Depression in pets

Find out more about whether depression can be a problem for pets, the symptoms to look out for and what you can do to combat the condition.

Key points

  • Symptoms of depression present themselves similarly in animals as they do in humans
  • Pet insurance may cover treatment for depression, including appointments with an animal behaviourist
  • Depression in animals may be a symptom of an underlying physical problem

Humans aren't alone when it comes to emotions - our pets can be prone to feeling blue and could even suffer from periods of depression.

However, it's a lot more difficult to decide whether an animal is depressed as they can't tell you what's wrong. There are some signs you should look out for though.

Some symptoms of depression in animals could also be signals that something is physically wrong with your pet, so if the problem persists, visit your vet to put your mind at rest that they're fighting fit.

A good pet insurance policy could treat the underlying cause of your pet's depression and some policies might even include alternative therapies that could help too.

Dog and cat

Depression treatment on pet insurance

Depression and anxiety issues may be covered under behavioural problems in your pet insurance policy. This means that you'll be able to claim for treatment which could help to relieve any worrying symptoms that your pet may be displaying.

This sort of treatment isn't guaranteed to be included as standard though, especially with policies that tend to be lower in price. The level of treatment offered may also differ between policies.

So always make sure you read the terms and conditions of your specific policy to see what's covered and speak to your vet as well.

Also it's important to remember that if you claim for behavioural problems you may see a rise in your pet insurance premiums.

It may be worth noting that if you decide to change pet insurance provider after your animal has received treatment for behavioural problems, they will more than likely not be covered by the next insurer, as it will then be classified as a pre-existing condition which most insurers exclude from policies as standard.

Therefore it's important to weigh up your options and make the choice that's right for you and your pet.

Causes of depression in animals

It's difficult to determine what exactly is affecting an animal's mood as they can't vocalise what's bothering them, but there are certain lifestyle changes which could trigger a low mood in your pet.

These include:

  • Moving house
  • Loss of companion (another animal) or owner
  • A drastic change in their schedule
  • A new pet has been added to the family, or a child
  • Lack of exercise
  • Even weather (seasonal affective disorder) could be to blame

Symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression in animals are very similar to the indicators in humans.

Dog looking out a car window

You should be on the look-out for:

  • Moping behaviour - head down and lethargic
  • Reluctance to be active
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Disinterested in food
  • Becoming overly clingy to owner
  • Not enjoying activities they would normally would
  • Wanting to stay inside more
  • Excessively licking their paws
  • Hiding

It's important to note how long these symptoms go on for, how they fluctuate and whether you suspect they're linked to certain outside triggers.

Is my pet depressed or feeling down?

It's not unusual for our pet's moods to change over time and this is completely normal. However, if they suffer from the symptoms above for a prolonged period of time, i.e. a month or longer, it could be time to take them to the vet.

How to ease depression in pets

There's no concrete way to ease symptoms of depression for your pet, but there are methods you can try.

It's important to only reward them when they're in an upbeat and cheerful mood, if you treat them when they're feeling down, they may start begin to think that's how they're supposed to act.

You may also want to think about your own demeanour as pets are very astute at picking up on their owner's mood and reflecting it. Try being upbeat and positive and see if their manner perks up.

It may be possible to have a consultation with an animal behaviourist who could help you get to the root of the problem and come up with ways to lift your pet's mood. This may be covered by your insurance so always check, in some cases you'll only need to pay the voluntary excess but in others it could be more.

Medication for depression in animals is a contentious issue, with many vets saying that symptoms can be relieved naturally without turning to drugs.

It's always best to talk things over with your vet and discuss the options available - if they do prescribe medication or treatment it may be covered by your pet insurance, so it's always good to double check.

By Abbie Laughton-Coles