Spotting Depression In Pets

Orange tabby cat laying on the edge of a blue blanket

For pets accustomed to a certain routine or way of life, having to adjust to great or sudden changes can be extremely difficult. For some pets, these changes can even result in a depressive state. 

Dr. Ashley Navarrette, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that depression in pets is usually associated with a major change or event.

“The most common event associated with depression in pets is the death of a family member—either a human or another pet,” Navarrette said. “However, it can also be caused by other events, such as a major change in routine; for example, a pet may have difficulty adjusting if a family member who was previously working from home has returned to work on-site.”

Pets that are depressed often act unlike themselves. Common symptoms of depression include hiding, acting reserved or unsociable, and experiencing a low appetite. Owners may also notice that pets no longer seem interested in activities they used to enjoy.

Navarrette emphasizes the importance of consulting a veterinarian if a pet displays these or any other unusual symptoms or behavioral changes, as owners should not immediately assume that depression is the cause; many medical conditions, such as chronic pain or disease, can result in a pet showing symptoms of depression. At a clinic, veterinarians will evaluate the pet for possible underlying issues.

“Depression is something that is difficult to diagnose,” Navarrette said. “Often, it is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning you have to rule out all of the potential medical causes before assuming this is something behavioral.”

When it comes to treating depression in pets, the best route involves activity, engagement, and some tender, loving care.

“Generally, veterinarians don’t utilize medication for treatment of depression but, rather, encourage increased enrichment to keep a pet’s mind active,” Navarrette said. “We may also recommend spending more time with pets that may be dealing with depression.”

Seeing your pet acting sad, lethargic, or unlike itself for any reason is difficult. Getting an appointment with a licensed veterinarian is the best way to develop a treatment plan and ensure that there isn’t an underlying medical issue at play.

With plenty of care and lots of love, owners can help their pets bounce back from a difficult time as quickly as possible.

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.


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