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Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Pets

Dog laying in hallway

It’s estimated that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects roughly 10 million people each year in the United States. Depression affects people with a range of symptoms in conjunction with the altered environment and weather that accompanies the changing seasons. However, although doctors have known that SAD can affect humans for a while now, there isn’t as much study into pets’ mental conditions. But, since it’s also believed that animals and humans can feel the same emotions, then it stands to reason that your beloved pet’s sudden changes in behavior could be due to SAD.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder typically affects people in the winter, when days are shorter, grayer, and colder. It’s a lot more than just “feeling the blues.” It can cause feelings of depression, extreme fatigue, and many other severe symptoms.

Although there is not much research into the possibility of SAD affecting animals, there is no reason to believe that your furry friends can’t experience the disorder. The changing seasons can have an adverse effect on your pet, just like it can on you. Therefore, it pays to know the signs.

Dog laying on pillow

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Pets

There are numerous signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, including decreased appetite and energy. In humans, symptoms can range from trouble sleeping to depression and sadness to significant swings in appetite, mood, and weight. Although most common in the fall and winter, some people experience SAD in the spring and summer months.

Still, when it comes to your pet, animals believed to have SAD exhibit signs similar to humans. When the days start to bring less sunlight, this can have several negative effects on your pets, including:

SAD Symptoms in Dogs and Cats:

  • Lethargy and a general lack of energy or sleeping more than usual
  • Appetite changes, usually eating less or not at all
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Hiding 
  • Excessive licking (dogs often lick as a way to soothe themselves, so this can be a sign that your pup is agitated or stressed)
  • Bathroom accidents

Of course, if you notice any of these signs in your pet, it’s worth a call to your vet. While they might be attributed to SAD, it could be something else. You can try different things to help alleviate your pet’s symptoms; however, if they don’t work, definitely see your vet ASAP.

Woman playing with cat

Tips for Treating Your Pet’s Seasonal Affective Disorder

If your pet is feeling down in the dumps, here are a few ways you can help boost her mood.

Let There Be Light

One of the most significant steps you can take to improve your pal’s mood is to increase her exposure to natural light. In fact, this is worth keeping in mind year-round. If possible, position your pet’s bed near a window, and on sunny days make sure to pull back the curtains and roll up the shades.

On days when sunlight is in short supply, opt for a lightbox or a full-spectrum sunlight therapy lamp. People that suffer from depression and SAD use these lamps to help combat the effects of the disorder.

For the lamp to work, the light needs to enter your pet’s pupils, so make sure your pet is awake when using it. The idea is the light helps alter brain chemistry, helping alleviate feelings of sadness and boost your mood. Typically, a person uses a sunlight lamp for about 45 minutes to over an hour a day. It’s best to discuss this with your vet to determine the proper amount of time for your dog or cat.

Get Active

Just like exercise helps you pep up, staying active helps your pets stay happy and healthy. Plus, it’s great for maintaining their weight and muscle tone. To get a double bonus, start your day with a walk in the sunshine with your canine companion. You’ll feel better, too, and your furry pal will get in some much-needed exercise and become less likely to get bored.

If it’s chilly outside, the odds are good that your dog won’t be bothered too much by the cold, but if he is, you can always get him a snazzy doggy coat. For your cat, bring some of her favorite toys out on the porch to play, or have some fun bonding time near a sunny window. Keep your pup stimulated and engaged indoors, too, with interactive toys like the Rolly Cannoli or a Neat-Lik Mat. You can place several treats or toys throughout the house for her to find, or try some fun treat puzzles.

Look at it this way, when you don’t have anything to do, are lonely, and it’s kind of blah outside, you probably start to feel blue. Your pet could be feeling the same way, so give him opportunities to socialize, play, and move. You could even make a fun winter trip with your pal. All of these activities can help improve your pet’s mood and physical health, not to mention keep him from getting bored.

Eat a Healthy Diet

One of the best things you can do for your pet is to ensure you fill her food bowl with a nutritious diet no matter what time of year it is. Find pet foods that have wholesome ingredients without lots of artificial flavors, preservatives, and fillers. Limit treats and avoid feeding your pet table food.

Never give your pet any kind of medication or supplement to help with her mood unless you have thoroughly discussed it with your veterinarian. While specific vitamins might be beneficial for humans to take during the winter, like Vitamin D, they can cause some significant issues for your pets. On the other hand, some supplements could prove to be very helpful for your cat and dog, like Omega-3’s and probiotics, but always check with your vet first.

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”

You probably already know that your pet can pick up on your emotions, including depression. Your pet might sense when you’re nervous, upset, or excited. Well, it’s also very possible that your depressed pet is picking up on your moodiness.

If you’re experiencing SAD symptoms, and you’re depressed, bored, tired, or just feeling down, your constant companion is likely picking up on these feelings and mirroring them. In this case, it’s not necessarily the changing seasons directly affecting your pet, but your changing moods. Plus, if you’re less active in the winter, maybe you’re not taking your dog on as many walks or playing with your cat as often as you usually do. By default, your pet doesn’t get as much exercise as he’s used to and feels the effects.

Therefore, as hard as it may be, grab the leash and take your pup for a walk. Shake the fake mouse and start a play session with your kitty. If you’re really struggling, it’s worth a trip to your doctor. However, try to keep your pet’s routine the same, despite the changing weather.

If you’re worried your pet’s behavior has changed along with the changing seasons, give some of these tips a try. But, no matter what, talk to your vet just in case there’s anything else going on; your vet can rule out other potential issues, plus give you some extra suggestions for your pal. For more helpful resources on how to care for your pet, check out the rest of our blog! Now, go cuddle up with your companion and have some fun!

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