In this post, I brought up the fact that chronic stress and depression are linked to cancer development in people. If we are interested in attacking cancer in dogs, we need to start to look at the big picture for them, too. But I know a lot of you are thinking “Is my dog depressed at all?”
Is My Dog Depressed?
Well, good question. A lot of people would think dogs don’t have much to be stressed or depressed about. Fair point, from the perspective of a human. Three squares a day, no rent or mortgage … a pretty sweet deal overall, I’d say.
Problem: we are not looking at it from the perspective of a dog. Dogs have their own needs, and they are different from ours. Dogs are pack animals. Translation: they are almost never truly on their own unless they are exiled from the pack.
So, think about what your dog’s life is like, when you go off to work for long periods of time, leaving them behind. It feels a lot like abandonment or exile, particularly for dogs who are the only pet. No wonder they’re so happy when we get back! Sometimes I think their jumping and barking is relief as much as happiness. “Thank goodness you haven’t exiled me!”
It’s possible that some of our dogs actually experience deep despair on a daily basis, just because we live in the west and leave them alone to their own devices!
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Why Stress Matters
So here we have an inborn, genetic trait, violated by modern lifestyles. Dogs are capable of emotions, as we all know. Look at a wagging tail or a snarl and it is quickly obvious this is true.
When a dog is left by himself or herself for long periods, their built-in social needs are not met. What happens to you or I when we do not get our needs met? Depression and stress. How many of us are in search of a mate? How many of us are lonely? How many of us are not happy with our position?
Yes, stress and depression are real in dogs. We don’t need them to start speaking human language in order to understand that. We can just look at their facial expressions!
We may not necessarily see stress and depression in their behavior. Some dogs may hide their symptoms, just like people do.
But when stress and depression happen — whether we see it or not — critical cancer-fighting cells go dormant. On top of that, dogs’ bodies release signals (epinephrine and norepinephrine) that stimulate cancer cell growth directly. This is something to pay attention to!
Don’t worry, if you’re now worried, and asking yourself “is my dog depressed and at risk for cancer?” I will not ask you to give up your job. There are ways to overcome stress and depression in dogs while living in the modern world. Stay tuned!
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.
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