Could Your Dog be Suffering from SAD?

sad dogWinter 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  • Demanding more attention or appearing withdrawn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 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.

One thought on “Could Your Dog be Suffering from SAD?

  1. I have noticed Sparky laying around alone much more during these cold winter months. I do my best to engage him in play, but it seems he would rather just lay around for too much of the day. He does enjoy his hour long walks through our lovely neighborhood after he fights with us to get moving! We always dress him in a warm coat and once he gets going on his walk, he seems to enjoy it very much.
    I do suffer from SAD myself, as does our son. I was able to purchase one of the lights you mention in your article and have used it less frequently than I should. It literally saved my life many years ago and I will now share it with Sparky. It is VERY bright and he shies away from it. There is no adjustment to change the brightness level.
    Thanks for the info about making sure our dogs have a sun spot area either in the house or outside on the deck. Sparky LOVES to sit near the window in the afternoon sun to watch activity on our back street. I will make sure he has more opportunities to do that!
    Much appreciation for your great suggestions! Christine & Sparky

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