How to spot if your dog is de­pressed, and how to han­dle it

Sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that itch­ing and scratch­ing are tell-tale signs

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SCIENCE - By SARAH KNAPTON

There’s nothing like a good scratch. How­ever new re­search has shown that far from the pic­ture of sat­is­fac­tion and con­tent­ment, itch­ing and scratch­ing is a tell­tale sign of de­pres­sion in dogs.

Sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that der­ma­to­log­i­cal is­sues are not only one of the most com­mon health prob­lems among dogs — they’re also one of the big­gest causes of stress and anx­i­ety.

One in six trips to see a vet are due to skin prob­lems for dogs. And 75 per cent of dogs di­ag­nosed with der­ma­to­log­i­cal is­sues suf­fer de­pres­sion mean­ing thou­sands of pets are prob­a­bly suf­fer­ing from the blues.

A se­ries of stud­ies by Zoetis, the world’s lead­ing an­i­mal health com­pany, showed that dogs suf­fer­ing de­pres­sion ex­hibit many of the same traits as peo­ple.

The most com­mon symp­tom was be­ing less play­ful, fol­lowed by be­ing less so­cia­ble with peo­ple, rest­less­ness, de­creased ap­petite, and in­ter­act­ing less with other dogs.

Itch­ing and scratch­ing could be a warn­ing sign that your dog is de­pressed

And de­pres­sion in dogs has a knock-on ef­fect on their own­ers, with 80 per cent say­ing their pet’s con­di­tion di­min­ished their own qual­ity of life as well.

Dr Anita Pa­tel, one of Bri­tain’s lead­ing vet­eri­nary der­ma­tol­o­gists, said: “Most peo­ple as­sume that itch­ing and scratch­ing is to­tally nor­mal dog be­haviour. The odd scratch is fine but when you see a dog fre­quently itch­ing, scratch­ing, nib­bling or lick­ing them­selves, that’s a strong sign of a skin con­di­tion. Left un­treated, this can ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem and lead to more se­ri­ous is­sues.

“What’s not been prop­erly un­der­stood pre­vi­ously is how der­ma­to­log­i­cal prob­lems can af­fect a dog’s well­be­ing. What we now know is that skin is­sues can be one of the big­gest causes of de­pres­sion for dogs. And like peo­ple, when a dog is de­pressed, they lose in­ter­est in the things they usu­ally love — like go­ing for a walk, play­ing, or hav­ing a fuss from their owner.”

Itch­i­ness in pets — known as pru­ri­tus — is de­fined as an un­pleas­ant sen­sa­tion that pro­vokes the de­sire or re­flex to scratch.

It is com­mon in many types of skin dis­or­ders and is often ac­com­pa­nied by red, in­flamed ar­eas of skin and may lead to py­o­derma — in­fec­tion of the skin.

Anal­y­sis of more than 80,000 vet­eri­nary ap­point­ments at more than 200 prac­tices across the UK found the con­di­tion is most com­mon around the ears, ac­count­ing for 44 per cent of cases, or around the legs and feet — 27 per cent.

Ex­perts say that con­sis­tent itch­ing, scratch­ing, nib­bling, bit­ing and lick­ing in dogs is not nor­mal be­haviour and own­ers should seek vet­eri­nary help if they see these symp­toms.

Al­low­ing a dog to con­tinue to itch and scratch can lead to skin dam­age with po­ten­tial for cre­at­ing a se­condary in­fec­tion re­quir­ing an­tibi­otic treat­ment.

Flea al­lergy is one of the most com­mon causes of the con­di­tion, so sum­mer is the sea­son when dogs are most likely to de­velop it. Pet own­ers are urged to use par­a­site pre­ven­tion treat­ments to avoid pru­ri­tus in the first place.

It can also be caused by food and con­tact al­ler­gies to sham­poo or other house­hold prod­ucts, while the more se­ri­ous atopic der­mati­tis is as­so­ci­ated with en­vi­ron­ment al­ler­gens such as pollen and dust.

If al­ler­gies are un­treated the dogs can get a skin in­fec­tion and need to be treated with an­tibi­otics pre­scribed by their vet.

How­ever, for dogs al­ready suf­fer­ing pru­ri­tus, com­bat­ing the con­di­tion has his­tor­i­cally been dif­fi­cult be­cause ex­ist­ing treat­ments are typ­i­cally steroid-based and can lead to nu­mer­ous side ef­fects.

But a new sin­gle in­jec­tion is tar­get­ing the itch sig­nalling in the brain. It works neu­tral­is­ing the pro­tein trig­gered by the im­mune sys­tem which tells the brain to scratch.

Cy­to­point has just been granted mar­ket­ing au­tho­riza­tion by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and is now be­ing launched in UK.

It is avail­able through vet­eri­nary prac­tices and is ad­min­is­tered through a sin­gle in­jec­tion.

Like peo­ple, when a dog is de­pressed, they lose in­ter­est in the things they usu­ally love — like go­ing for a walk, play­ing, or hav­ing a fuss from their owner.”

Dr Anita Pa­tel, vet­eri­nary der­ma­tol­o­gist

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Dogs lose their ap­petite when de­pressed just like hu­mansap­tion.

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