Dogs face depression-related symptoms, similar to humans

We often talk about human mental health, but it can affect our pets as well.

SOUTHWEST RANCHES, Fla. – We often talk about human mental health, but it can affect our pets as well.

Experts say it’s important to know the warning signs and treatment approaches for our stressed out canine companions.

As a dog trainer for decades, Susan Claire with Play Train Dog Training is a specialist in animal behavior and signs of emotional duress.

“Dogs definitely have emotions and they’re pretty clear about them, if we know what to look for. And (if) we know the body language signals, we really can understand how they feel and also what their intentions are,” she said.

Claire said in order to recognize signs of animal anxiety, it’s important to look at not just one body signal, but several that could be happening simultaneously.

“And the dog yawns, and it does a shake off and a lip lick and it does some avoidance behavior, and its tail is down and its ears are back, now we’ve got multiple indications of stress,” she said.

Once you recognize a problem, Claire said there are ways help your pet de-stress.

When you can, remove the dog from a clearly uncomfortable situation.

In cases where you can’t, such as a thunderstorm, provide distraction or play therapy to help your pet relax, and give your pet a soothing treat.

One of Claire’s favorites is freezing a bit of soft food mixed with kibbles to give your dog something to lick.

“Licking is actually a calming behavior, or you let them go into a safe place where they feel comfortable and you actually put their bed there, you start playing a game, you have some sort of puzzle the dog can figure out, and that’s always paired with the thunderstorm,” she said.

Working with your pet to teach them an alternative response when they experience emotional reactions is the key.

“And that takes time, it takes training. It’s not that different than what we do with children who have fears or phobias,” Claire said.

Last but certainly not least, don’t add to your pet’s stress with things like rough play, constant scolding and harsh training methods or physical force.

All of these can ultimately lead to an anxious, fearful and even potentially dangerous pet.

Along with appropriate training, some dogs may need anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications, which are the same treatments given to people with these issues.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Jacey Birch anchors Local 10 News Mornings each weekday from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. She is also proud to be the animal advocate for Local 10's investigative team.