Can Animals Get Depressed?

Can Animals Develop Depression? Extrapolating mental disorders to animals, but on the basis of human criteria, may not be quite right.

However, it has been possible to see behaviors in animals that coincide with psychopathology that until now has been diagnosed in humans.

The problem is very complex and we will address it below, trying to give a well researched answer as to whether it is possible that the animals are suffering from depressive symptoms.

    Is it possible for an animal to develop depression?

    Just as humans can present a wide repertoire of psychological-type problems, which have a negative impact on our well-being, we have seen that many animals, especially mammals, can also suffer from psychopathology.

    However, the study of animal psychopathology is a very complex issueWithout being able to say with a resounding “yes” that animals suffer from mental disorders. The reason for this is that the design of current mental disorders was made on the basis of what is meant by being a human being adjusted to vital aspects such as family, social relationships, work / study and others. These aspects, as can be understood, are not all found in other species.

    So since depression is understood as a set of human symptoms based on criteria,, How is it possible to diagnose it in other animals? The DSM and ICD criteria can be useful in trying to give an animal a diagnostic label, but one can never forget that this diagnosis would not be exhaustive or entirely correct for the patient. Who it was given to. .

    With all of this in mind, in the following sections we will try to give a better explanation of why animals can suffer from depression, but always keeping in mind that how depressive symptoms are perceived in non-human animals should be considered provisional.

    Animals and humans: can they be compared?

    We humans have a large repertoire of behaviors. Some of them are healthy, provide us with adequate well-being and social adjustment, while others are harmful to us, bring us all kinds of psychological problems or are caused by a psychological problem behind us.

    Trying to see whether or not animals have mental disorders, and in particular depression, is a really complicated thing, because the researcher conducting the study that addresses this question will not be able to dissociate himself from his human conception of psychopathology. The interpretation of depression in animals will always be done, whether you like it or not, from a human perspective..

    Despite the difficulty in extrapolating human mental disorders to animals, it is curious how much of the research in psychopathology has been done based on animal models. The idea behind this type of research, which usually takes an evolutionary view, is that the brain mechanisms seen in humans are shared in other species as well. This would mean that neurological problems in animals could have repercussions in humans.

    It’s hard to think that there are animals that are susceptible to depression but, ironically, many antidepressants have been tested in animals, seeing how brain structures similar to ours function in the absence or presence of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, involved in depression.

    Many neurologists and neurosurgeons, such as Philip R. Weinstein, claim that many brain structures are shared by various species of vertebrates, especially mammals. These structures fulfill, in the great majority of cases, similar functions. Of particular note are the brains of several species of primates, such as chimpanzees.

      The case of animals in captivity

      When studying depression in other species, the most studied animals were animals bred in captivity, especially in places where they had limited space, suffered abuse and did not been able to exercise their own behavior.

      The debate over animal testing is as hot a topic as the existence of zoos and circuses.. Researchers, for better or for worse, have animals at their disposal with which they can perform situations such as sensory deprivation, forced separation, and limitation of food. Although all animal testing is done with a goal and an ethics committee must be successful

      However, one situation in which ethics shines through in its absence is that of animal shows, especially in circuses and unscrupulous zoos. This should not be taken as a generalization, because we are not saying that in all shows with animals, they are abused. Zoos do an impeccable species conservation job in most cases, and many circus companies release their animal actors.

      Unfortunately, many animals in such places are abused, they are subjected to intense training which involves great physical, psychological and emotional stressAnd that causes deep wounds to their mental health, which will eventually manifest in the form of behavioral issues, depression and anxiety.

      However, whether or not there is abuse, the important thing to understand about these animals is that they are not in their habitat. They do not develop in the same way as animals of their same species in the wild. This means that, not being able to show their true nature, confined to a few square meters, they are forced to reserve their energies, which will sooner or later emerge on the surface in a very varied way.

      For this reason, and especially in severely abused animals, they end up showing unhealthy behaviors, such as self-harm, hair removal or feathering, Scratch until blood comes out, besides being listless, with learned helplessness and nervousness.

      How do you know if an animal is depressed?

      When it comes to depression in animals, many people have the preconceived idea that the symptoms associated with this mood disorder will manifest themselves more or less similarly in all species. This is not the case. Just as animals have different plumage and fur, eat a wide variety of things, and play different roles in the food chain, their depressive behaviors will also vary among species.

      However, it was not possible to study all animal species in the worldThe idea that certain species, like corals or barnacles, can suffer from depression is also not as we understand it behaviorally. Most of the research has focused on mammals, especially chimpanzees and pets like dogs and cats.

      In the field of primatology, although many monkeys have shown much better human language learning skills than other animals, it must be said that their language skills are limited. It does not allow them to reveal their inner world, a fundamental aspect in diagnosing depression with people, because it is important to know how they are dealing with their problem.

      Most researchers with chimpanzees use observation to find out about their mental health. Looking at them, they are looking at their social behavior, their sexual interest, their motivation for food., If they decide to face a deadly threat, if they separate from the group, and their sleep patterns have been altered without apparent environmental cause.

      An example of depression in chimpanzees is the case of Flint, a chimpanzee who was studied by primatologist Jane Goodall in Gombe National Park in Tanzania and can be read in her book Through a window (1990).

      Flint lived with his mother until her dead. Since then he has started a period of mourning, isolating himself from the rest of the chimps and standing still staring into infinity, eating absolutely nothing. He kept staring at the horizon, hoping his mother would return. During this time, he gradually weakened until he finally died of hunger.

      Leaving aside chimpanzees, we move on to pets, especially dogs. Veterinarians often see dogs exhibiting all kinds of behaviors when their owners leave the house, showing separation anxiety, crying, yelling, and very impulsive behavior. They have also seen acts of self-harm, such as scratching to the point of bleeding and knocking on the door so violently that they hurt themselves. There are even dogs who, being depressed, go hunting imaginary flies.

      As for cats, when they are very depressed, they do the exact opposite of dogs: they remain motionless, motionless, afraid of any movement.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Brent L, Lee DR, Eichberg JW (1989) The effects of the individual cage on the behavior of chimpanzees. Lab Anim Sci 39: pages 345 to 346.
      • Koob GF, Ehlers CL, Kupfers DJ, editors. (1989) Animal models of depression. New York: Springer-Verlag. 300 p.
      • Harlow HF, Dodsworth RO, Harlow MK (1965) Total social isolation in monkeys. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 54: pages 90-97.

      Leave a Comment