This is probably one of the favourite questions that all pet owners like to ask themselves (obsess over).
I will personally admit to occasionally fretting over this question and many more such as:
Is my dog satisfied?
Does he love me?
Could he be happier?
Am I doing everything in my power to provide as healthy and happy a life for Zeus as possible?
First of all, I believe that if you are thinking about any of these questions then chances are that your dog is not sad. Why? Because it shows that you are highly committed to the wellbeing of your dog.
You will however also know if you are thinking about these questions because the reason behind them is guilt.
Have you been so busy lately that you have not had time to walk your dog and instead been making use of your garden primarily? If you have been slacking on some of your parental responsibilities recently & sincerely feel guilty about having done so – then chances are that your dog is still not sad, just under-exercised and lacking physical and mental stimulation (in which case you are probably suffering too).
If you are worried about your dog being sad because you are feeling guilty about your own laziness, busyness etc. then you know exactly what to do to fix this problem for both of you.
According to many scientists, depression and sadness in dogs can be a real thing though – although in most cases it is wrongly diagnosed by anxious pet owners.
I am personally on the fence regarding ‘depression in dogs’. I believe that in most cases in which dogs are diagnosed with depression, there are other underlying factors.
For example: I know a family who have a wonderful 12 year old terrier mix who has recently been prescribed Prozac for depression. The family was worried because Fred had become lethargic, unwilling to play, and isolated. After thorough physical examinations, Fred seemed to be in great health and therefore the ‘only’ solution was that Fred was depressed. After a little bit of digging from my part, the following circumstances emerged:
- Fred had been staying with his neighbours for three years because his family had to move abroad for a period of time because of work reasons.
- His neighbours had two other terries with whom Fred had bonded with massively during his stay.
- Fred had become afraid of loud noises.
So, the question that I would like to ask is: Is Fred actually depressed or has he become fearful due to yet another dramatic change in environment?
Dogs are like children; they thrive on routine, structure, and stability. A change in environment is an incredibly common cause for fear, abnormal behaviour, and change in demeanour. Is prescribing Prozac to poor Fred really the solution to all of his problems?
This is a question that we could discuss all day long, but I would bet that if Fred was allowed to live out his remaining years with his neighbours and their two terriers – then Fred would all of a sudden not be depressed any more.
It is so important for us pet owners to be able to view situations like this critically & without personal emotions and motivations. Instead of thinking about what is best for ourselves – we need to think about what is best for our dogs.
Having said all of this, I do believe there are two critical exception to this rule.
- The loss of an owner or another pet in the household can be a real cause for sadness and withdrawal.
Dogs mourn just like humans do.
The connection that we have with our loved ones and our pets is equally important to our dogs.
This can be an incredibly difficult situation for your dog to overcome – but I believe that just for like humans: time and focusing on positive things can help overcome such terrible loss.
2. Are you depressed?
Dogs react to how we are feeling. If you as the pet owner are going through a bout of depression; the chances are that your dog will start mimicking your behaviour, or acting out severely. Just like for a child, there is nothing as stressful as their environment or guardian becoming unstable.
If you are worried about your dog showing signs of sadness or ‘depression’ the two most important things to do are the following:
- Go to your vet and make sure that there is not an underlying health problem that is causing your dog to withdraw, not want to play, eat, etc.
- Do not coddle your dog when he is sad. This can reinforce the behaviour. Instead try to find even the smallest thing that will make your dogs tail wag – and do this activity as much as possible. Reward your dog IMMENSELY every time he shows any signs of activity or ‘happiness’.
For a devoted pet owner, there really isn’t anything worse than seeing ones pet withdraw or become uninterested in all the things that used to make them happy.
Thankfully though, your pets happiness is in your hands. Instead of considering Prozac – which I view as an easy way out – really try to understand why your dog’s behaviour has changed.
A happy dog is a happy owner 🙂
We hope this helped – and as always – if you have any questions with which we could help, then you know where to find us !
Lots of love, Zeus & Anna 💜