This week my dog didn’t poop. At first, I thought it was because he wasn’t getting enough exercise. He peed, but the whole pooping thing just wasn’t happening. Not only can I not afford a vet if he gets all impacted, but some vets are emergency only vets and the cost is astronomical.
He also wasn’t eating. Coconut is one of those dogs who inhale their food. I was so worried he was going to choke from eating so fast at the beginning that I got him a Kong feeding toy to slow him down. It’s helped but he still gobbles his food in under thirty seconds. I added eggs or food toppers or broth, all favorites of his, but he still just sniffed and walked away.
So he was drinking water, not eating much, not pooping much and just sprawled on the sofa doing, well, nothing. Then I got it. My dog was depressed. Between a husband with cancer, all the bills that are flying in, thinking of the side effects he’s going to have that will impact me, well, I was already not coping well. Then I had to worry that he would get the surgery as scheduled and would not get sick while in the hospital. And now this. It’s no wonder that I like most of you am experiencing mild to severe depression. And we’re the lucky ones because we have a dog!
Dogs pick up on our emotions and I have to say I’ve been depressed even before the words safer at home snuck into my vocabulary.
Canine depression symptoms are very similar to those in people. Like you, dogs may become withdrawn, inactive, their eating and sleeping habits often change, and things they once they enjoyed might no longer bring them pleasure.
The trick for you and your dog is to embrace your new normal. It’s important to keep them engaged, do more of the things they like to do, get them a little more exercise, and play new games to engross their brains. Beyond that, reward them when they show signs of happiness. If your dog is like mine they likely love car rides and the good news is that you can explore new places while practicing social distancing and getting your dog’s tail to wag. Whenever your pooch shows signs of renewed energy and happiness praise him. Hearing the lilt in your voice and seeing you smile will trigger happy memories and should likely get him to perk up. The good news is that it will likely help you too!
Physical games like tug-o-war, chase, hide and seek, special toys you’ve hidden and allowed him to find are all simple ways to interact with your dog. Be careful not to give excessive treats because what you don’t want is an overweight dog or a dog who can only perk up when food is involved. Also, be careful not to give in to your dog who might manipulate you. For example, allowing your dog on the furniture to comfort or to reward him will be confusing and create new behaviors to be unlearned once you try and go back to no dogs allowed on the bed.
Be careful not to encourage the negative behavior by lavishing a depressed dog with attention and treats while he is moping. Dogs will think you’re rewarding him for that behavior and that’s the last thing anyone wants your dog included.
You have every right to feel off-kilter with all that’s going on. But this too will pass and in most cases, depression in people and dogs can be successfully treated early on with behavior modification and environmental enrichment.
I’m finding my new normal and things are working better. My freezer is stocked, my husband’s health is improving, the weather is getting warmer, I’m connecting with family and friends by phone, we’re taking lots of walks, and I’m not as anxious as when this started. Coconut is eating again, his poop schedule is back to normal, he’s a little clingier, but he’s playing with toys and loving our long car rides.
What are some ways that you are helping your dog get through this time? We want to hear your ideas.