Winter can be tough on people with the colder temperatures often keeping people and their pets from their usual walks. One of the things that people also miss is the sunlight. Our pets can also be affected by seasonal changes. Less activity can create joint stiffness. Some also believe that since dogs are mammals like humans, that they can also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
In humans, not having sunlight hit our retinas impacts the melatonin levels, which affect how we sleep and mood levels. Mary Lee Nitschke, a psychology professor and animal behaviorist at Linfield College also believes these hormone levels fluctuate in animals in the winter:
“If your dog or cat seems lethargic or refuses to eat, they may be depressed, and when a pet is down in the dumps it can lead to physical problems.”
If you notice the following behaviors in your pet, particularly in the winter months, your pet may be experiencing SAD:
- Aggressive behavior or soiling inappropriately
- Clawing at furniture
- Demanding more attention or appearing withdrawn
- Frequent barking
- Lethargy – sleeping more than usual
- Less interest in going for walks or playing
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
Talk with your vet about these symptoms as these could be indicative of other health issues, but here are suggestions to help your pet (and even you) with wintertime blues:
Add more light – If possible, have your pet sit on a sunny porch or in a sun spot on the carpet. You’ll notice that pets often naturally gravitate to these places if given the opportunity.
My old dog will brave the cold just to have a chance to get her “vitamin D” on our porch, and now I’m wondering if it’s a little self treatment to counteract SAD symptoms I had previously attributed to her advancing years.
There are lights on the market for humans for regions that don’t receive much winter sun. If you use one for yourself, consider letting your pet enjoy its benefits or investing in one specifically for them.
Add Variety – Your cat might appreciate some new interactive toys that get the blood pumping. Consider hiding treats for your dog for him to discover, making your home a large puzzle toy. (Of course, this is where I must add the gratuitous plug for BaxterBoo.com toys…)
Exercise – If at all possible, do try to get outside for walks, even if the weather isn’t the best. The fresh air and even the winter smells can provide the change of scenery and light to keep you and your pet cheery. Of course exercise is known to increase levels of endorphins (feel-good hormones) as well, so it will be a win for both of you.
If symptoms persist, do contact your vet. Mood enhancing medications may be a good choice or more tests may need to be done to rule out other issues.
Do you think your pet’s mood changes in the winter months? Have you tried anything to help your pet get out of the winter doldrums?
Sad dog photo by soapbeard.