pick up on signs that your pup’s mental health may be suffering?
In this installment of our pet first aid series we talk about mental health for your pooch, conditions which can affect dogs, the signs and symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to help.
What is mental health first aid?
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a course which teaches people a particular set of skills which can help to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue.
The course is designed to teach people to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis. The aim is to be able to recognise warning signs of mental health issues, and develop the skills and confidence to approach and support someone in a safe way.
These skills can help with - but are not limited to - anxiety, depression, anger, panic and can help to reassure people that they are safe and that things will be ok. However, these are all issues which our pooches can be faced with too!
Mental health issues in dogs
It’s not uncommon for pet parents to brush off their dog’s abnormal behaviour as personality, temperament or doggy quirks - so long as they aren’t harming anyone else. But our pooches can experience a number of mental health conditions, just like we can! These are some of the most common disorders found in canines:
Although animals don’t have the same emotional capacity and understanding as us humans, they can still experience feelings of sadness, fear and depression. Since our pets can’t tell us what they’re feeling, it’s important to take note of their behavior. If your pooch becomes withdrawn, lethargic, disinterested or generally appears to be feeling low, they may be in a depressive state.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where you have recurring thoughts and repetitive behaviours that you cannot control. For dogs, this may include out of context behaviours such as tail chasing, digging, biting their food bowl etc.
Loud noises can be startling for humans, never mind animals who have heightened hearing and who don’t understand the context of the chaos. An animal suffering from noise anxiety will display similar signs to those experiencing social or separation anxieties. However, a sudden change in behaviour during thunderstorms or fireworks, or when other loud noises occur, is a clear sign that your dog is anxious and/or stressed in those circumstances.
Separation anxiety is a disorder that causes pups to panic if they are left alone or are separated from things or people who they have a strong emotional connection with, such as their home, their humans or other animals. Dogs experiencing separation anxiety may bark frantically, display destructive behaviour (chewing shoes, furniture, getting into the trash), or even messing in the house.
A dog experiencing social anxiety could have a fear of other animals, people, or unknown places, sights and sounds. For example, some dogs are perfectly happy when they are around their family and are in their home but may become anxious around strangers or new places. The level of anxiety in a social setting can vary depending on the dog. It can cause a dog to act out or behave in ways that are not normally observed when it's in a familiar environment. They may become very timid, feeling trapped and afraid, or they could become aggressive.
How to treat your dog’s mental health
Some of these conditions may be part of your dog's mental health journey long-term, requiring close attention, patience, and lots of love and care. In some cases, your pooch may need medical treatment if the symptoms and behaviour is on-going. However, some of these symptoms may be a temporary reaction to something which is happening right now. In this case, here are some things you can do to help treat your dog:
Exercise and mental stimulation
Just like humans, dogs can become anxious and depressed if they begin to lead a sedentary lifestyle. This can often cause erratic or destructive behaviour due to boredom or frustration. Making time to exercise your dog, play with them and soak up that one on one time, can provide physical and mental stimulation which can help prevent these behaviours.
Massage and body awareness
Dogs respond well to body awareness exercises, strength training, and conditioning classes which can help them feel energised, more confident and aware of their body and actions. For anxious pooches, a gentle massage may help ease stresses and create a sense of calm (providing you research safe and effective methods of doing it!)
Natural or prescribed medicines
Sometimes mental health conditions are caused by physical pain or physical illnesses which your dog may be experiencing. In this case, you may want to consider a form of medication as a method of pain management, by getting a prescription from your vet for doggy painkillers. For pet parents who would prefer to treat their dog with holistic remedies, natural products like CBD oil can be used as a treatment for dogs with anxiety.
YuCALM is one of our premium supplements, designed to support natural calming pathways in the brain. A simple but effective way to help reduce anxiety or stress and support dogs to become more happy and playful.
Regular visits to the vet
One of the worst things you can do (for your dog, and for yourself) is ignoring a problem in hopes it will diminish with time. Regular trips to your vet will not only give you peace of mind in ensuring that your furry-friend is happy and healthy, but this will also be a good way to catch any further health problems early on and increase your chances of preventing them.
While it is true that mental health issues such as doggy depression or separation anxiety can resolve on their own over time, it could worsen if left too long before being addressed. If none of these solutions seem to be helping, then it may be worth seeking help from your vet.
For more tips on how to care for your canines mental health and wellbeing, why not take a look at our top tips on how to combat pet loneliness?