The 10th of October is World Mental Health Day. Last year, we highlighted the reasons to thank your pooch for being your very own oxytocin-releaser throughout the year. This time around, we’re focusing on the importance of prioritising your dog’s mental health, because, as the saying goes, Happy dog, happy life!
My dog seems content—do I really need to worry about their mental health?
The short answer: absolutely!
Just because your pup’s tail seems to be in constant wag-mode doesn’t mean your pooch is feeling wag-nificent all the time. In fact, on the topic of tail-wagging, a study found that some wagging—particularly when the tail wags leftwards—can mean your pooch is experiencing negative feelings, like stress, anxiety or nervousness. Other signs your pooch isn’t feeling like a top dog include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleeping pattern
- Decreased interest (in playtime, toys, walks, people, other dogs, etc)
- Hiding and avoiding you
- Ears pinned back
- Low or tucked tail
- Excessive licking, chewing, panting and yawning (when not tired)
- Destructive behaviour
We pawrents know that our dogs have feelings (as do other animals, including farmed animals—which is why we’re so proud there are no feeling beings as ingredients in our wet and dry dog food!). Like us, our pooches can have the occasional ‘off day’ when they’re not feeling their best, but they can also be suffering from a mental disorder, like anxiety (including generalised, social, noise or separation anxiety), depression, canine compulsive disorder (or OCD for humans) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms for an extended period, be sure to consult their vet to get them properly diagnosed and begin treatment.
If your dog does not suffer from a mental illness but still has a case of the blues or shakes every so often, it’s important to know what to do so you can be their emotional support animal (remember, your relationship goes both ways!).
5 Ways to boost your pooch’s mental health
While your dog can’t join you in meditation or for a yoga class (despite their exceptional downward dog), you can help improve their mental well-being in various ways—all of which will also make you a happier pawrent! We’re listing tips that are just as important for two-legged beings to follow as they are for four-legged ones, so take notes for you and your pooch.
🐶 Daily physical and mental exercise
Whether it’s getting into an intense match of tug-of-war in the living room, going for a walk around the block or hiking in a new spot: it’s important to get those paws moving daily—not only for your pooch’s physical health, but for their mental health too. Just like for us humans, walking promotes the release of endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’, in our furry companions’ brains and cuts out stress hormones like cortisol. Taking them outside? Allow your dog to have some agency in which route you two take. Make your pooch extra giddy by taking them on a ‘sniffari’—giving them time to take in all the wonderful smells their powerful little noses can inhale, especially the pee mail left by their doggie friends. Staying indoors? Get the wheels in your dog’s brain turning as you play stimulating games with them, like hide and seek (playing with you or with some hidden treats scattered about the room) or a food puzzle, like a snuffle mat filled with kibble and/or treats. Providing the right balance of physical and mental exercise is proven to make for a happier (and tired!) pup.
🐶 Give them opportunities to socialise
If your pooch is as extroverted as Snoopy from the Peanuts, then good grief—of course keeping them inside and away from others is going to get them down! Dogs, like people, are social animals, so most of them would jump at the opportunity to sniff and say hi to another dog (or human—some dogs are not ‘dog people’!). Socialisation is an excellent stimulus that makes for a tired, content pooch. It’s also extremely important, as pointed out by Dr Ken Tudor, for decreasing the number of stressful situations your pooch finds themself in. For example, ‘The addition of children to the household, frequent show and event competition, frequent grooming, and daycare and boarding can all cause chronic stress hormone release for poorly socialised dogs and affect their health.’ While it is easier to socialise a puppy, it can be done with an adult dog that missed early socialization—just be patient with them by easing them into social situations and call it a day if your dog is showing signs of being stressed. It’s all about baby (or rather, puppy) steps!
🐶 Give your pup a safe space to decompress
When your pooch isn’t out getting puppuccinos with their pack, it’s important that they have a cosy, quiet space at home that’s just theirs, where they can feel peaceful and safe. A zen space helps your dog alleviate anxiety and rest after taking part in any of the above-mentioned activities. Give your pooch some options to find out what they like best—whether it’s putting their bed in an exposed corner of your bedroom or making a comforting, dark fort by putting a blanket over their crate and filling it with soft blankets, pillows and their favourite toys. We all need a sanctuary to retreat to when we’re feeling a little strung out. Same goes for our dogs.
🐶 Don’t leave them alone for long periods of time
As important as it is for our dogs to have their alone time when they need it, it doesn’t mean they want to be alone for long periods of time. According to Blue Cross, the general rule is that dogs should never be left alone for more than four hours at a time. Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety, in which being left home for extensive periods of time is agonising for them. If you must be away from the house for long, consider working with your dog on absence desensitisation or hire a dog walker for your long days out (plus, the latter option is another opportunity for your pup to socialise with others, making it a win-win!).
🐶 Feed them a plant-based (or flexidogian) diet
Remember how us humans are told time and time again that eating processed junk food is terrible for our mental health? Now think about how a dog that eats the same highly processed, meat- and animal by-product-based food every day must be feeling (not so great!). Preservatives, fillers and unnatural additives, common in traditional dog food, have been found to put a damper on your pooch’s mood. Ingredients like Algae Oil (high in omega 3), Blackberries (rich in antioxidants), Brewer’s yeast (filled with B vitamins) and Pumpkin (high in fibre and great for gut health) all have two things in common: they’re amazing for healthy brain function and they’re all ingredients in our wet and dry meals. Made with colourful, superfood ingredients and packed with plant-powered protein, your pooch is going to be living their happiest, waggiest life—this 10th of October and throughout the year—when they join THE PACK.
Try THE PACK
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Winner, winner, plant-based dinner!