9 Psychological Disorders in the Animal Kingdom

Humans aren’t the only species to suffer from mental maladies. Although schizophrenia appears to be unique to mankind (perhaps as a social construction), non-human animals exhibit plenty of other psychiatric conditions.

And why shouldn’t they? They all suffer to some extent from the consequences of human activity, and many face genocide daily. But what you might find surprising is the sheer variety of disorders that affect them, as well as the consistency of symptoms, manifesting in similar ways even between animals of different species.

As mental health advocates are keen to point out: “You are not alone.” And, as this list goes to show, that applies to your species too.

Depression

It’s hardly surprising that animals can suffer from depression—or that humans are generally to blame. Causes include unsolvable problems (e.g. non-specific scolding leaving pets confused about what they’ve done wrong, if anything), an inability to escape abuse (i.e. learned helplessness), and insufficient access to food or opportunities for natural behavior (e.g. hunting, mating, socializing). Caged hens get depressed, for instance, when they’re unable to get out and forage.

There are telltale signs in most species, but some are more obvious than others. Arturo, “the world’s saddest polar bear,” died in captivity in 2016, having spent his final years pacing up and down. He was also seen rocking from side to side and displaying his teeth as a sign of discomfort. Although his symptoms were blamed on old age (by the zoo), his living conditions can’t have helped much, what with Argentinian summer temperatures frequently exceeding 86° F. His despondency may also have had something to do with the death of his longtime companion, Pelusa, in 2012. Toward the end of his life, Arturo completely lost interest in eating and began to shed some of his weight.

Not only are the symptoms of depression shared between animals and humans, but the treatments can be similar too. Pet antidepressants are apparently more common than ever, and they’re reportedly effective as well. As with humans, though, it’s better to limit their use, perhaps combining a short course of meds with targeted behavioral therapy. Of course, improving living conditions, accommodating natural behaviors, and giving adequate care and attention should prevent the onset of depression in the first place.

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