We have come a long way in understanding mental and behavioral problems in humans and how to more effectively treat them. This is true for our pets as well. Mental illness in pets, including both cats and dogs, can impact their quality of life, health, and longevity. It can also create problems for their human families. It becomes a serious problem if undiagnosed and untreated. 

The team at Oakland Veterinary Referral Services wants to shed light on this condition to give hope and help to pets who are afflicted with mental illness. 

Mental Illness in Pets

We tend to focus our attention on our pet’s health through wellness examinations, vaccines, diagnostic testing, and preventatives. When most pet owners consider their pets’ well-being, they tend to look at just their physical health. Since pets cannot express much of what they are feeling to us, behavioral or mental health problems may go unnoticed until they are severe.

A study done by the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Pennsylvania State University for Psychology Today concluded that pets who have anxiety and fear do not live as long as pets without these conditions. Stress that is chronic contributes to a number of health problems, from an increased risk of cardiovascular disease to skin disorders. And stress can lead to pets to exhibiting self-harming behaviors.

Behavioral Health Conditions

Even though the mind of a dog or cat is quite different from our own, they experience similar behavioral issues as we do. It can come as a surprise to many pet owners that their pet suffers from depression or anxiety. What can we do to help them? Much of it depends on the condition that your pet deals with.

Depression — Veterinarians frequently diagnose depression in pets, especially in pets who deal with chronic pain or a progressive illness. Your pet won’t speak of their sadness, but there are cues that they are experiencing depression. This includes withdrawal/hiding, change in behavior, seeming sad, lethargic, and changes in appetite and energy.

Separation anxiety — This occurs when a dog or cat becomes anxious any time they are left alone. This solitude aversion happens when a pet doesn’t get enough socialization, although there can also be a genetic component. Separation anxiety can be seen in behavior problems, such as barking excessively, scratching, destroying items, trying to escape, and intense fear.

Noise anxiety — With noise anxiety, pets feel stressed at the sound of certain loud noises. Some only react to fireworks or gunshots, while others are affected by any loud noise in the environment. Common triggers for noise anxiety include thunderstorms, sirens, parties, loud music, fireworks, instruments, among others.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder — In captive animals, this disorder exhibits stereotypical behaviors like pacing, self-mutilation, and licking. In pets, the result can be similar. Your dog or cat becomes focused totally on an object. Pets do repetitive things, such as chasing their tail, digging, and chewing on things.

Dementia — If your pet is in their later life stages, you may notice a change in their cognition. Older pets are at greater risk of developing symptoms that are much like Alzheimer’s disease in humans, which include disorientation, memory loss, and trouble getting around the home.

Other mental illnesses in pets include generalized anxiety, social aversion, and phobias.

How We Can Help Mental Illness in Pets

If your pet is dealing with a behavioral or mental health issue, there are things we can do to bolster their health and well-being while treating the illness. We will partner with you and discuss problem areas your pet is dealing with, and then come up with a treatment plan. 

Since mental illness affects all areas of your pet’s wellness, we can work with your pet using a variety of techniques, from medications to behavior modification. The goal is to ease their anxiety while maintaining a calmer, safer home. 

Various approaches to treating mental illness in pets include:

  • Environmental enrichment
  • Exercise 
  • Socialization and additional training 
  • Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications and supplements
  • Enhanced behavior modification

Please contact us for more information on mental illness in pets and how we can get your beloved fur friend the help they need.