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Can Dogs Have a Mental Illness?

Dec 26, 2021

You know your dog is a person, with his or her own thoughts, feelings, and personality. Even though your dog can’t use words and language, they sure can communicate those thoughts and feelings perfectly well. They may use more body language than verbal cues, but they can also verbalize through barking, grunting, and growling. Some dogs are likely better at communicating their needs and wants than most humans! You’ve likely learned how to read your dog’s emotional cues very well, no matter how they’re communicating. For example, you know your dog wants their next Sweet Potato Pie Edibite supplement chew, because of the hopeful look in his eyes. And maybe because of the polite begging. (Who can blame them? Edibites are delicious!)

You and your dog are more alike than you might think. Dog brains and human brains are remarkably similar because humans and dogs are both highly evolved social creatures. A study done back in 2014 discovered that dogs and humans both process voice and emotion in very similar ways. 

And, just like people, dogs can have mental illnesses as well. 

What Mental Illnesses Can a Dog Have?

What Mental Illnesses Can a Dog Have?

Here are some of the more common mental illnesses that dogs can have.

1. Separation Anxiety

This is one of the most common types of canine mental illness. It’s estimated to affect about  14% of dogs. Separation anxiety is when a dog can’t find a way to comfort themselves when left alone, or when they are away from their family. Barking is a common sign of separation anxiety, as is urinating or defecating in the house, and destroying things like shoes, couches, toys, and bedding. 

2. Social Anxiety

Social anxiety in dogs can manifest as fear of people, like strangers, or other dogs. It can also be fear of a new place with all of its sights, sounds, and other stimuli. It might also be territory-related; a dog could be fine with strangers and other animals in their territory, but then becomes scared of strangers and other animals when they are not on their home turf. 

3. Noise Anxiety

This fear-related anxiety is triggered by loud sounds, like thunder or fireworks. Generally, this is situationally based, like during the 4th of July. A car backfiring or loud knocking can also cause noise anxiety. Do what you can to prepare when the weather gives you a warning. And prepare for predictably loud holidays like the 4th and the New Year, when your neighbors and city will likely be setting off fireworks. Dogs with noise anxiety can bark, shake, tremble, whine, cling, cry and hide. 

4. Depression

Depression in dogs is similar to depression in humans. Dogs get the blues sometimes too, especially after big life changes like a move, a new baby, or a loss. (Just like with humans.) Thankfully though, long-term depression in dogs is rare. A dog who is depressed might become more withdrawn and inactive. Their eating and sleeping habits could change. They might not enjoy the same activities as much as they once did, like taking walks or playing with toys. 

5. CCD (OCD)

When talking about a compulsive behavior disorder in dogs, it’s called Canine Compulsive Disorder, compared to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, for humans. CCD occurs when normal dog behaviors like licking, biting at their tail, and repetitive barking, start being done to the extreme. Dogs with CCD might not be able to stop themselves from these behaviors and it might start getting in the way of them living their doggy lives. 

6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

While this is more often observed among working dogs in the military and the police, regular dogs can suffer from PTSD too. PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that is caused by traumatic events like a car accident, a fight, or an injury. The causes for PTSD can be endless, but the result is a traumatized nervous system that can result in behaviors like panic attacks, heavy and fast breathing, anxiety, being excessively cautious and clingy to their owners, aggressive behaviors from usually non-aggressive dogs, depression, and hyper-awareness. 

Treating Mental Illnesses in Dogs

Treating Mental Illnesses in Dogs

In another example of how similar dogs and humans are, the recommended treatments for dogs with mental illnesses are very similar to what a doctor would suggest for a human. Of course, the first thing you should do to help your dog if you think he is mentally ill is to schedule a visit with your vet. A veterinarian can do the very important task of eliminating other physical health issues that could be related to or causing your dog’s mental illness. Your vet will also be able to help you come up with a whole strategy for addressing your dog’s mental health and can prescribe medications to help your dog. Here is a list of other things that can help your dog’s mental health.

1. Exercise

Like with humans, exercise is a must for a dog’s mental and physical health. Exercise works out excess energy and lifts the mood. A long walk means time in nature and lots of new sights and sounds. Exercise and walks give your dog a chance to socialize with other dogs and maybe make some new friends along the way. If your dog needs more exercise than just a quick walk, then consider riding a bike with your dog, or hiring a dog walker while you’re at work. 

2. Mental stimulation

Dog’s need playtime and mental engagement to stay happy and healthy. Things that keep them mentally engaged will help combat the negative effects of mental illness. Toys that your dog can play with on her own are helpful, like the classic Kong toy filled with peanut butter. You can find interactive puzzle toys for your dog. And, there’s also the classic tennis ball for a rousing game of fetch. If your arm isn’t cutting it for your dog, try this ball launcher and make your dog run for the tennis ball.

3. Natural remedies

There are countless natural remedies out there for pets, so be sure to choose reputable brands and consult your vet before starting your dog on any nutritional or herbal supplements. Your vet also likely can recommend natural remedies and brands for you as well. For a quick overview, look for supplements with essential fatty acids, like omega-3’s. Fish oil and hemp seed oil are good sources of these essential nutrients. Herbs like valerian root and chamomile might be helpful, as well as the mineral magnesium. Acupuncture is also becoming increasingly popular for dogs, just be sure to find a practitioner who specializes in pets. CBD is also a common choice for pet owners dealing with their dog’s mental health issues. 

4. Prescribed medications

Veterinarians will prescribe prescription medications to dogs in different ways. One common approach is a short-term prescription for an animal who has just gone through a lot of stress and needs a little help adjusting. Or, the intention could also be to support the animal emotionally while working on training and other strategies. Depending on the dog, the prescription could be long-term. Most behavioral drugs are quite safe, even when used for extended periods.

5. Space

It might be tempting to smother your dog with affection and attention if they seem down or anxious. However, if your dog doesn’t seem to want the attention, or worse, seems stressed while receiving it, it’s ok to back down and give your dog some space. If you’ve ever experienced a period of depression, then you can relate to wanting alone time. It doesn’t mean that your dog doesn’t love you, or want attention from you. It just means they are working on healing and that takes some space. 

6. Massage and body awareness

Whether you pet your dog extra thoroughly, give them a good, long brushing, or do a little research on canine massage (hint: it’s very easy!) touching your dog more will do them a world of good. Massage can ease stress and anxiety and help your dog get back in touch with her body. You can also help your dog’s body awareness, and mentally stimulate her too by working a canine conditioning program. It’s simple exercises and stretches that you train your dog to do. Canine conditioning can build and maintain muscle mass, help balance and provide both a physical and mental workout. While there are professional dog trainers out there, here is a simple program you and your dog can do together.

CBD and Dog Mental Health

CBD and Dog Mental Health

Support your dog’s optimal mental health with high-quality CBD from Pet Releaf. CBD works with part of your dog’s nervous system called the endocannabinoid system. CBD, or cannabidiol, helps that part of the nervous system connect and communicate more clearly with the rest of your dog’s body. This is why CBD may be so helpful for a variety of health issues, including mental health. Your dog’s body knows how to heal, but it might need a little support. CBD may do a lot of things to help your dog’s mental health, including helping maintain a normal emotional balance. CBD is also thought to have a calming effect on nerves and can help animals maintain a normal, relaxed disposition. 

Pet Releaf has hemp oil, hemp capsules, and Edibites, which are delicious CBD and herbal supplement chews. If you want help picking a product for your dog, check out their helpful product finder.  

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