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Depression and Our Furry Friends

by Eddie Rayner

Most pet owners assume that physical health is the only thing to worry about for their furry friends, but mental health is equally important, as Farah Al-Khojai, the managing partner at Pet’s Delight, explains.

What are some of the mental illnesses that our pets suffer from?

Cats and dogs feel certain emotions just like humans do, which means they too are susceptible to mental illnesses. The most common mental illness in pets that we hear about in the UAE is separation anxiety. This is because many owners work long hours and have to leave their pets at home alone for significant periods of time. Another mental illness that pets can suffer from is depression.

What is the main cause of this depression?

Research shows that normal life events could be triggers for depression and anxiety in pets, such as moving home, introducing a new baby to the family, or a recent loss of another pet or owner. With cats, it can even be something as simple as changing their litter.

What symptoms should we look out for?

John Ciribassi, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour says, “Dogs will become withdrawn. They become inactive. Their eating and sleeping habits often change. They don’t participate in the things they once enjoyed.” This is often the same in felines.

It’s important to note that the above could be symptoms of depression, or they could be signs of a medical problem. We would always recommend seeking the advice of a vet if you notice any strange behaviour in your pet.

What are the best ways to treat an animal with depression or anxiety?

It does largely depend on the reasons why you think your pet might be depressed. However, never underestimate the power of some tender loving care (TLC). Do what you know your dog or cat enjoys doing; it’s vital to keep them active and engaged, whether it’s going for a walk, playing fetch, or playing with feathers and string.

In the most part, cases of depression in pets can be treated with environmental changes and some TLC. However, if you feel that you have tried without much luck, there are drugs that your vet can prescribe.

Do you have any other tips?

It’s important when you are first getting your new pet to understand their temperament. Adoption is extremely popular in the UAE and usually we are adopting older pets rather than puppies or kittens. This means that the shelter or organisation you are getting your pet from will have an idea of their personality, which can be a real help, and then anything outside of this temperament you should be able to pick up on.

I think it’s really important to always be in tune with your pet’s moods, as often they are a reflection of bigger issues. Their change in mood may not necessarily be depression, but could be a sign that they are in chronic pain, so it’s important to be vigilant.

Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner at Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics.