Dogs in Pain May Act Depressed

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Chad Dodd, a vet who used to work for a pharmaceutical company and now works for a Kansas-based company that specializes in scientifically formulated dog food, is another puzzle fan.

He says they can be particularly effective for older dogs whose brains could use a workout, or for dogs with separation anxiety -- like my James.

Photo Courtesy of Caninegenius.Com

In speaking of the value of keeping a dog occupied during the day, it's easy to jump to the "dogs in the wild" metaphor. To do that takes something of an imaginative leap because dogs have been domesticated for such a long time. Still, it has been estimated that wolves, their closest cousins, spend 75 to 90 percent of their waking hours hunting, scavenging, and fighting off other carnivores.

This food-securing process requires cunning, stealth, and patience -- traits that the modern dog rarely has the chance to fully develop. (Here it should be mentioned that some vets say that dogs in multiple animal homes -- be they fellow dogs, cats, or even birds are better adjusted and develop better cognitive function than those in single pet homes.)

But if you're not ready to take on another pet, food puzzles have undergone major development in recent years.

Kong, the granddaddy of food puzzles, is the best-known brand, but a myriad of large and small companies have come out with ways to engage and productively frustrate the minds of your dog, including Canine Genius and Busy Buddy, to name a few.

But if stimulation and exercise don't cure your dog's depression, anxiety or destructive behaviors, the solutions grow a bit more complex.

New York's Veronica Burke says she has worked with troubled and depressed pets for 25 years. Usually referred to clients through local vets, the self-described pet therapist says she helps dogs primarily through the use of what she calls therapeutic touch and breath control.

Depression -- which often manifests itself in destructive or manic behaviors -- is often the result of chronic pain. And clients say Burke has a special gift for uncovering and healing that pain.

Most recently she went to a home to assist a vet in calming an 11-year-old dachshund with what she called a "mildly hysterical licking problem." The dog was recovering from disk surgery, so it was in physical pain. But it was also in mental anguish because his owners of 10 years were separating.

One of the women was deeply sad, so besides dealing with his back pain, the dachshund was desperately trying to comfort her -- and making himself difficult for others to be around in the process.

Burke says she worked on the dachshund for two hours, helping him breath into the stressed areas in his body. She also worked with one of his owners about calming her own breathing, so that she didn't continue to pass her own anxiety onto the dog.

If you don't have access to a specialist like Burke (and few of us do), a trip to the vet might uncover a rotting tooth, a leg sprain, or some other less esoteric ailment. Figuring out the source of the pain and resolving it can solve the behavioral problems.

There are times, however, when medication may be in order.

Virginia Hoffman, a dog behavioral consultant who also works out of New York, could be described as a sort of "Super Nanny" for pets. She comes to the clients home to try to get to the root of behavioral problems.

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