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Treating Cat and Dog Depression

Treating Cat and Dog Depression

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:

The Cause
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.

Communicate honestly
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.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
10:22AM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Unfortunately, this article did not help me at all.

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting and informative. My cat is blind but she has been doing very well as she is talked to and touched a lot and has mapped her routes using her whiskers. Helping a pet over come a disability is important and she has done very well, adapting. Her hearing has increased to cover for the loss of one sense.

Cats and dogs will also miss their human companions or feline and canine friends if they pass on and some will go into a depression. Being there for them, giving them love and understanding helps them so much.

5:04PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

Thank-You, SOOO much for the information. When I move I will definitely get birds out in my front as soon as possible. She loves just watching the birdie(s). Plus buying her a new toy.

3:50AM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

My mom has to travel frequently so my cat gets kiiinda depressed when she doesnt find her around the house. Like, when my cat comes indoors, she loves to meow really loudly so my mom would talk to her xD, and they are always engaging in lame convos and whatnot, so when my mom is away, kitteh would just walk indoors and stays silent :(

1:59PM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

Thanks for posting!

7:24AM PDT on May 30, 2012

Yeah. So I have had this cat (female) for like only a week. And the thing is she was quiet and tranquil so I took her in. I believe she is adolecent. A male cat would keep bothering her continuosly day and night. She got scratches and tears so I moved her to the back of my house after I saw a pretty ugly scratch. A day later the male cat fought with her again while I slept, I woke up, chased the cat away, and took my cat inside. But she did not move. She did not make a sound. She just lay there, where ever I put her, without any sign of anything. I thought she'd be okay. But shes not. She refuses to drink water or eat. You can put her in front of my labrador, and she doesnt do a thing, you can shake her, anything. She wont move. Or even meow. she's weak because she wont eat. So what do I do? I mean, I took her to the vet, but they said she is not sick and the sratches are healing quickly. They are not experts in animal phycology, which came as a suprise to me because I did not even think cats got depression. So what do I do? (Need Help Quickly)

Alex Young

5:18PM PDT on May 7, 2012

Thanks for the info.

3:49PM PST on Jan 27, 2012

I definitely know my dog gets doggie depression. good tips thanks

10:47PM PST on Nov 20, 2011

~Thanks for all the tips!~I give my pets massage therapy everyday,just for fun, not depression~They love to be mssaged and it is funny how they stretch out to get the full effect!!~

12:23AM PST on Nov 12, 2011

great article, thanks for sharing

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