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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 can help your cat or dog overcome it.

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 can help your cat or dog overcome it.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
31 JANUARY 2022
5 min read
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Is my dog or cat depressed?

It’s actually not that unusual for cats and dogs to get depressed, often as a result of major changes in their lives, such as a new house or baby. The good news is that the depression doesn’t usually last too long.

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
  • 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 many dogs with dermatological problems are diagnosed with depression. 

If you suspect that 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 Depression can be difficult for non-experts to diagnose – your dog may be lethargic or withdrawn because they’re in pain from something like arthritis.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 also show 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 that your dog’s getting less attention than it’s used to and feels left out.

Likewise, an owner getting a new job or working longer hours can cause distress. If you’ve been working from home for a long time and suddenly get called back to the office, keep an eye on your pet as they might be upset by it.

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 that 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. 

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.

What to do if you think your pet is depressed 

If you suspect your cat or dog is suffering from depression, the first thing to do is take them to the vet and get them checked out. Depression can be hard to diagnose, because obviously we can’t ask our pets how they’re feeling, and if they’re down in the dumps and refusing to go on walks, it could be that they’re suffering with something else. 

Don’t forget to tell your vet if there have been any big changes at home, such as the loss of another pet, or a family member going back to work. 

But it’s not just your vet’s responsibility to help your pet – there are things you can do at home, too: 

  • Make sure your dog or cat is mentally stimulated - See that they’re getting plenty of exercise and time outside. You could throw a ball for dogs, or buy toys for a cat. Your dog could benefit from longer walks and more time off the lead, while your cat might enjoy a puzzle game or catnip toy.
  • Spend time with themIs your pet feeling neglected? Perhaps you’ve been busier than usual with work or children. When life gets hectic it’s easy to forget about our pets. Make sure you give your pet some focused time for stroking and playing – even if it’s just a few minutes each day.
  • Make sure your dog is socialised - Just as we need other people, dogs need other dogs. Make sure your dog has plenty of opportunity to socialise with other animals by taking him to busy parks, day-care sessions, or training classes.
  • Have a routine - Dogs can find it helpful to stick to a routine – they can find it reassuring to know they’re going for a walk straight after breakfast, for instance.
  • See a pet behaviouralist - In some cases, it can be worth contacting a pet behaviouralist. These are experts in animal behaviour who can help you pinpoint and address any issues.

Frequently asked questions

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.

Where can I get cheaper pet prescriptions?

If your vet gives you a prescription for your pet, it’s worth checking to see if you can get it cheaper online, or at your local supermarket or pharmacy.

My dog’s acting differently after I got another dog, what should I do?

Getting a companion pet for your dog or cat could be the trigger for depression. Certainly, it will count as a big life change for your old pet. Take it slowly, and make sure you give your old animal plenty of fuss, as it’s likely they’ll be jealous of the attention you’re giving the new kitten or puppy.

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