A dog for depression?
September 26, 2018
Dogs are more than humanity’s best friend. Did you know that certain service dogs can be of great help for people dealing with clinical depression?
Dogs are more than humanity’s best friend – they’re indispensable to our lives. Working dogs come in all shapes and sizes, doing everything from rescuing hurricane victims to guiding visually challenged people through the streets and comforting kids with cancer.
Did you know that certain service dogs are officially recognised by the medical profession as a support for people dealing with clinical depression? Once a qualified mental health professional has diagnosed a human patient with depression, a dog can be ‘prescribed’ as part of the treatment.
What do you mean, depression?
Life is full of adventures, ups and downs, and while we may suffer defeats, like losing a job or a relationship breakup, we usually recover after a time. For some people, just waking up is difficult and it’s difficult every time. Those with the condition suffer a range of tricky symptoms from persistent and overpowering anxiety to disabling antipathy and emotional instability, sleep loss, lethargy, disillusion, self-loathing and low self-esteem. Trauma, abuse and neglect can contribute to the condition. Depression compromises one’s ability to work and play but luckily it is medically recognised and treatable. If you have been medically diagnosed with depression, a dog may be just what the doctor ordered!
What do you mean, ‘prescribed’?
It’s not only pills that can be prescribed to help a human get well. Pooches can be, too. Dogs help humans with mental and emotional struggles in three ways:
- Therapy animals – help comfort patients in places like hospitals and schools.
- Psychiatric service animals – specially trained dogs who help humans whose mental state puts them in danger or prohibits them from leading a normal life.
- Emotional Support Animal (ESA)– these dogs are officially recognised and recommended by a medical professional. They provide companionship and comfort. Although they have no special training they are an amazing support for patients with clinically-recognised depression.
How Emotional Support dogs help with depression
- Having a dog means it needs feeding, exercising, and grooming. Regularly. Their presence helps instil structure and structure can help facilitate recovery.
- Having an ESA makes a person feel necessary, important and loved. The pooch can’t fetch groceries, drive to the vet or open the door alone, after all, and we all know the power of a good canine cuddle. The responsibility of caring for a canine can help a human feel more empowered, and its company can help a patient feel less isolated.
- Having a service dog of this sort can have a positive effect on a person’s health. Petting a dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and releases a feel-good chemical called oxytocin; walking a dog regulates metabolism which can improve one’s psychological outlook.
But Can a dog get depressed?
Oh yes. It goes both ways, and upbringing and environment have a lot to do with it. Just like humans, doggies can experience trauma from neglect or abuse, and they have brains prone to chemical imbalance, too. If you notice your hound has lost her appetite, lost interest in playing and sighs a lot, she might be depressed. She might also be physically ill, so…
Get to a vet for a clear diagnosis quick-quick. If your pup is more bored than borderline, there are a few simple ways to raise her happiness quota and yours.
- Get social. On the ground, not online. Dogs are pack animals and need community. If you can’t keep more than one at home, regular visits to the park to sniff and bark and make new tail-wagging friends can help. You might also make new friends of your own species!
- Don’t leave your hounds home alone all day – that might result in separation anxiety, boredom and infighting. Get a trusted neighbour to visit with treats to break the monotony, a dog sitter to take them walkies on leash, or a family member with free time to keep an eye on them and toss a toy or two. There are also various toys and tools to help with boredom.
- Take them walking/running daily, cuddle them as often as you can, affirm their presence and contribution with your voice and hand signals, and give them clear boundaries through consistent training.
- Feed them the right food.
What other conditions can dogs help with?
Dogs can help humans facing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, suicidal tendencies and phobias. In all instances it is essential that a qualified medical practitioner give an accurate and verifiable diagnosis.
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