Is your pet sleeping more than usual? Is she always eating or maybe refusing to eat? Does he hide or seem lethargic? Your pet may be depressed, but as with people, there are successful holistic approaches to help ease the blues. New Choices in Natural Healing for Cats and Dogs (Rodale, 1999) by Amy D. Shojai, has a chapter on the phenomenon of pet depression, here’s what the holistic experts have to say:
Dogs and cats get depressed for some of the same reasons people do. They don’t understand divorce or death or the fact that a family member has gone away to college. They only know that someone they love and depend on isn’t around anymore, and this can leave them profoundly depressed.
On the other hand, some pets get depressed when someone new–a person or a pet–joins the family, and they realize that they are not the center of attention anymore. Even moving to a new home can put them in a funk.
Depression is a natural emotion, but when it lasts too long, it can lead to physical problems, making pets more susceptible to illness. In fact, pets who are sick may have many of the same symptoms as those who are depressed, so you will want your vet to take a look. But as long as your pet is healthy, there are natural treatments that can battle depression without the need for powerful drugs. Here is what alternative practitioners advise.
Lift their spirits with music
Not every pet responds to music, but some get deeply engaged when they hear their favorite melodies, especially when the music is associated with something they love and trust. “Music can be very effective for healing the emotions,” says Donna M. Starita, D.V.M., a holistic veterinarian in private practice in Boring, Ore.
Shine away the blues
During the cold, dark months especially, giving dogs and cats some extra light can help ease depression. “Light and the functioning of the pituitary and endocrine glands are intimately tied together,” says Mary Lee Nitschke, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Linfield College in Portland, Ore., and an animal behaviorist in Beaverton. Light stimulates the body to release hormones that can have an uplifting effect on mood, she explains.
All you really need is a place where your pet can bask a little–on a sunny back porch, for example, or on a window perch. Giving her an extra 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight a day may be all it takes to help her feel better.
Stimulate her mind
A fun way to counter depression is to give pets something interesting to think about, says Nitschke. For dogs, an easy and always-entertaining game is to hide treats throughout the house, then sit back and watch as their noses go to work. Cats don’t get as excited by hide-and-seek, but they will show spark when you tempt them with pounceable feathers or fishing-pole-style toys, she says.
Games can be especially helpful when pets are jealous and depressed because there is someone new in the family, they are a sure-fire way for them to bond, and that can help eliminate the depression.
Give her a fresh start
“Sometimes when pets are in deep mourning for another pet, they refuse to play,” Nitschke says. You can help reduce your pet’s grief by temporarily taking away some of the familiar items she associates with her lost friend. Or take your pet on a weekend trip to get her out of the house for a while. The combination of new sights and smells and getting away from a “sad” place will help your pet get over the emotional hump and start the healing process.
Relieve grief with homeopathy
Pets who are depressed because of grief may feel better when given homeopathic Ignatia amara. Give one or two drops of liquid or one or two pills of 30C-strength Ignatia amara. If your pet doesn’t seem to be feeling better after one one dose, give another dose the following day. Consult your holistic veterinarian before going to the next higher dose.
Help her recover with flower essences
Gentian is very good for general depression. If your pet suffers from extreme depression, give her gorse. And for pets mourning the loss of a loved one, star-of-Bethlehem helps. Honeysuckle helps with the nostalgia that your pet may feel after a loss, and walnut eases her pain during transition.
You can use any one of these essences or combine up to six of them in equal amounts, diluting six to eight drops of each essence in an ounce of spring water. Give between one-half and one dropperful four times a day. You can mix the remedy with food or water or put a drop on your finger and rub it into the hairless area inside your pet’s ear.
Dogs and cats have impressive powers of intuition, and when you are feeling discouraged and depressed, they may feel bad, too. It’s important to have positive thoughts around your pets, but you have to be honest and tell them what is going on. Just saying out loud, “I’m upset, but it’s not your fault,” can help.
Touch away depression
A massage technique called TTouch has been widely used to reduce stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. “I find TTouch to have a really powerful effect on depression,” Nitschke says. TTouch is performed by gently using your fingertips to move the skin in a clockwise direction, taking one to two seconds to complete 1 1/4 circles in each place. Pay particular attention to the ears, face and neck.