Anxiety, Depression, And Dog Compulsive Disorder: What You Need to Know And How to Help
You’d think that only humans were burdened with the worst of “emotions,” but as it turns out, dogs aren’t exempt from them either. Our dogs can feel anxious or sad, and believe it or not, experience difficult behavioral issues—just like their two-legged counterparts.
If you think an issue is plaguing your dog’s overall wellbeing, luckily, there are many ways you can help. Below, we break down three mental issues that dogs might experience, some signs and symptoms, and what you can do to help treat them.
Just remember to always consult a trusted veterinarian before coming to any possible conclusions!
Anxiety in Dogs
From separation and social to age-associated anxiety and an increasing amount of fear, dogs experience many different shades of anxiety—all of which are expressed in a multitude of ways. Some symptoms of anxiety include, but aren’t limited to:
- Destructive behavior
- Urinating or passing stool in the house
Since dogs can’t express themselves verbally (with barking as the exception), anxiety is often mistaken as “bad behavior” by pet owners. Dogs suffering from social anxiety, for instance, might relieve themselves where they shouldn’t, like on your carpet or on the leg of your living room couch. If not that, they could become mouthy, take their teeth to your furniture or around doorways and windows of your home, or try to escape.
With this in mind, it’s clear that anxiety doesn’t just affect the dog suffering from it—it affects their owners, too. In the worst-case scenario, anxiety can make dogs aggressive, putting both the people and other pets living with them in danger. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Dogs can experience anxiety in small doses, too. They might cower at loud noises or resist car rides to the vet, and these instances don't make it any easier on either you or your dog.
How to Help
There are two methods you can try at home, and when used in combination, it can be impactful. The first is to shift your dog’s current response to a more desirable one—this is called desensitization. With this method, slow and steady is of utmost importance, and for it to work, you must keep your dog “below threshold,” which is to say, your dog isn’t reacting negatively to the source of their anxiety, whether by barking, growling, or the like.
If, for example, they bark at the sight of other people, maintain your dog at a safe distance from the stimuli to keep them below threshold. If they remain calm, reward your dog with praise or treats. Over time, you may move your dog towards the stimuli, for as long as they stay below threshold. Throughout the process, continue rewarding them, which helps signal to your dog that the experience isn’t as bad as they perceived. This second method is known as counterconditioning.
While effective, this two-part process might take months or longer, depending on how severe your dog’s anxiety is. Sometimes, though, owners have to call on the professionals to help them in the process. For anxiety that can’t be helped (your dog cowering at loud noises or at a potential car ride), your veterinarian may prescribe you with medication that may calm your dog’s nerves.
Depression in Dogs
It isn’t just humans that become sad or even more so, depressed—dogs can also experience depression. When dogs are depressed, it’s important to look at what they do and what they don’t do. Some symptoms of depression include, but aren’t limited to:
- Decreased appetite
- Loss of interest
There are many reasons why a dog might experience depression. It could be triggered by a departure of a favorite human or the arrival of a new four-legged friend. Maybe it was triggered by a big life event, like moving house or a major shift in their daily routine. Depression could even be caused by a lack of stimulation, be it socially, mentally, or physically.
But depression could be caused by reasons more severe, which can take a very long time for a dog to process and heal from. Dogs that have dealt with abuse, have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves, or have undergone some form of traumatic experience, can often become depressed and even experience other mental issues alongside it.
How to Help
Sometimes, the reasons as to why your dog is feeling blue are quite obvious. Other times, not so much. In any case, there are ways to help uplift their spirits. You can start small, because more often than not, these can spark a major shift in your dog’s disposition. Carve out more quality time with your dog. Offer them a special treat. Bring them on a long walk or indulge them with their favorite toy or game.
But, if your dog’s depression has affected their day-to-day functioning, it might benefit from your vet’s expertise. Your vet might recommend your dog undergo behavioral modification therapy under a trained professional, or prescribe your dog with antidepressants. Antidepressants are often resorted to if depression negatively impacts their quality of life.
In most cases, though, a veterinarian will design a holistic treatment plan to help treat a dog’s depression. This will usually involve behavioral modification therapy and if absolutely necessary, antidepressants. A plan often involves making changes in a dog’s current environment, too—which will be suggested by the vet, but is ultimately a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the dog’s owner.
Dog Compulsive Disorder
Similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in humans, dogs may suffer from Compulsive Disorder. While dogs cannot experience obsessive thoughts—well, as far as we know—they may exhibit behaviors that seem obsessive by nature. Some symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- Signs of self mutilation (like raw skin and missing fur)
- Excessive tail chasing
Dog Compulsive Disorder may be caused by any number of things. It could be a genetic trait, with certain breeds being more susceptible to the problem than others. It might be caused by a medical illness or arise in a dog’s later years. Some experts also believe that a lack of physical, mental, or social stimulation can give rise to the issue.
Like dogs suffering from anxiety or depression, this will not only affect the dog, but those living with them. It’s not only difficult to watch a dog going through the motions of Compulsive Disorder—it can also lead to destructive behavior. A dog might take to destroying furniture, develop aggression and put its loved ones at risk, or affect their overall quality of life.
How to Help
Compulsive Disorder is often hard to diagnose because there can be so many reasons behind it, many of which aren’t so easy to pinpoint on your own. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from Compulsive Disorder, it’s imperative to raise the problem with your vet immediately. That way, you can get to the bottom of it, or at the very least, help mitigate the symptoms.
On your visit to the vet, he or she will most likely ask you about your dog’s history, as well as any symptoms they might be exhibiting. Your vet will probably run a physical examination to rule out any illnesses, but he or she might also put your dog on a treatment plan. A treatment plan can involve medication and behavioral therapy, like desensitization and counterconditioning.
Helping your dog might also involve environmental changes that the owner must carry out at home. Whether you get to the bottom of a dog’s Compulsive Disorder or not, a veterinarian-prescribed treatment plan can help lessen the discomfort they might feel, all while offering their owner some peace of mind.
Seeking Veterinary Treatment
If you think your dog is suffering from anxiety, depression, or Compulsive Disorder, don’t leave it up to self-diagnosis. Always seek a trusted vet’s advice on the matter. That way, you can give your dog the best possible treatment for any problems they might be experiencing.