It’s been said that dogs are nature’s antidepressant. That’s kind of a reductive statement to say the least, but it also brings up a question: what about when “nature’s antidepressant” needs an antidepressant?
As a society, we’re destimatizing people’s mental health issues and becoming more and more accepting of using medication as part of treatment. Why shouldn’t this extend to dogs? We can’t really do talk therapy with our animal companions, so antidepressants work as a way to deal with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. There are a number of both primary and off-label uses for antidepressants, and here are a few of the most popular options:
Many dogs are fine with being left alone for reasonable periods of time, but there are many who have difficulties being apart from their owner for even a short while. The result is sad, anxious dogs, often leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and receiving at least a few noise complaints from the neighbors. While there are many ways of training a dog to avoid certain resulting behaviors associated with separation anxiety, it’s very difficult to overcome the root of the problem. Even if your sofa remains un-chewed and your dog isn’t barking any more, it may still be feeling hopelessness and panic every time you’re away. With proper dosage and monitoring from a vet, your dog can take antidepressants to calm down and accept the temporary nature of being home alone.
Just like humans, dogs can develop depression. While humans have a lot of other avenues to discuss and intervene when depressive feelings occur, dogs have less room for exploration. If a dog has lost interest in things it once loved, rule out physiological issues first. If no illness or deficiencies show up in testing, it may be time to try out an antidepressant. Many owners report that a moderate dose is enough to see changes in mood, usually along with increased quality time and a real focus on making sure that the dog has everything they need to be fulfilled. This isn’t to say that antidepressants are always the perfect immediate solution, but they can be beneficial as part of the treatment of depression in dogs.
A great many breeds are susceptible to compulsive behaviors, and it can occur in any dog, especially when it’s a result of experience as opposed to genetic predisposition. Again, it’s important to do a thorough examination with a vet to look for other possible causes for excessive licking, itching, circling, and so on, but if there doesn’t seem to be any logical explanation for the compulsive behavior, antidepressants can reduce the compulsions and help your dog have a more calm life.
Stress and anxiety doesn’t only occur with separation. A lot of dogs have more generalized anxiety, sometimes exacerbated by going outside, being around humans or other dogs, hearing loud noises like thunder, or really any change to its daily routine. Since this can lead to aggressive behavior, it’s especially important to work through issues of anxiety. There are many ways to address individual responses with training, but adding in an antidepressant can provide more stability during the process and make for a more open and amenable dog.
Issues in Aging
Senior dogs are wonderful, and we’re so lucky to have them in our lives. While so many things about a dog’s golden years are gifts, aging does impact the brain. When older dogs develop personality changes or new behaviors that negatively impact their quality of life, vets can use an antidepressant to regulate some of the issues that crop up. As with all use of antidepressants, there can be other reasons for these issues, especially when the onset is sudden or extreme. Proper thorough vet assessment is important when diagnosing and treating older dogs.
We must remember that medication is not a substitute for love, care, and attention and that training can make a huge difference in behavior as well. Leaving a space for antidepressants as part of intervention and treatment, along with traditional methods of addressing these issues, can make for a positive outcome and a happier dog. Talk to your vet if you believe your pup is depressed and all ways that you can help them start feeling like their old selves again soon!