Pets

Does my dog have depression? Nine mental health signs to watch in your pets

Because mental health is important for animals too.

By Alex Lilly
We humans are getting more and more aware of the importance of mental health and noticing signs of anxiety and depression. But have you ever stopped to think about your pet's mental wellbeing?
It's not deliberately ignored, but pet owners don't always have their furry friends' mental health on their radar which can result in behavioural problems that a long walk or Google can't always solve.
We chatted to pet psychologist Dionna Newton and TrustedHousesitters about the signs your pet could be depressed or mentally unwell.
Dionna says signs that your pet may be suffering from behavioural issues are many and varied.
"Most commonly is when a pet starts to behave in an antisocial manner or if they become hyper exited and difficult to control. For example, your pet may start to bark or growl at people or other animals passing by. Likewise, your cat may start to randomly attack you and behave unpredictably," she says.
Common behavioural problems include:
  • Generalised anxiety
  • Separation anxiety (this can be a long-standing problem or may start from a change of circumstance or the onset of old age)
  • Nervousness, fears and phobias
  • Excessive barking
  • Hyper-excitability
  • Aggression towards new dogs or dogs that they live with
  • Compulsive/repetitive behaviours such as excessive licking, pacing or digging
  • Inappropriate urination
  • Unruly, anti-social or destructive behaviours.
Keep an eye out for any odd behaviour exhibited by your pets. (Image: Getty Images)
If you've noticed your pet exhibit some of these symptoms though, there is something you can do.
"The best way to improve your pet's mental health and to effectively solve issues, including anxiety problems, is to work with an Animal Behaviourist who will create a plan specific to your pet's anxieties (known as a Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning Plan)," says Dionna.
"The plan guides you through a process to identify and overcome your pet's anxiety in a structured, controlled and positive way. This may sound complicated, but your Animal Behaviourist will build you a step by step plan so you can get on the right path in no time."
WATCH: Five common pet problems solved. Post continues in video below...
If you're travelling, you may also want to consider TrustedHousesitters who can find you the perfect pet-sitter to take care of your furry friend and your pet can stay in the comfort of their own home. Not only is it better for your pet's mental health, they're generally cheaper too.
"By keeping your pet in its familiar environment, they are surrounded by the toys, bed and walking tracks that they know and love."
"Boarding kennels can be confronting for pets as they are surrounded by unfamiliar animals and smells, but by using at home pet care service such as TrustedHousesitters, your pet can remain calm and happy and retain a normal routine with all of their usual creature comforts."
By including your pet in those day-to-day activities, you can improve their mental health. (Image: Instagram @ladyandacat)
Another tip from Dionna is to try some mental stimulation aids.
"Rather than feeding breakfast in a bowl where it is wolfed down in seconds, you could feed it in a Bob-A-Lot mental stimulation toy," she suggests.
"This means that eating breakfast becomes a game and they have to work their brain. Kongs can be left filled with meat paste which they lick and which can take them 30 minutes to complete."
Using food is one technique but you can also set up games for them to do when you're not home and include your pets in those day-to-day activities.
"Even by doing something as simple talking you your pet as you prepare the veggies for dinner, you are involving them."