Like us, our pets' mental health is as vital as their physical health, and anxiety and depression are quite common. Though we interact with our pets every day, we may not be aware of certain behavioural traits that can be caused by underlying mental health strains. So, how do we know if our pets are feeling blue? And how can we help them?
Lifestyle changes or big events in an animal's life can trigger certain behaviours. Just like humans, animals grieve, so loss in the family can make them depressed. And anything from moving house to the addition of a baby or new pet can affect the way an animal behaves.
Changes in routine and the seasons can also impact animals. Cats, for example, tend to be housebound in cold winters, while dogs can get down in spring when the changing smells in the air make them desperate to go outside. When our pets can't be their usual adventurous selves, they can feel depressed.
One of the most common factors is a lack of exercise. Dogs especially need regular daily exercise to keep them physically and mentally healthy.
Remember that animals are as unique as humans – there may be other causes.
They might sleep excessively, mope around the house with their head down, avoid eating, hide, avoid exercise, want to stay inside and lick their paws all the time. But this isn't always the case.
To try and pin point what could be causing it, you can keep a record of your pet's behaviour throughout the day and week, and take note of anything that triggers certain actions and moods. Take your pet to the vet if it has been going on for longer than a month and use your notes to explain how it has been behaving.
Though do bear in mind that it could just be very normal for your pet. Do some research into the breed and typical behaviours for its age – it might be nothing to worry about.
Simple things like regular exercise, a consistent routine, and feeding them the right food can all improve behaviour. Making sure your pet has their own personal space where they can sleep or relax is also good for encouraging positive behaviour. This is especially important during loud events such as Bonfire Night where anxiety could run even higher.
Pets are very receptive to human behaviour. If you're positive and in a visibly good mood, your pet is likely to respond well to this. Give your pet consistent love and affection – it can make them feel wanted and their behaviour may improve. High pitched voices and cheerful sounds can also encourage animals to feel more playful.
If you've tried these small changes and they don't work, it could mean there's an underlying physical problem with your pet's health.
Your pet can have from separation anxiety when you're away from home along, for example if you leave it alone when you're at work all day or going on holiday. Their behaviour could be anything from barking and howling to scratching the furniture or going to the toilet where they're not trained to go.
Investing in toys and chews so your pet can ‘busy themselves' while you're out can help. Gradually reducing the amount of time you're with them might also work. For example, you could stagger how long you leave the house for and slowly leave it on its own for longer so gets used to your absence and understands that you'll return home. You may decide to put your pet in a crate or cage to keep it out of harm's way, but just make sure it's large enough for them to move around comfortably.
Some breeds are more susceptible to separation anxiety than others. If you're considering getting a dog and you're out of the house a lot of the time, think twice. Rescue centres, for example, won't allow people to adopt dogs if they're out of the home for longer than four hours at a time.
There are some medications for pets that can alter or improve behaviour, but these are often prescribed as a last resort, if at all. It is better to treat your pet using practical or natural methods to help the behaviour improve long term.
Before you turn to the medicines, speak to your vet or an animal behavioural specialist, who may be able to offer other solutions.
Many pet insurance providers, such as Admiral, allow you to claim for treatment for behavioural problems as part of their policies, including depression or anxiety. Carefully read the terms and conditions to ensure you're getting the right amount of cover: not every pet is the same, and of course, neither is every policy. Choosing the cheaper option may mean your pet is not fully covered.
Similar to insurance for humans, a pet's pre-existing medical conditions might not be covered. This clause is particularly important to bear in mind if you want to get a rescue pet. They will have medical records, so use these to find out if they're properly covered.
It's worth remembering that if you change insurance provider after your pet has been treated for behavioural problems, this will be noted as a pre-existing medical condition. Your premium might also increase if you've had to claim for treatment.
For more information on insuring your pet for depression and anxiety, contact the team at Admiral today. We know how important it is to find the right policy for your pet, so you and your furry friend have a long and happy life together.