By Jennifer Morrone, Critter Sitters and More LLC
Many Americans suffer from a form of seasonal depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or more generically known as “the winter blahs.” This form of depression occurs during the fall and winter as the days get shorter and, most notably, after the bustle of the holidays has passed. According to a 2019 Boston University study, 10 million Americans are affected by SAD annually. If you are affected by seasonal change, you may wonder if it could also affect your pets, especially if you’ve noticed behavioral changes in them.
Can pets suffer from SAD?
Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant, notes that “The definitive answer is . . . maybe. Nobody knows for sure.” Dale says we share much of the same brain chemistry with dogs, including the hormones melatonin and serotonin. When daylight decreases, the brain produces more melatonin and less serotonin. Both of these changes can have an adverse effect on mood. If you notice that Fluffy or Fido seems more sluggish as the amount of sunlight diminishes, shifting melatonin levels—and SAD—could possibly be at play.
Signs of seasonal depression
So, what should pet parents be on the lookout for? The most common symptoms of SAD in pets are:
- Less activity
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive vocalizing
- Significant increase in time spent sleeping
Additionally, pet owners may notice their pets gaining weight over the winter months. Since slightly underweight is typically better than slightly overweight, it is important to be proactive in managing a proper diet. We want to keep our pets as healthy as possible, and even the slightest weight gain can lead to health problems.
Treatments for SAD for you and your pets
While treating SAD for humans can include therapy and/or medication, treating your pet’s SAD usually means simple lifestyle changes, which benefit both of you! Here are some tips for you and your pet to battle the winter blahs together:
Brighten up the house. Open blinds to let the sun in and turn on lights in rooms where you and your pet hang out. Consider investing in a SAD therapy light.
Get out of the home. Not a fan of colder weather? Consider taking a walk at a pet- friendly store or your favorite pet store.
Build a box maze for your cat. What better way to use all of those boxes left over from the holidays? This is great for your guinea pigs, rabbits and ferrets as well.
Spend quality time together. Grab the pet toys and engage with your fur baby or just cuddle on the sofa while reading a good book. Either choice is great, but give yourself a break from tech.
Learn a new trick. Practicing together is great for mind stimulation and bonding. Then celebrate your accomplishments with homemade treats.
Have lunch with friends. Check out the covered patio at local restaurants for a double date with fido and friends.
When to call the vet
Any time you notice a change in your pet’s behavior, it’s important to rule out illness. The changes mentioned can be caused by any number of different illnesses, and you will want to rule them out sooner rather than later. As our pets are not able to tell us where it hurts, a vet appointment can set your mind at ease. If your pet is showing any of the symptoms of SAD that do not improve with positive environmental changes, a visit with your pet’s veterinarian is a must.
Resources: www.bu.edu/articles/2019/seasonal-affective-disorder, stevedalepetworld.com, drkarenbecker.com/dvm, petsafetycrusader.com
Jennifer Morrone is owner of Critter Sitters and More LLC, an award-winning pet sitting and dog walking company serving Hampton, Newport News, York County and Poquoson. Her passion for education on all things pet-health led her to become a Pet First Aid instructor. She currently teaches cat and dog first aid classes at the Peninsula SPCA. Morrone can be reached at 1-757-268-9644, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her website, www.crittersittersandmore.com.