I think my dog is depressed. She puts her head on my lap, looks up at me and sighs.
I told my wife but she said dogs don’t get depressed, well not like people.
My dog is a border collie and they’re not known to be moody. Her name is Winnie and she’s a pretty fine dog, with chestnut-coloured eyes and a smear of white on her left hindquarters like she’s rubbed up against some white paint.
She’s been like this for several weeks now. She spends most of her time lying under the table on the patio just breathing in and out. She picks up a little when we go for a walk but she’s stopped chasing her rubber ball. I toss it for her like usual but she just watches as it bounces off into the undergrowth. And then I have to dig around amongst the bottles and tins and the crap that people just dump in there until I find it. And she sits there watching me with this look on her face. This dog depression thing is a pain.
So I googled dogs and depression. Bingo. Dogs do get depressed, in fact they get a whole range of psychiatric problems just like us: anxiety, hyperactivity, irrational fears and, yes, depression. There’s an animal behaviour institute in the States somewhere staffed by a bunch of PhDs who are all over this. ‘Our research shows that ‘life changes’ can cause depression, changes like moving house.’
I think my dog’s depression started when we moved out. My wife kept the house and I got the dog.
I took her to the vet and she agreed. It’s always hard to tell, the vet says. Because you can’t just ask a dog how they’re feeling. (Well, obviously.) But she does looks a little down, she says as she gave her a dog treat from a jar.
She may be in mourning the vet says. She feels that one of her pack has died. Her pack? I ask. You and your wife were your dog’s pack.
When I told my wife this, she laughed. Perhaps she should come and stay with me, she said. It would give her a break. But I didn’t see how this would help. If the other half of her pack (me) went missing all it would do is give the dog an alternate reason to be depressed. My wife said the dog would get along just fine.
According the institute’s website, it turns out you can treat canine depression with drugs just like ours: Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft and Puppy-calm™, a TGA approved drug for separation anxiety in dogs.
You could try another dog. Maybe a rescue one, says the vet. There’s always plenty of those. I wasn’t sure a traumatised dog was what we needed right now; we had our own issues. All I wanted was an ordinary dog to join our new pack and help my dog get over her depression.
So what do these run to, I asked the guy at the shelter? Three hundred per. That covers all the needles, microchip and behavioural. It’s an extra fifty if you want the trial, he says. The trial is where the new dog gets to come over and stay for a while to see how they like it, how they fit in with your pack. If it doesn’t work out you return the dog, no problems. Three-fifty seems a bit steep but I guess they’ve got overheads to cover, vet bills and all.
The dog he introduced me to was called Yuen. That’s a funny name for a dog I say. That’s what it says on the file says the guy. Yuen is a Maltese but ‘Yuen’ is not a Maltese name, it’s not even a dog name. What happens if the new dog bites someone or runs away? I’ll have to go round the neighbourhood asking whether anyone has seen Yuen the rescue Maltese. My new neighbourhood is not that friendly. There’s lots of pit-bulls and loose fences and there’s some doors you just don’t knock on. And they’ll say ‘what’s the dog’s name, pal?’ And I’ll have to explain that Yuen was the name the dog had when the rescue squad found it, when it was plucked from whatever god-awful situation it found itself in.
I’m not sure about this new dog strategy and I doubt my landlord will go for it. He’s already a bit iffy on my current dog after she dug up the rosemary bush in the backyard. I explained that she was only looking for shade and that I’ve replanted the herb. But I think a second dog may push the landlord– tenant arrangement.
We’ve decided to put the rescue dog idea on hold, I say to the vet. Besides my landlord’s probably not going to go for it. So, we’d like to try the medication option. Yes, with the extra exercise and the Mediterranean diet if that’s going to help.
Don’t expect too much at first, the vet says. It takes a while before they kick in. But I noticed a difference in my dog straight away. It was such an improvement, I thought maybe I could do with some of that. I explained this to my dog and she looked up at me and wagged her tail. So now it’s one for her and one for me at meal times, she has hers with her kibble; I take mine with a glass of chablis or sauvignon blanc or whatever I happen to be drinking that week. And so far it’s working out quite nicely.