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Sunday’s Recap: Mental Health Illnesses in Dogs

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Mental Health Illnesses in Dogs

Oftentimes when we here the term canine mental problems, we think of behavior problems. That's because the two terms are commonly used interchangeably. While it's true that mental health illnesses in dogs can cause behavior problems, they can also result in other issues as well. Mental health illnesses and behavior issues are two very different problems, and each has its own treatment.

Much like people, dogs can be diagnosed with mental health issues such as depression or a compulsion disorder. The hard part is figuring out which issues are effecting your pet. Because dogs cannot communicate with us to express their feelings, it's often difficult to diagnose canine depression or anxiety for certain unless the case is severe.

With careful observation, you can usually tell if you're dealing with one of the many mental health illnesses or dogs or just a common behavior problem that could be corrected with proper training and redirection. Canine anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health illnesses in dogs, but there are a few others that you should be mindful of as well.

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 Sunday's Recap: Mental Health Illnesses in Dogs

Mental Health Illnesses in Dogs

This week I read a lot of great articles and blog posts about mental health illnesses in dogs. If you believe that your pet may have a mental health illness, you need to speak with your veterinarian right away. Although these types of illnesses are not uncommon, your dog's symptoms could also be the result of an underlying health condition.

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1. Dog Star Daily

The most important thing to keep in mind when discussing mental health illnesses in dogs, is that they may lead to aggression. It's best to have your dog examined by a veterinarian or canine behavior specialist as soon as you notice any common symptoms or changes in your dog's behavior.

As this blog post from Dog Star Daily explains, it's uncommon, but sometimes a dog's mental health deteriorates so quickly that it leads to uncontrollable aggression. Sometimes, a dog may even become self destructive. In these rare cases the dog would need to be euthanized as a safety measure.

  • I always recommend at least a second, if not a third opinion before euthanizing and I would NEVER recommend euthanasia without first handling the dog in person. In one of the most severe cases, and unsolicited, my veterinarian did a necropsy and confirmed my suspicion — the dog had multiple lesions on his brain.

2. Animal Wellness Magazine

But, how do you tell if your dog has a behavior issue or a mental health illness? It's not easy, as many of the symptoms are similar. This article from Animal Wellness Magazine discusses two different instances in which dogs had medical issues that led to behavior changes. It gives a great first-hand account of what you may see if your dog is experience the same type of symptoms.

  • Mental illness in dogs can arise as an extension of physical illness (a progression of disease from the physical to the psyche), or it can actually arise in the psyche in response to external factors such as persistent grief, anger, humiliation or fright. We also need to take into account animals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury in the past. The problem with diagnosing mental illness in companion animals is that the symptoms are so varied that it makes categorizing them difficult.

3. Vetinfo shares information on common symptoms

If you're wondering what symptoms to look for, Vetinfo.com has shared this interesting article that explains everything you'll need to know. It explains some of the most common causes of mental illnesses in dogs. As I've mentioned, these symptoms are not conclusive just based on your observations. Your dog will need to be thoroughly examined by your veterinarian before any treatment suggestions can be discussed.

  • Dog depression is characterized by lack of interest in playing, apathy, recurrent behavior of searching and sniffing, isolation, lack of appetite, and in some cases, constipation. Dog anxiety is characterized by destructive behavior, urinating or defecating indoors, diarrhea, and vomiting. In some cases, such as in the case of separation anxiety, the dog might vomit in the owners shoes or some other item that he may associate with his owner leaving him alone.

4. Dogs NSW

Since there are so many options, it's probably best to get a diagnosis before diving into too much research on your own. You'll quickly get overwhelmed with all the information available on the many different mental health illnesses in dogs. It's better to narrow down your focus and then do your own research if you wish.

If you're just interested in the topic or curious about the most common mental health illnesses in dogs, check out this informative article on DogsNSW.org. It explains some of the most common conditions seen including canine compulsive disorder, separation anxiety and other fears and phobias.

  • In the wild, fear of strange noises and animals is an evolutionary adaptation because these things could pose a risk of injury or death. For puppies in the home environment, initial fear of novel stimuli is normal. Following repeated exposure to these fear-eliciting stimuli, puppies usually habituate and the fear reactions are reduced or eliminated.The response of the owner to their dog’s initial fear can cause excessive fear or phobias. Some owners inadvertently reinforce fear behavior by comforting their dog when it is afraid, for example, during a thunderstorm.

5. WebMD explains emotionally scarring in canines

As you may have guessed, abuse and neglect can have negative effects on a dog. Although this may lead to behavior issues or mental health illness, sometimes it just leaves behind emotional scarring that can be helped with a little love and patience. I was surprised to find this well-written article about emotional scarring in dogs from WebMD.

  • Is it true, as many people believe, that fearful or aggressive dogs have been emotionally scarred by past abuse or mistreatment? “Occasionally, but rarely,” says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, DACVB, MS, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

6. Dr. Becker talks about OCD in dogs

If you read my columns each week, then you already know that Dr. Karen Becker writes a wonderful blog for Mercola. These columns are always easy to read and understand. She skips the confusing veterinary jargon and explains things so that the everyday person can understand what she's talking about.

One of the most common mental health illnesses in dogs is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). These behaviors actually occur in many types of animals including humans (of course), horses, pigs, exotic birds, cats and dogs. Licking and tail chasing are two of the most common behaviors exhibited by dogs with this condition.

  • Animals with compulsive disorders tend to be relatively anxious and high strung. It isn't common to find OCD-type behavior in laidback animals. An anxious nature may be inherited, however, research indicates a component of ‘nurture,' for example, a high conflict situation, is necessary for expression of a compulsive behavior.

7. Laurel Braitman's video on TED.com

If you're more of a watcher than a reader, you can check out this excellent video of a speech by Laurel Braitman on TED.com. It's a very informative video that shares a lot of great information on canine depression and OCD. The video is just less than 20 minutes long, and it's well worth the watch!

  • Behind those funny animal videos, sometimes, are oddly human-like problems. Laurel Braitman studies non-human animals who exhibit signs of mental health issues — from compulsive bears to self-destructive rats to monkeys with unlikely friends.

8. Psychology Today reports that small breeds are more likely to develop mental health issues

Are there certain breeds that are more likely to have mental health issues? According to this article from Psychology Today, these issues are more common in smaller breeds, and they've got science on their side.

  • The bottom line is that for nearly all of the 30 C-BARQ behaviors related to body size, small breeds were reported by their owners to have more problems than large breeds. The authors summarized their findings elegantly: “Generally, undesirable behaviors become more common or pronounced as height and weight decrease.” In sum, small dogs tend to have psychological problems.