Have you noticed a change in your pet's mood or behaviour this winter? Do they have less energy and enthusiasm than usual? They may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD “is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons.” Symptoms like loss of energy and grumpiness appear most commonly in the late fall and winter when there is less natural sunlight outside. We frequently hear about how SAD affects humans, but you may be surprised to know that it is also common among pets. We may not realize it, but our pets are also sensitive to changes in light. Having an understanding of SAD and how it affects our pets can help us better support them through the winter blues.
- Common symptoms of SAD in cats and dogs include:
- Change in behaviour (aggressive, destructive to furniture, bathroom accidents indoors)
- Low energy
- Loss of interest in physical activities like walking or playing
- Change in appetite
- Barking more frequently
- Change in mood (withdrawn, lack of motivation)
- Increased anxiety
By being proactive and treating symptoms early, you can help alleviate your pet’s symptoms before they get worse. You can start with some of these at-home remedies:
- Let the sunshine in by opening blinds and curtains.
- Move your pet's bed near a bright window.
- Soak up the sun on a morning walk or play in the backyard (weather permitting of course).
- Exercise regularly to encourage the production of endorphins, which will have you and your pet feeling happier and more motivated.
- Commit to a daily schedule for playtime and other activities to help alleviate your pet’s anxiety.
- Give your pet mentally stimulating activities and toys to play with.
- Support your pet and show them some extra TLC.
In serious cases, pets are sometimes prescribed the same medications to treat SAD as humans. If you prefer a natural alternative, light therapy is becoming a common treatment option for both humans and pets. Light therapy boxes and lamps can be used for 30 minutes a day to simulate sunlight. The artificial sunlight encourages the production of melatonin and serotonin, which help treat some of the symptoms of SAD, and help you and your pets feel more energetic and less depressed.
While we all have our “off” days from time to time, if you or your dog’s symptoms persist for an extended period of time you should seek professional help. It’s in these difficult times that both you and your dog will be a comforting presence to each other. Supporting each other through the winter blues will bring you and your pet closer together as work towards achieving mental wellness.