Depression in Senior Dogs and What You Can Do About It

Depression in Senior Dogs and What You Can Do About It

Depression in Senior Dogs and What You Can Do About It

Understanding and Addressing Canine Depression

While dogs may not express their emotions in the same way we do, they are not immune to mental health challenges. Research has shown that dogs, like us humans, can experience depression, a condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, lethargy, and a lack of interest in activities. In dogs, these symptoms can manifest as changes in behavior, appetite, and overall demeanor.

Senior dogs, in particular, are more susceptible to depression due to a variety of factors. Aging brings about physical and cognitive changes that can contribute to feelings of isolation and vulnerability in our canine companions. When our senior dogs slow down, it's also common for pet parents to slow down as well, perhaps unwittingly contributing to their dog's depression. We see our dogs unable to do the things they used to do so we stop doing and that can have harmful effects on both their physical and mental health.

A 2019 study revealed that dogs take on the stress levels of their owners. Another study's results showed that pet parents transfer emotion to their dogs through chemosignals, a unique form of pheromones produced by humans. All this to say what many of us have suspected all along which is that our dogs mirror our emotions.

So imagine a scenario where a dog has looked forward to and enjoyed going for walks his entire life. It was a part of their daily routine and then as they aged the walks became shorter because the dog's mobility was becoming impaired. Short walks turned into no walks as his parents could not stand to see him struggle. His parents were saddened to see him this way and though they felt that they were doing best by him, inadvertently contributed to his decline both physically and mentally. Not only was he no longer staying active which is important even when dealing with conditions such as arthritis, but he could also feel the sadness from his parents. How could this dog not feel like his world was ending?

Instead of scaling back, let's consider finding creative and alternative ways to stay active and stimulated together. Taking this same scenario imagine if he could continue to enjoy his walks because his parents got him a dog stroller, a wheelchair, or a walking harness. He would be getting the exercise he needs in a manageable way, but more importantly, he would be mentally stimulated and his spirits lifted. And he wouldn't be the only one who benefited, being able to care for and improve life for our dogs, especially when they need us the most, is an incredible feeling. Now isn't that a better emotion for our dogs to mirror?

A huge reason I started Dog Quality in the first place was because Churchill, my Frenchie at the time was exactly like the dog I just described. He lived for his walks and he lit up every time we went. When he started to have mobility problems I started to make his walks shorter and shorter until we were only able to go a few doors down before needing to turn around. I couldn't leave him behind when I would walk his brother, he looked so heartbroken the one time I did so that was out of the question. I knew I needed to find a new way to ensure he could still get out and enjoy our walks and that was when I fell in love with dog strollers

But it isn't only dog strollers that can have a positive impact on our dog's mental state. Finding them ways to retain their dignity may be as easy as using a dog diaper. Helping them stay confident could be achieved with dog traction socks that help them navigate slippery indoor surfaces and their independence can be restored with pet steps or dog ramps. My point is that we don't have to stop doing the things our dogs love, we just need to do them differently. 

Finding creative ways to help prevent dog depression

Preventing Canine Depression in Senior Dogs

Taking proactive measures to prevent canine depression is paramount, especially in our senior dogs. Here are some effective strategies:

  1. Regular Exercise: Ensure that senior dogs receive gentle and regular exercise to maintain mobility, release endorphins, and provide mental stimulation. Find creative ways to do this and you will see the difference!

  2. Maintain a Routine: Stick to a consistent schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime, offering a sense of stability that is particularly reassuring for senior dogs. 

  3. Healthy Diet: Consult with your veterinarian to create a well-balanced diet tailored to your senior dog's specific needs, promoting overall health and well-being. We may not have total control over our dogs' health issues but managing their diet is one of the most impactful things we can do for them.

  4. Social Interaction: Foster regular interactions with family members, other pets, and friends to fulfill your senior dog's social needs and contribute to emotional well-being. Another great example of staying active in creative ways.

  5. Mental Stimulation: Engage senior dogs in activities that stimulate their minds, such as puzzle toys, obedience training, and the introduction of new scents during walks. Don't do the same things every time, mix it up and keep it interesting for you both.

Managing Canine Depression in Senior Dogs

If signs of depression emerge in your senior dog, here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Veterinary Consultation: Schedule a vet visit to rule out underlying medical conditions. A comprehensive examination helps determine the best course of action. Dementia in dogs can often seem like depression so it is helpful to rule out other causes for their behavioral changes where possible so you can come up with the right plan. Remember Bamboo

  2. Medication: In some cases, veterinarians may prescribe medications, to alleviate depressive symptoms. If the underlying condition is pain or discomfort medication can be helpful to make staying active more possible.

  3. Therapeutic Interventions: Consider therapeutic interventions like massage or acupuncture to alleviate pain or stress and improve mental well-being.

  4. Companionship: Spend quality time with your senior dog, offering comfort and companionship through gentle petting, verbal reassurance, and favorite treats. Being in the present and focusing on your dog is something simple that many of us forget to do as we get wrapped up in the stress of life. Make a conscious decision to be in the moment with your dog and you both will be grateful you did. 

  5. Adapt the Environment: Adjust the home environment to cater to the changing needs of senior dogs. Soft bedding, easy access to necessities, and the integration of innovative solutions contribute to their well-being.

So, how do we keep our senior dogs happy and healthy? Well, it's a mix of playing detective, trying out creative solutions, and staying one step ahead. From preventive tricks to out-of-the-box innovations, there's a lot we can do. We just need to get creative and help our dogs mirror the emotions that helping them live their best life creates - happiness, joy, and gratitude. It doesn't get much better than that! ❤️

 Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of innovative assistive products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs and the families that care for them. 


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