Canine companions trigger similar neural pathways to the parent-baby bond in humans, and have been praised, and in some cases recommended to help reduce loneliness and depression in people.
There are now pet therapy trials that have reported seeing dramatic effects in dogs. and other pets, significantly helping their owners suffering with mental health disorders by increasing physical activity, providing companionship and adding structure to daily life.
Yet, what about the mental wellbeing of our four-legged friends?
Luxury pet accessories brand Lords & Labradors have looked at online search trends to find out which mental health conditions people in the UK are concerned about most when it comes to their beloved pets.
As office normality returns, it is no surprise that separation anxiety has become the main concern of pet owners, as they begin to leave their dogs, in many cases, for the first time to head off to work.
Lords & Labradors found that the term ‘dog separation anxiety’ was searched 8,100 times a month on average. General anxiety is also a cause for concern, with the term ‘dog anxiety’ getting 4,400 searches on average a month.
While this subject can often crop up among dog owners anyway – particularly with breeds that are prone to separation anxiety, such as Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels – the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has had an impact on people’s interest in this topic.
Johanna Buitelaar-Warden from Lords & Labradors, “As people return to work and education, and resume more of their usual social activities, it’s likely that many pet owners will be concerned about how their dog will cope with increased alone time. There are a variety of ways you can support a dog struggling with separation anxiety. It may help to give them a snuggly toy for comfort or a mentally-stimulating toy to keep them engaged when you’re not there. You should also ensure that your dog gets plenty of exercise and the opportunity to go to the toilet before you leave so they can relax while you’re gone.”
With dogs living longer than ever before, canine dementia – officially known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, is becoming more prevalent with clinical signs of dementia being found in 35% of dogs over the age of 11. Therefore, it is no surprise that Lords & Labradors study found that on average, the term ‘dog dementia’ is searched online 4,400 times per month and ‘dog Alzheimer’s’ gets 260 monthly searches. Much like Alzheimer’s in humans, in dogs the condition affects the ageing brain and can lead to memory problems, confusion, disorientation and anxiety.
Other mental health concerns owners have were depression, with 1900 searches on average a month, ‘dog PTSD’ with 880 searches per month on average, ‘dog adhd’ with 720, ‘dog phobias’ with 720, ‘dog OCD’ with 590, ‘dog eating disorder’ with 40 and ‘dog psychosis’ with 20.
Johanna Buitelaar-Warden adds: “If you have concerns about your dog’s mental health, it’s important to seek advice from a vet or qualified clinical animal behaviourist. There are many proactive things you can do to help refrain your dog from developing health problems. The main one being exercise, as well as mental enrichment. Just like people, dogs can get bored so it’s important to keep them stimulated to help maintain their mental wellbeing.
There are plenty of engaging and interactive toys that you could try out with your pooch, from dog puzzles, to snuffle mats, to activity balls. You should also spend time chatting to your dog and try to keep them mentally astute by teaching them new tricks from time to time.”
You can read more from the study and also more tips and tricks on how to help your dogs here.