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It’s Time to Talk – Mental Health Matters for your Dog

 In News, Pets & Health, Tips & Advice

Time to Talk Day – Thursday 7th February 2019

Mental health affects one in four of us yet people are still afraid to talk to each other about it; usually due to insecurities, experiencing embarrassment and feeling worried about what others will think of them. This subsequently means that many of us suffer in isolation, which can often have a detrimental effect on an individual’s mental health and well-being. Time to Talk Day is all about bringing people together so that they feel comfortable to have ‘that’ conversation. Whether it’s with a cup of tea, a chat with a close friend or meeting up with a family member, the aim is to break the stigma of talking about mental health and raising awareness in the process. Here at Scamps and Champs we recognise that it isn’t just humans that suffer with mental health issues, our beloved dogs can too! Therefore, we aim to prompt the conversation with our followers regarding mental health for dogs, in order to inform you with what problems can look like and signs to look out for. By raising awareness and promoting an informed discussion regarding your dog’s mental health, we also hope to arm you with the details you need to support your furry friend on the road to recovery.

So how can my Dog be affected by Mental Health?

As we know mental health is just as real as physical health and can be completely debilitating if it isn’t treated correctly. Believe it or not our dogs can be affected by many of the same mental health issues us humans can from anxiety, depression, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but how can mental health problems in our dogs be recognised and how can they be treated? People’s experiences impact who they are and how they choose to behave, it is the same with our four-legged friends. A positive experience can influence us to make excellent choices and model us into decent human beings, who have the ability to act and react in a well-rounded thought out way. However, a negative experience can cause stress and have a lasting detrimental impact on the way we chose to behave. Below we are going to cover the main mental health issues that can be experienced by dogs, explain how to identify each condition and then offer some advice on how to support your pawly pal back to health.

Anxiety

The most common form of anxiety identified within dogs is separation anxiety, this is where your dog absolutely hates being separated from its owner, particularly for extended periods of time. This could be due to spending too much time with the owner as a puppy and then circumstances altering, for example an owner obtaining a new job that takes them out of the home environment. However, separation anxiety can occur in dogs that have had a troubled start in life and therefore do not like to be left on their own, as they fear that something bad will happen to them.

Common signs that your dog has separation anxiety:

  • Your dog becoming erratic as you leave the house
  • Damage to your home being found on your return home
  • Dog mess accidents being found on your return home

The solution is to seek professional help from a dog behaviour expert who can assist you in identifying why your dog has separation anxiety. Then work with them to find a solution that suits your dog’s individual needs. If you have a new puppy it is important that you create them a space they feel safe in such as a crate, bed or small room, which is their personal safe space of comfort. Then work on settling your puppy into its safe space each time that you go out and leave your puppy for short bursts of time, such as ten minutes to begin with whilst you go to the shop. Then gradually increase the time you leave them up to four hours, once they are old enough to hold the toilet and wait to go outside. Often leaving a speech radio station on such as BBC Radio 4 in the safe space, can assist in keeping them company and mask outside noises that may be initially frightening for your dog.

Depression

Depression can be experienced in dogs when an alteration of routine occurs. This can be in the form of a change in home environment, an alteration in food or walking routine or following the death of a fellow canine companion. Whereas in humans a ‘change of scene’ may be beneficial for depression, any change can actually be the trigger of depression in dogs.

Common signs that your dog has depression:

  • Appetite decreases
  • Alteration in sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Excessive licking
  • Avoidance or hiding

You can improve this by creating and maintaining a daily routine for your dogs, keeping their life aspects as consistent as possible. Taking your dogs out and exercising them efficiently in fields where they can enjoy the grass, mud and fresh air. If you have just experienced the death of another loved pet and your dog is showing signs of depression, give them as much love and attention as you can, support them through the difficult phase. If symptoms of depression persist then seek advice from your veterinary health professional as they may have further advice or your dog may have an underlying condition that needs treating medically. 

Social Anxiety

Dogs are extremely sociable animals and enjoy lots of walks, cuddles and most importantly company. They require a lot of attention and tender loving care, just like we do! However, if dogs are not socialised properly as puppies or if they are bought up in isolation, they can develop social anxieties which are not usually associated with their breed. Thus, meaning that when you try and socialise your dog out in public and it is approached by another dog, your dog can become aggressive as it is frightened about what the other dog may do to it.

Common signs that your dog has social anxiety:

  • Physically trembling
  • Tail tucked in
  • Withdrawal and hiding
  • Reduction in activity
  • Aggression and excessive barking

The best way to eliminate social anxiety is to commence training whilst your dog is young, by socialising your dog with other humans and dogs on a regular basis. This can cause an issue if you have adopted a dog or you have obtained an adult dog from a rescue shelter, as it will already have established negative behaviours within previous years. In this case it is advisable to seek professional assistance from a dog behaviourist or dog trainer, who can tailor support to your individual dog’s needs. In addition, you need to establish trust with your new furry friend, by spending as much time with them as you can and positively rewarding good behaviour with treats. This needs to include gradually introducing other dogs to your dog, commencing on a one-on-one basis and taking it slowly, monitoring your dog’s reactions and rewarding positive experiences with treats.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic stress disorder occurs in dogs following a traumatic event, just as it does in humans. This can occur through mistreatment, physical violence or abuse, from humans or sometimes from other dogs. This can cause long-lasting mental health issues with crippling effects on a dog’s life, as triggers such as similar noises or places, can cause the dog to relive the trauma over and over again.

Common signs that a dog has post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Irritability
  • Distress
  • Avoiding familiar areas
  • Shaking
  • Displays of anxiety and depressive symptoms (as above)

As with anxiety and depression, canine post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) can cause your dog to act out more than usual or in un-characteristically for the individual dog. It is recommended that you seek immediate assistance from your veterinary doctor in order to see if medical assistance is required. Dog behaviour and training can assist you in addition moving forward and with the correct treatment for your dog CPTSD can subside within a couple of months.

Take a further look at our business Scamps and Champs and our full range of pet caring services available.

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