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Signs your animal is depressed (and how to help)

A new job, a new baby, a new pet, the loss of a pet, a new house—sometimes we forget that the major life events that stress us out can stress out our animals as well. Suddenly the routines your animals have been used to their entire lives have been turned upside down. You may be working longer hours or having to give all of your attention to a new member of the family. Your animal is going to notice. Whatever the case, these changes may be seriously impacting the emotional life of your cat or dog. And because some cats and dogs are less resilient to life changes than others, it’s important to consider not just how this change is affecting your animal, but also how you can ward off (and begin to heal) a serious condition like depression.

What does depression in animals look like, and how can we help them? Every creature is different, but here are some common warning signs—along with a few tips on how you can help:

Signs of Depression in Animals

1. Losing interest in food—or eating way too much.

2. Lack of enthusiasm. Did your dog used to love going for walks, but now he doesn’t even react when you pick up the leash? Did your cat used to greet you when you got home from work, but now you can’t find her anywhere?

3. Sleeping more than usual or acting lethargic.

4. Obsessive behaviors. Does your dog lick or bite his feet excessively? Does your cat groom herself so much she’s getting a bald spot? On the flip side, if your cat stops grooming altogether, that’s another sign she may be depressed.

5. Biting or other aggressive behaviors. Aggression is a clear sign your animal is not in balance with his or her emotions. If your animal used to be calm and peaceful but has now taken to nipping you or others, he or she may be depressed.

How to Help

1. Visit the vet. First things first: You need to rule out any physical problems that may be causing any of the above behavior changes. If depression is suspected following a full medical workup, your vet can offer some helpful treatment options.

2. Offer extra attention and cuddles. Like us, animals crave human contact and need to feel that they’re loved. Though your schedule may be packed already, you’ll need to fit at least 30 minutes of one-on-one time with your animal every day doing something special. Take your dog for a walk, throw the ball in the park and reward him with treats—whatever he loves best. Hold your cat and give her extra cuddles and pets. Cats also love playing hunting games that challenge their minds and bodies, so make sure to set aside some “play time” with them every day. Most cats and dogs also love being groomed, so brush their fur every day if you can. This kind of closeness can help to support your animal when they are hurting.

3. Share Reiki. Reiki is a wonderful addition to any treatment program because it helps your animal become calm and relaxed (and your animal will love spending this time with you!). If you suspect your animal is depressed, try my Peace Affirmation (from my book Reiki for Dogs), which can help you support your animal on his or her healing journey:

Peace Affirmation Close your eyes and sit comfortably with the word “peace” inside your heart and body for several minutes. Feel the meaning and truth of that word/emotion permeate your whole being. Imagine what it would look like if your animal were perfectly peaceful and calm. Hold that vision, as if it is already achieved, within your heart and mind for several minutes. When you are ready, offer the possibility of peace as a gentle, loving bridge of light, from your heart to the heart of your animal. Include within the light all the emotions that go with the word. Continue holding that affirmation and bridge of light for an additional several minutes.

4. Curb their loneliness. It could be as simple as leaving the radio on when you’re gone all day, or installing a perch so they can watch the wildlife out the window when you’re at work. Doggie day camps and pet-sitters can also offer attention when you’re not there. If your animal is sad because his best friend recently passed, bringing a new playmate into the house could be just the thing to cheer them up. Of course, you need to pick the right dog or cat—with just the right temperament to balance your animal. How do you ensure that? Make sure to include your animal in the selection process and follow these tips for new cats and dogs.

5. Consider an anti-depressant. If weeks or months have passed and you’ve tried everything, and your animal just isn’t snapping out of it, talk with your vet about whether or not a medication might be in order. Just like us humans, sometimes dogs and cats need and respond really well to anti-depressant treatments, especially when nothing else seems to be working.

Has your animal ever been depressed? What did you do to help them?

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