Animal Behavior Experts Help Dogs, Cats Regain Confidence

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — More and more these days, veterinarians see pets suffering from the same illnesses that humans do, such as cancer and kidney disease. Now, some dogs and cats are even being diagnosed with depression.

Christina Shusterich, a dog behavior expert, told CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson that dogs can indeed suffer from depression — and there are signs.

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“Their eating habits can change,” she said. “Their sleeping habits can change. But also, there’s a real sense of the dog being sort of shut down.”

A veterinarian suggested the owner of Judah, a 4-year-old dog, call a behaviorist. Shusterich uses a series of tasks to help Judah gain more enjoyment out of life.

“What makes a dog’s tail wag is not funneling treats in her mouth, but praise,” Shusterich said. “So as they’re performing these jobs, we’re going to be heavily, heavily praising them.”

While the activities may seem simple, they help Judah gain confidence to get back to her old self.

Depression can be a very real issue for cats, too.

Lori Lawnsby said the behavior exhibited by her cat, Christmas, became so troubling she called cat behaviorist Carole Wilbourn.

“He just looked very withdrawn and wasn’t making eye contact,” Lawnsby said.

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Wilbourn’s approach to helping depressed cats includes a healthy dose of patience and affection — for both the pets and the owners.

“I help the people, the guardians help the cats, and the cats help the people,” Wilbourn said.

As Christmas finds his way back from depression, his owner can breath easy, too.

“You know your animals just like you know other people you live with,” Lawnsby said. “You can see when things are going on.”

Animal experts say that it takes prolonged periods for depressed behavior to settle in before a pet can be diagnosed with the condition.

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