Animals that can sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ are more attached to humans than it seems. Therefore, in many cases, it’s our responsibility to prevent this condition.
Dᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ is a ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ᴅɪsᴏʀᴅᴇʀ characterized by deep sadness that doesn’t end on its own, and interferes with the normal course of daily life. This is true for humans as well as for other species, because the emotional mechanisms in the brain are similar in all species or at least in all mammals.
How do we know if an animal is sᴜffᴇʀing from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ? Luckily, sadness isn’t only conveyed in words for a psychologist to analyze. Someone sᴜffᴇʀing from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ doesn’t always cry or have a disᴛʀᴇssed expression. They may neglect grooming, stop eating, spend all day lying down or even be ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴠᴇ. These are symptoms present in all species.
Humans can talk to each other about how they feel, but unfortunately, they don’t share this level of communication with other animals. To evaluate animals’ ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ state, we must first be familiar with their normal behavior in the wild. Then, we must analyze what events may have caused the change in behavior and animals’ ways of showing it.
Animals that may sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ
Here’s a list of animals that may sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ. They’re not the only ones, but they’re the most representative and well-known.
Dogs have been living with humans for centuries. So, there was already a wealth of knowledge about their ability to show emotions. Fortunately, today there’s even more awareness regarding their ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ʜᴇᴀʟᴛʜ.
Dᴇᴘʀᴇssed dogs exhibit behaviors such as ᴀᴘᴀᴛʜʏ, ᴀɴᴏʀᴇxɪᴀ and lack of grooming. It’s important to make a good diagnosis, as canine ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴs often go hand in hand with ᴀɴxɪᴇᴛʏ. Dogs can have ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴠᴇ or nervous behavior —such as excessive scratching or other repetitive behavior— which can be associated with ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ.
Their captivity is the cause of their ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ while also giving us the opportunity to study the behavior and physiology associated with this ᴅɪsᴏʀᴅᴇʀ.
A ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssed primate shows behavior such as inactivity, blank stares, repetitive behavior, and ᴀɴᴏʀᴇxɪᴀ. It may also show ᴍᴜᴛɪʟᴀᴛɪᴏɴs, bald spots or signs of fighting with individuals from the same species. Records also show several cases of sᴜɪᴄɪᴅᴇ attempts.
In the wild, ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssive events have also been registered in primates, but they’re usually linked to sᴛʀᴇssful life situations, such as mourning the ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ of a loved one. Records show cases of post-ᴛʀᴀᴜᴍᴀᴛɪᴄ sᴛʀᴇss ᴅɪsᴏʀᴅᴇʀ and ᴀɴxɪᴇᴛʏ ᴅɪsᴏʀᴅᴇʀs related to these types of experiences.
These pachyderms have a deep and complex emotional life and strong family bonds. The loss of loved ones and the isolation caused by ᴘᴏᴀᴄʜing and captivity wreak ʜᴀᴠᴏᴄ on the ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ʜᴇᴀʟᴛʜ of these animals. Records show many cases of elephants locked up in zoos sᴜffᴇʀing from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ and ᴀɴxɪᴇᴛʏ.
But it’s not only in captivity that elephants can sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ. Studies on the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) revealed that teenagers born to mothers ᴋɪʟʟed by ᴘᴏᴀᴄʜers take revenge on humans due to the ᴛʀᴀᴜᴍᴀs sᴜffᴇʀed in their childhood.
It’s not only mammals that can sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ. Birds, especially gregarious ones, can sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ due to events such as the ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ of a loved one or prolonged social isolation.
Symptoms vary depending on the species, but the most notable cases occur among parrots. These birds often manifest ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ with symptoms similar to those of physical ɪʟʟɴᴇsses: ruffled feathers, ᴀɴᴏʀᴇxɪᴀ or atypical molting patterns. In addition to these clinical signs, we can commonly observe itching or ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴏɴ between individuals as well.
Cats are especially sᴇɴsɪᴛɪᴠᴇ to ᴀɴxɪᴇᴛʏ and may sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ along with ᴀɴxɪᴇᴛʏ. Felines are more likely to exhibit lethargic behaviors than dogs. Some of these include the following:
- Lack of appetite
- Not grooming
- Not wanting to play
- Hiding most of the time
- Sleeping too much or at unusual hours
6. Dolphins and other cetaceans
Dolphins exploited for human entertainment also show evidence of ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssive behavior. They’re used to living in large groups and traveling long distances daily. So, social isolation, health problems resulting from living in a pool, and a lack of environᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ enrichment eventually deteriorates their ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ʜᴇᴀʟᴛʜ.
It’s common to observe dolphins swimming erratically, hitting aquarium walls, losing their appetite or becoming immobile and apathetic when they sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ. Often, ɪɴjᴜʀies resulting from hitting the walls result in the animals’ ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ. Therefore, the idea that these mammals are capable of committing sᴜɪᴄɪᴅᴇ is currently contemplated.
A final thought on animals that can sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ
It’s true that animals such as sea sponges or reef corals, which have a very basic nervous system, cast doubt on whether all animals can sᴜffᴇʀ from ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ. The rules described here don’t apply to all animal species, because in order to feel intricate emotions it’s necessary to have a complex nervous system.
What the studies do reveal, however, is that subjecting an animal to emotional disᴛʀᴇss for a prolonged period of time has disastrous effects on its ᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ʜᴇᴀʟᴛʜ. Taking this into account, awareness is essential: no one has the right to ᴍɪsᴛʀᴇᴀᴛ others.