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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Depression


A cause of unsocial or disruptive behaviour in dogs

Like humans, dogs do occasionally suffer from bouts of depression.
They become, lethargic, stop eating and drinking properly, lose weight and loose interest in their favourite toys. They will sleep more and may lie down with their heads turned to a wall or start hiding behind furniture.
They can become irritable, hyper-vigilant and suffer from sleeping disorders
They can even loose enthusiasm for walks and playing and may become rather clingy.
They can be twitchy, on the alert all the time and cower at sudden movements and noise and seek to spend a lot of their time alone, shutting out external stimuli.

Dogs can suffer from many of the same causes of depression as humans - even PTSD.
The loss of a family member or another family dog. Even the loss of a doggy friend they would regularly meet and play with on walks. A move to an unfamiliar area or house. Seasonally affected Disorder (SAD). Physical illness.
Even picking up on the sadness or ill health of it's family or chosen leader.

We humans do not give that much credit to the intelligence and cognitive abilities of other animals.
Perhaps it is a need to convince ourselves that we are somehow a superior race rather than just a more developed species of animal. Maybe that attitude helps us justify our total exploitation of other species for our own benefit.
But as time goes by we are beginning to understand that in many respects we differ very little from many of the other species we share the planet with and we share many common traits, needs and abilities with a lot of them.
We also have many problems in common, both physical and mental so to understand animals better we should look at ourselves and understand what affects us, how it affects us and how we deal with these issues when we are affected.
Physician, heal thyself.

Animals grieve and some species, like dogs, grieve in a similar ways to us. they share our feelings on more ways that we think. There are correlations between the intelligence of an animal and the depth of grievance it can suffer from.
Dogs are pretty smart so they are likely to suffer more powerful feelings of loss and grief and when they do it can become just a difficult to snap them out of it as it can be to turn around a human suffering from the same problem.

It is important to spot these problems early and take action quickly. This will prevent the problem from becoming ingrained or habitual and make the chances of a successful and speedy recovery more likely

If you are an observant person you will be in tune with the moods of your dog and if your dogs is depressed you will look at it and know something is wrong.  By looking closely you will identify the problem as depression but the cause can be elusive.

In most cases of depression in humans we turn to medication - anti depressants. These work by increasing serotonin and noradrenaline, the group of chemicals in the brain which can improve mood and emotion.
One drawback with reaching for the pills too quickly is that these neurotransmitters also suppress chronic pain to a degree so if the issue is a physical one which requires another form of intervention it may well cover up the real cause which could result in a bigger problem further down the road.

Remedial Action

It's not easy to recognise depression.
It's not something that manifests itself physically until it is quite advanced so picking up on early symptoms can be problematic as some of these symptoms can also indicate other problems.
A dog may suffer some of the symptoms but not others.

Treatment will very much depend on the cause so if you do detect depression in your dog, look around and see if you can identify what may have brought it on.
Have there been drastic changes in routines or have you moved house or has some family member or close friend or playmate left home or passed on?
Is someone in the family ill or depressed themselves? Could the dog be picking up on their mood? Has the dog gone through a traumatic experience of any kind or an extended stressful period for any reason whatsoever?
Could the dog be sick? Is there something going on that is causing chronic pain that is not obvious or visible on the surface?
It is important to know the reason behind the issue before attempting to apply a cure.

The first step is to eliminate the possibility that there is a physical problem affecting the dog.
A trip to the vet, a thorough examination, some blood tests and maybe an x-ray if a damaged bone is suspected may save your dogs life and remedy the depression after treating the problem.
It may simply be a case of chronic pain brought on by a rheumatic condition like arthritis. Anti inflammatory drugs will alleviate the pain and the depressive effect should go with it.

In cases of loss or a dramatic change of circumstances, time is often the best healer.
If you are absolutely sure this is the case then try and lighten the dogs mood, interact more frequently, offer praise and stimulation and try and identify and then implement some activity or situation that seems to make the dog more enthusiastic about life. Keep it distracted and busy.
Keep light and cheerful around the dog. Emanate confidence. Reassure the dog that all is well by behaving like it is.
Whatever you do - do not make little sympathy sounds. Poor dog, poor little mite just act to assure the dog that something really is wrong!

Your own moods can have a great  effect on your dog.
If you are feeling down in the dumps don't be surprised when your dog joins you.
If your dog has a bond with you it will sense your moods and this will affect it's own so another thing to look at if your dog is showing signs of depression is at yourself.
You should also look at your family to see if anyone else has a problem or are unduly anxious about a situation or another individual.

Canine PTSD is a more difficult problem to treat.
A traumatic experience will leave your dog with associated triggers that bring back the state of fear that the dog previously went through.
Physical abuse. Long term neglect. Insecurity and fear. Accidents. Isolation and deprivation of companionship can all bring on this condition. Dogs that are born with a fearful and timid temperament or those poorly socialised are most at risk.

In the case of an obvious physical experience identifying the cause could be straightforward.
A near death experience or involvement in an accident is a common cause of PTSD. Exposure to something unknown or frightening can also bring on the condition. Being left alone too often and for long periods is traumatic to any pack animal that thrives on companionship.
Dogs are particularly sensitive to companionship deprivation and of all breeds of dog, the Border Collies suffers most.

Systemic Desensitisation is a form of behavioural modification that can be used to treat CPTSD
It should be applied very carefully as misuse can make matters worse.
It works by the gradual exposure of the dog to the triggers that bring on the CPTSD, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of the exposure until the dog become inured to it.
Couple this with positive re-enforcement training and distrations with the occasional treat thrown in and the results can be astonishing. But this form of behavioral training can easily go sour if the dog is outfaced by being over exposed to the trigger that brings on the CPTSD.

Seasonally Affected Disorder also affects dogs.
In fact changes in the weather can have an impact on a dogs mood. Prolonged periods of low pressure and overcast sky can make a dog depressed - people too!
When there is less daylight the brain produces more melatonin and less serotonin which can have an adverse effect on their mood. For a start their bodies, like ours, will produce less vitamin D.
Long periods of overcast and short days with very little direct sunlight can cause a dog to start to lose it's coat because it's Pineal gland has less exposure to the sun. Another effect of dysfunction of the Pineal gland is the disrupting of the production of melatonin which also effects moods.

We humans reach for the vitamin supplements and start to increase our intake of vitamin D but as dogs are sensitive to high levels of this vitamin it is unwise to use this as a solution. A balanced diet should provide enough vitamin D.
Instead you can make sure the dog has adequate exposure to sunlight by getting it out more often and for longer periods and by changing lighting in your home to a type of bulb that imitates natural light.
You can also buy light boxes that provide high intensity natural light. Both you and your dog will benefit.

Companionship Deprivation is a common cause of depression in dogs.
It's extreme manifestation is a form of behaviour known as 'separation anxiety'.
Border Collies are very prone to this condition.

Why get a dog and then leave it alone for long periods of time? Dogs are social animals. They live in social groups and isolation is an abnormal condition for them. For a dog, to be left home alone all day is an unpleasant experience and can lead to mood swings, irritation and depression if it goes on too long.
This is a form of depression that can easily be avoided. Spend more time with your dog. Make sure it has your company and interaction.
Do not expect the situation to be rectified if you get another dog - it is your company the dog desires.
Don't expect the situation to be rectified by getting a dog walker to come in and take your dog out - it needs you.
Don't expect taking the dog to 'doggy day care' to be a substitute for your responsibility for it's welfare.

If you cannot provide a dog with the companionship it requires you should not have a dog. Simple as that!

Before asking the vet for Prozac - briefly - here are a couple of softer solutions.
First in any case of a dog needing any form of medication for any reason - consult your vet.
If you want to use any herbal or complimentary medicines make sure your vet is aware and preferably sympathetic.

Homeopathy - Ignatia has proved to be a good tool in fighting depression in humans and dogs.

Bach Flower Remedies - Rescue Remedy is a popular choice for stress, shock and depression and there are other flower remedies that are useful in depression - Mustard - Star of Bethlehem - Gentian - Honeysuckle - Gorse.

Herbal - St John's Wort - Sandalwood Oil - both useful in lifting depression.

Aromatherapy - Lavender - Bergamot - Ylang-Ylang - Chamomile - all are essential oils used to treat depression.

Acupuncture and Acupressure are now also thought to help depression by inducing a relaxed state of mind.

If administering any of these treatments, or any other, it is important to keep your vet in the loop.

All said, having eliminated any physical cause, the best thing to do for a depressed dog is to give it security, affection, respect, companionship, interaction, communication and love.
This is what a depressed dog needs and it is all within everyone's ability to give if they make the effort.
You may find that this is all that your dog needs to overcome the problem.

For more information about C- PTSD -

For more information about SAD in dogs-

For more information about grief in dogs - loss

If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm Tuesdays to Thursdays)

Please do not write to us or email us about adoption - we want to speak to you before we start the process.