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Postpartum depression in dogs can take place straight after your dog gives birth and may stay with them for a long time without treatment. It is an owner’s responsibility to help and support their dog.
Here are the explanations for why this occurs and how to help your dog’s postpartum depression.
What is Postpartum Depression in Dogs?
Postpartum depression in dogs occurs when the female shows signs of depression after the birth of a litter. It can be caused by hormones, current stress or past anxiety manifesting now. It can lead to feeling biologically unwell and varying negative manifestations of behavior.
Your dog’s hormones steadily increase during pregnancy and when they give birth, the hormones suddenly drop. This includes progesterone and prolactin which can affect dopamine, therefore their mood alongside the huge hormone level change in such a short amount of time. This drop is what causes depression.
Another cause, although it is commonly seen alongside hormonal imbalance, is stress. Increased weight, hormonal changes, the actual birth can all be very stressful and this can lead to depression. Furthermore, if your dog generally has high anxiety or has been through extreme stress in the past, they will be much more likely to develop postpartum depression due to the stress of the situation.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Dogs
In order to identify postpartum depression quickly so you can help your dog, you need to know the behavioral symptoms you should identify.
Loss of Interest in Puppies
If your female dog does not attend to the puppies, she may be experiencing after-birth depression. A lack of cleaning the litter, spending time with them and even nursing them are all signs she is overwhelmed by the situation, or her possible depression means she is seeking isolation. Even if she is always lying with her puppies, notice the level of interaction she gives to them. Is she doting on them, checking them and keeping them near her or is she just staying in that location?
It is important to note that loss of interest in the puppies refers to the whole litter and not a single individual.
After giving birth and taking care of a whole litter, your female will obviously be more tired than usual. However, it is not normal for her to sleep constantly.
Indeed, a nursing dog should wake regularly to check on her puppies, urinate, defecate and eat food. If you find her only sleeping, be aware that this is a symptom of dog postpartum depression. Initially, she will be more tired after birth and should slowly become more awake for longer periods of time over the coming days and weeks.
Also, is she reluctant to wake up even with encouragement or pestering from the pups? Ask yourself all of these questions to see if her sleeping habits are normal.
Loss of Appetite
Has your female suddenly stopped eating her own food? Perhaps she is not drinking or is not drinking much. This is abnormal. The mother will be reluctant to leave her puppies and may not do so for long, but she should still be moving to eat and drink when necessary.
If her whelping box has been set up correctly, the food bowl should be easily reached and therefore her stress levels should be as minimized as possible when she goes to eat. This is the same with her water bowl. Therefore, if she still seems very reluctant or even refuses to eat at all in the first few days, this shows a strong likelihood that she is going through postpartum depression. Consider contacting the vets if you are concerned with the amount of water and food she is ingesting.
Your bitch will have a change in behavior, but there are some key behaviors that display anxiety. Is she howling or barking a lot? Increased vocalizations are often a sign of stress and display an overwhelmed dog. Is she obsessively licking one area? This is an obsessive-compulsive behavior that dogs will often use to comfort themselves.
Anxious dogs may lick repeatedly in one spot, even if it irritates the skin and decreases hair growth. They will even continue to do so when repeatedly encouraged not too. Is the female skittish, nervous or hiding from you or others? All these behaviors display anxiety, a symptom and sign of postpartum depression in dogs.
Aggression can increase during pregnancy and after birth until the puppies wean. Regardless of who you are, this is normal, even if you are the owner. This becomes a sign of dog after-birth depression when aggression is excessive or longer-term.
Normal levels of aggression occur when you try to remove or touch the puppies before they are weaned. This can include nipping at your hand or growling. Excessive aggression includes the mother outwardly seeking you to bite, not allowing you in the same room, etc. Prolonged aggression is another clear sign of your dog’s after-birth depression, this will take place beyond the puppies weaning age so past four weeks.
Remedies for Canine Postpartum Depression
There are some easy at-home methods you can put in place to attempt to alleviate your dog’s postpartum depression.
In the same manner that our furry companions help us to alleviate stress, we can do the same for them. Physical attention like cuddling, stroking and kissing your dog can all relax them and make them feel calmer. It will also increase the production of dopamine, the happy hormone, and can improve their emotional state. This obviously should not be done during nursing or at any time the female may be likely to show aggression, such as directly with young puppies. Instead, you can do so when she goes outside or moves to eat if she does not have food aggression.
Allow your female an easy exit from her whelping box, one the puppies cannot exit from. Encourage her out of the box but nearby, so she is not stressed by not being able to see her puppies. At this point, give her some gentle attention. Stay with her for a while and try to relax her and comfort her. This is not a one time fix but can help your dam feel more herself again if maintained.
Enrichment and stimulation can aid with postpartum depression in your dog phenomenally so. It is a simple solution but one that can increase your dog’s mood dramatically. Taking your dog on a walk will allow them to burn off some excess energy, play with you and other dogs, and sniff some smells to cheer them up. Dogs love going out and walking your dog can give them a way to get out of the stressful associated environment, calm down and work on getting back to themselves. Try taking them for a walk once a day if not twice, but be aware that they should be short walks as both she and the puppies may get anxious otherwise.
Also, play games with your dog such as a tug rope, throwing a ball or soft toys. Make use of interactive boredom busters! Engaging in play with your dog can increase their mood and burn off excess energy. This can give them an outlet to help them get back to themselves and then go back to their litter much happier and calmer. Again, do this regularly.
This may be surprising to some owners and breeders but dogs are greatly affected by music. Both negatively and positively. Using gentle music can be relaxing and comforting for dogs. It is currently recorded that dogs favor reggae and soft rock in particular. This was recorded by the University of Glasgow and the Scottish SPCA. They found that these music genres resulted in the most positive behaviors but all dogs have their own favorite type of music.
If you identify postpartum depression in your dog, try playing some reggae or soft rock in the background for them. The music may calm them, help them sleep and even relax the puppies. Furthermore, they may start eating more regularly and being less aggressive because their temperament has adjusted to the environment. Just make sure that it is not just one song playing on repeat as this can cause low-level frustration and upset for your pooches after a long period of time.
Medication for Depressed Nursing Dogs
You should never self medicate a dog with prescription medication, especially those pregnant or lactating. Medication can be beneficial to a dog experiencing postpartum depression, but for the right treatment and amount for your individual consult a vet. This way your dog will be feeling better, the puppies will be healthy and no one is negatively affected.
This drug increases serotonin, ‘a happy hormone’, and blocks the reuptake of norepinephrine neurotransmitters, ‘the stress hormone’. It is clear why you would want to increase serotonin production, to help your dog to feel happier. Furthermore, blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine can minimize stress as it is not being absorbed.
The dosage of Amitriptyline is 0.5 to 2 mg per pound of weight for your dog. This is usually given once to twice a day depending on the reason for prescribing. You can only get this drug from a vet and they will advise you the best administration method for your dog along with their decided dosage and why.
The administration methods vary between tablets and paste due to the strong bitter flavoring. Some dogs preferred the paste mixed into food, some prefer a tablet hidden in some meat. Never order this online, it is a serious drug that although it may be hugely beneficial, should be given and monitored by your vet.
Serotonin and noradrenaline are a type of neurotransmitter which are chemicals that regulate our dog’s mood and emotions. When our pups are depressed, their bodies release less serotonin and noradrenaline. This is where Doxepin comes in. It prevents these two chemicals from being reabsorbed, thereby using as much as possible to uplift our dog’s mood.
These are often administered as capsules or liquid. Its dosage is 0.25 – 0.5 mg per pound of your dog’s weight, twice a day. Most commonly Doxepin is seen in tablet form and can be easily given to dogs by wrapping it up in meat or a treat. The liquid version can be added to food if your dog licks the bowl or squirted under their tongue to ensure the full dosage is being administered. Go to your vet for this prescription and they will advise you on the best administration method and the dosage.
Fluoxetine, also known as Prozac, blocks the reabsorption of serotonin. This minimizes erratic mood changes and helps with the stabilization of your dog’s emotions, which can often lead to a happier dog. This prescription is often recommended for dogs who have severe highs and lows in their postpartum mood. This may mean one day they are very aggressive and high energy and the next they are sleeping constantly.
The dosage is 0.5 to 0.9 mg per pound of your dog, given once a day. These are almost always given in tablet form so be prepared to try and sneak it into your dog’s food or treats. Do not try to buy or decide the dosage yourself as an overdose of fluoxetine can cause seizures and severe side effects. Go to your vets and they will state the appropriate dosage depending on weight and the severity of their behavioral problems and depression.
Postpartum Depression in Dogs – FAQ
Finally, we will be answering the most commonly searched postpartum depression questions so you are fully informed as to how to care for your dog.
What are the signs of depression in dogs?
You can identify postpartum depression in dogs through a change in their behavior. This can be an increase in aggression, a decrease in movement, an increase in anxiety, or a change in eating and sleeping habits.
Aggression and anxiety are both key signs of postpartum depression. Their aggression may be aimed at you, other animals or people in the house. Similarly, their anxiety may be targeted at certain situations, stimuli or people. They may become erratic, running and hiding at random times. Your dog may begin to shake compulsively or produce vocalizations or excessive drool.
Also, be aware of their eating and sleeping habits. Have these increased or decreased a worrying amount? Perhaps she is ignoring meals to continue sleeping. Are any of these symptoms overlapping? If you are concerned at all, contact a vet.
How can I cheer up my dog?
The three main at-home methods we have outlined are cuddling, playing games and walking your dog, and playing music. Increasing stimulation and enrichment for your pup can bring them back to themselves. Be prepared that you should not try to physically move the mother from the puppies unless they are weaned, as this can induce normal levels of aggression. Instead, encourage your female out of her whelping pen with treats or gentle reassurance.
Walking your dam can both work off any excess energy she may have to decrease anxiety and depression, but also give her time to calm down and work up an appetite. These benefits apply for playing as well, try throwing a ball or using a tug rope to increase her mood. As for cuddling and music, they can be a great ways to calm your dog and relax her.
Will my dog get sad while I'm away?
It is possible that your dog will get sad from your absence, but there are ways to combat this. Firstly, identify if this could be a possibility. Has your dog become more clingy since birthing her litter, such as following you around the house or crying when you are not in view? Or has she shown more anxiety, such as excessive panting and drooling, being skittish or hiding regularly. If so, she may show separation anxiety.
To combat her separation anxiety, you can firstly leave her with items of clothing that smell like you. Put them on the edge of the whelping box but be sure that the puppies cannot interact with it as they could become stuck in the fabric at a young age. If the anxiety is more severe, the antidepressants mentioned previously can help calm your dog’s nerves. Refer to your vet to see if this is the right solution for your dog.
How can I tell my dog has postpartum depression?
If your dog begins to behave differently from normal, you may have doubts and worries about postpartum depression. But how do you confirm it? Consider taking your dog to the vet to have her examined. However, this can cause a huge amount of stress as you are taking her away from her puppies and taking her to the vet. Instead, consider contacting a vet who will come to the home or sometimes describing the symptoms can be enough for a vet to identify low, mild and severe postpartum depression.
How can I help a dog with postpartum depression?
At home help includes stimulation. You want to keep your dog enriched and entertained. The boredom can lead to upset and frustration which builds to aggression and anxiety. Sometimes, this is enough to help your dog feel better. However, in the cases of more severe postpartum depression, you may need to give your dog some herbal remedies to aid with anxiety and aggression or prescribed antidepressants. Your vet will be able to advise what is best for your dog based on the severity. You are doing your part by keeping her engaged and contacting those that can examine and recommend treatment.