Pedigree Glum: Scientists prove dogs can suffer from depression

October 11, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Bassett Hounds may look ‘down in the dumps’ – simply because they are, it was revealed today.

Scientists have proved that man’s best friend is capable of suffering depression and anxiety leading to them developing a pessimistic ‘glass half empty’ approach to life.

Bristol University academics discovered some canines had underlying emotional issues mostly brought on by traumatic interaction with humans.

In a series of tests the depressed, pessimistic dogs were the most anxious and disruptive when left on their own for long periods of time.

Professor Mike Mendl, head of animal welfare and behaviour at Bristol University, said: ”We all have a tendency to think that our pets and other animals experience emotions similar to our own, but we have no way of knowing directly because emotions are essentially private.

”However, we can use findings from human psychology research to develop new ways of measuring animal emotion.

”We know that people’s emotional states affect their judgements and that happy people are more likely to judge an ambiguous situation positively.

”What our study has shown is that this applies similarly to dogs that a glass-half-full dog is less likely to be anxious when left alone than one with a more pessimistic nature.”

The research, funded by the RSPCA at the university’s School of Clinical Veterinary Science, studied dogs at two re-homing centres for pessimistic or optimistic outlooks based on decisions made by the animals.

The dogs were trained that when a bowl was placed at one location it would contain food, but when placed at another, it would not.

The bowl was then placed at ambiguous locations between the positive and negative positions and researchers recorded the dogs’ reactions.

Professor Mendl added: ”Dogs that ran fast to these ambiguous locations, as if expecting the positive food reward, were classed as making relatively optimistic decisions.

”Interestingly, these dogs tended to be the ones who also showed least anxiety-like behaviour when left alone for a short time.

”Around half of dogs in the UK may at some point perform separation-related behaviours – toiletry, barking and destroying objects around the home – when they?re apart from their owners.

”Our study suggests that dogs showing these types of behaviour also appear to make more pessimistic judgements generally.”

The RSPCA warned the research showed some dogs had emotional baggage and implored pet owners to seek treatment – not offload them.

Dr Samantha Gaines, Deputy Head of the Companion Animals Department from RSPCA, said: ”This research suggests that at least some of these dogs may have underlying negative emotional states.

”Owners are encouraged to seek treatment to enhance the welfare of their dogs and minimise the need to relinquish their pet.”

The research is published in Current Biology tomorrow (Tues, Oct 12).

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