The conversation surrounding mental health has picked up in recent months, with high profile entertainers such as Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry sharing their personal experiences with mental illness.
What many people don’t realise, however, is that dogs also suffer from mental health issues.
A recent study by the vet charity PDSA found that more than 2.3 million dogs are regularly left on their own for five hours or more. Worryingly, 28% of the 31,500 pet owners surveyed believe it is acceptable to leave their dog alone in the house for 6 to 10 hours.
This is in stark contrast to advice from vets, who say dogs should not be left alone for more than four hours a day, because the loneliness and boredom can cause destructive behaviour.
Dogs 🐶 🐶 have been shown to display a range of emotions, including optimism, pessimism, depression and jealousy. pic.twitter.com/3HEB8lLhA1— coollama (@thecoollama) April 5, 2016
Dogs need exercise
The survey also found that as many as 465,000 dogs are never taken for a walk. Daily walks are crucial to the well-being of most dog breeds. Some, like Pugs, Pekingese and some older dogs, can get by with a run around the backyard or even indoor playtime, though they would still benefit from regular walks outside.
For more energetic dog breeds, a lack of exercise can be devastating. It can affect both their mental and physical health and cause them to act out. The problem is so severe that over 50% of UK vets report behavioural issues have caused an increase in pet euthanasia in the past two years.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should quit your job so that you can take your dog for long daily walks – Dog Walkers are available to hire to do it for you. You can even hire a Dog Sitter to look after your dog while you’re at work.
It’s important to remember, however, that ultimately, your dog is devoted to you and it is crucial you spend time giving it the love and attention in craves.
Behavioural cover in pet insurance
If you’re struggling to deal with your pet’s behavioural issues, check your pet insurance – several companies include cover for behavioural problems in their policies. You might also consider the level of cover offered for these issues before deciding which provider to go with, or switch to.
We found that John Lewis offers a good payout for behavioural problems - £250 is included in their Essential and Plus policies, and their Premier policy comes with £500 worth of cover.
Many other pet insurance firms exclude behavioural cover or do not specify the levels of payouts. You can compare the 10 best pet insurance policies for dogs here.
Pet insurance can cover complementary therapy, which may help with a dog's behavioural issues.
Pet owner responsibilities
As well as long working hours and technology taking over our lives, a recent article in the Independent suggests that global warming might also be to blame for owners not taking their dogs out enough.
While pet owners are happy to take their dogs for a walk in frosty conditions, rain and mud are a much less attractive proposition. But dog ownership requires some sacrifice, including getting a little muddy.
Having a dog can be a wonderful thing and the unconditional love and companionship enhances the life of any pet owner. Ironically, dog ownership is thought to be one of the most effective ways to treat depression and anxiety in humans.
However, trying to fit a dog into a hectic lifestyle is not always viable and can cause unfair damage to an innocent animal that just wants your attention and love.
PDSA vet Vicki Larkham-Jones has some important words of advice for pet owners: "PDSA is urging pet owners to re-assess life from their pet's perspective to ensure that they are giving their animals the right level of care and attention they need to live healthy, happy lives.
"I'd encourage people thinking about getting a pet to pause first and find out about all aspects of pet ownership in order to provide for that animal's lifetime needs."