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Doggy Depression: Pets Get Sad, Too

08/22/2014 by Colleen Williams
August 22nd, 2014 by Colleen Williams

So you’re feeling a little bummed and it isn’t getting better. A friend recommends you talk to a psychologist. You make an appointment, lie down on the quintessential couch and talk it out, find the root of the issue, and work through it with your doctor. Of course, this a very elementary portrait of how therapy works, but what happens when the person on the couch can’t say “I’m feeling bummed?” What happens when it’s not even a person, but, rather, an animal?

Knowing the movements and signs sent by animals to show they are feeling anxious or depressed is the work of animal behaviorists like Dr. Vint Virga. Virga has observed animal behavior for over 25 years and has become an advocate for promoting the human-animal bond.

sad dog

Image via Canstock

Though he’s been practicing for a quarter century, many animal specialists tend to shy away from understanding if and how animals have emotions.

“Scientists often say that we don’t know what animals feel because they can’t speak to us and can’t report their inner states,” Virga tells New York Times Magazine. “But the thing is, they are reporting their inner states. We’re just not listening.”

One way to “listen,” especially with dogs, is to look at facial expressions, Virga says. Studies by the University of Florida and Walden University found that by looking at a dog’s face, humans (both dog owners and non-dog owners) have the ability to correctly interpret their facial expressions in correlation with their behaviors.

“What these researchers stunningly revealed is our human commonality with other species,” Virga writes in Psychology Today. “The methods by which we relate and connect to each other are not solely human traits, but instead shared by other species with whom we share our planet.”

So, while your pet can’t tell you they’re feeling bummed, they can show you. As long as you’re paying attention to the signs, veterinarians can suggest proper treatment whether it is extra attention or a change in diet.

Some common causes of pet depression include moving, a new spouse of baby in the household, adding another pet, or losing an owner or companion animal reports Bonnie Beaver, DVM, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

“Dogs pick up on our emotions, so if the owner has died, the dog could be responding to the grief of others,” Beaver told WebMD. “Or the dog may not be getting the attention he’s accustomed to, which is stressing him out.”