Pet depression: symptoms and treatments

It might not have occurred to you that your cat or dog is depressed. But if they’re listless or aggressive, that could be the cause. Here’s what you should know about pet depression and how you might be able to help your cat or dog overcome it. 

James Martin Content writer
4
minute read
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Dog depression symptoms

Depressed dogs exhibit many of the same symptoms as depressed people. So a few things to look out for include:

  • reduced appetite
  • lack of energy
  • playing less
  • socialising less  
  • sleeping more
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  • aggressive behaviour
  • inappropriate soiling
  • itching and scratching

You wouldn’t necessarily associate an itchy dog with depression, but it’s a common symptom. Skin conditions are a huge cause of stress in animals and as many as 75% of dogs with dermatological problems are diagnosed with depression.  

If you suspect your dog’s depressed, take them to the vet. Depression can be difficult for non-experts to diagnose – your dog may be lethargic or withdrawn because they’re in pain from something like arthritis.

Cat depression symptoms

Cats aren’t believed to experience depression in the same way as humans, but they can exhibit depressive behaviour, including: 

  • disturbed sleep
  • increased aggression
  • changes in toileting
  • loss of appetite  
  • less playing and socialising

Again, depression requires an expert diagnosis. So check with your vet in case there’s another underlying issue that needs addressing. 

What causes depression in cats and dogs?

There are a few factors known to cause depression in animals. These include:

Big life changes: Certain disruptive events can cause a pet to become depressed. This might be a house move or the death of another pet. A new baby may mean your dog’s getting less attention than it’s used to, leading it to feel left out. Likewise, an owner getting a job or working longer hours can cause distress.  

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Some experts believe that dogs, like people, can suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months.

The wrong owner: It’s vital you choose the right pet for your lifestyle. A lively Border Collie is never going to be happy in a small flat with 20 minutes’ walk a day. Similarly, a dog that loves company, like a Pug or a Pekinese, won’t appreciate being left on its own all day while you’re at work.

What dog depression treatments are there?

If you’re concerned your cat or dog is depressed, there are a few things you can do to help:

Get outside: Just as exercise helps depressed people, it also helps depressed dogs. Taking your dog for more walks should help lift their spirits. If your dog’s suffering with SAD, the extra sunlight should help too.

Improve your pet’s diet: Chicken and turkey are rich in B vitamins, while brown rice, potatoes and carrots are a source of magnesium. These can help boost your dog’s energy levels and immune system. Fish oil and flaxseed can also help brain function.

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It’s important not to overfeed your pet or give them too many treats (even if you’re trying to make them feel better). Being overweight can lead to health problems, such as high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and an increased risk of cancer.

Give your pet lots of TLC: Dogs and cats need stimulation and interaction, just as we do. Fuss over them, play with them, or at least give them access to a window where they can watch the world go by.  

Get another animal: If your dog or cat’s heartbreak is caused by the loss of a fellow pet, you may want to consider getting another animal for company. This is something that will affect the whole family though, so you’ll need to give it serious thought. 

Does pet insurance cover depression? 

Hopefully, your depressed pet won’t need veterinary intervention, but there are some cases where medication can help. 

How much you’ll have to pay will depend on the treatment your vet decides upon. It could be £100 for medication and anything up to £1,000 for behavioural therapy. Whether your pet insurance covers this will depend on your policy, so you’ll need to read the small print.  

If your pet’s depression is an ongoing issue, it may also be worth looking into long-term illness cover next time you compare pet insurance quotes.

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