How can I perk up my pups?
August 2, 2009 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I think my dogs might be depressed, how can I help?

I have 2 shitzu dogs that are about 10 years (human) old. My parents found them as strays, and have cared for them for the last 9.5 years. I lived at home for about a year after we got them, then moved out. about 1.5 years ago my girlfriend and I moved back home, and just recently my parents moved away, with us staying in the same house, and keeping the dogs.

they've seemed depressed since they left. they're not really eating much, and they tend to lay around a lot more than they used to. they get excited when they hear someone coming to the door, but i'm guessing when they see that it's not my parents they go back to moping.

if this is doggy depression, what can I do to help? how long should I expect it to last?

parents are in another country now so interaction with them and the dogs is tough.
posted by Industrial PhD to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Video-skype with your parents? I don't know - maybe smell is too important for that to get them excited. You could combine the skype video conversations with your parents with taking out something that smells like them.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:57 AM on August 2, 2009

A few thoughts:

1) Ten years is older middle age for a small dog. They could just be easing up a bit in their almost old age.

2) If it's been hot where you are, maybe they're just taking it easy because they are hot. Do they get a summer grooming?

3) Depression and moping and lethargy could be early warning signs for illness. Have they been checked by a vet recently?

4) You could pay more attention to them (more than you already do, I mean - not implying that you ignore them). Take them to a dog park? Is there a pet-friendly store nearby? Just pile them in the car when you do errands? Regular walks, especially in the evening when it's cooler?

5) Do they enjoy Kongs or other doggie "puzzles", like various toys where they have to work a little to get the treat out.

6) Can they see outside? Maybe construct some kind of way they can climb up to look out the window?

Honestly, they really could be missing your parents for now, but eventually they should perk up.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2009

One of my dogs used to behave "depressed" until she had a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. In that case, her symptoms were lack of appetite, hair loss, always seeking a warm spot and general malaise. After her diagnosis, treatment is a few small pills per day, and she is like a brand new dog. I would ask your vet for a blood test and screen for hypothyroidism.

Or, it could be the weather. Has it been rainy? Too hot?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: What's funny is after I posted this, I actually video-skyped them thinking the same thing. It seems to have given them a boost for now.

My parents lived here for 10 years, so pretty much everything smells like them hah. Thanks for the idea though.
posted by Industrial PhD at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: We live in the central valley of california, so it's 100+ for most of the summer. They had a grooming at the end of may, but it may be time again.

They can see out the back window, but our entertainment center is blocking the front window. We usually leave the front door open because have a screen door, but in the summer it's too hot and we have to run the AC.
posted by Industrial PhD at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2009

It sounds like your dogs are mourning the "loss" of your parents. You realize that they have simply moved to another country, but to the dogs they are simply "gone".

I've been through it a few times in the past, and I've always given the dog time to work through the grief it feels. Once the grief seems to be lifting, it's time to start engaging the dog in fun activities. Sometimes they respond really well to activities that are the same as what they did with the person or animal they are grieving. Other times, replicating the old activities is the worst possible thing you can do.

The fact that you have lived with the dogs so much -- both when they were very young and more recently as well -- should make it easier for you to gauge their grieving process and figure out the best ways to tempt them into other activities.

When I've dealt with grieving dogs in the past, the first stage never seems to last more than a week or so. But, really, I'm generalizing from a pretty small sample, so YMMV.
posted by DrGail at 11:17 AM on August 2, 2009

DrGail said pretty much what I came in here to say. Dogs grieve in a pretty similar fashion to humans, and every one of them is different. Evidently, when I left for college, my dog moped around the house until I came back for Thanksgiving. Other friends' dogs were just fine, even ones with closer relationships than I had with my dog.

Sometimes grief manifests in destructive ways -- there's ripping of couch cushions or digging up the yard or even aggressive attitudes being thrown around because the power structure of the dogs' lives are thrown out of whack. You have it pretty easy, from a human perspective, in that your dogs just don't want to do *anything*, let alone *bad* things.

Just try to make get across the idea that life can still be interesting and fun and okay without your parents' presence. Offer them lots of different things to do, always try to be engaged with them as best you can, and if the not eating thing lasts too long, take them to the vet.
posted by Mizu at 12:58 PM on August 2, 2009

Our shih-tzu poodle mix Olive becomes extremely mopey and depressed when she is separated from my parents' dogs Pixel (a Yorkie) and Tulip (a Cairn Terrier). We live 300 miles from my parents and while it seems stupid, Olive and Pixel respond to seeing/hearing each other through video chat (I use Google Talk). I tried this just the other day when I was home visiting my parents and did not take Olive with me and it worked wonders for Pixel and Tulip.

Shih-Tzus in general seem to be incredibly attached to their owners. They are grieving the loss of their former owners, so whatever you can do to take their mind off of them is great. Doggie puzzles and lots of treats help us when Olive is feeling sad, and also like Cesar Millan says, take lots and lots of walks. They are also on the older side of their lives, so just keep an eye on them and give them lots of attention. They'll come around.

Good luck!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 1:01 PM on August 2, 2009

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