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Can Dogs Get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? | Pupford

November 29th, 2023

Filed under Health + Wellness

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Have you ever noticed that rainy days can make you sad or sleepy? Alternatively, warm, sunny days might make you happier, while scorching days could make you sluggish. Of course, we are also well aware of the well-known saying on Game of Thrones - Winter Is Coming. And even if you're not a GOT character (or dire wolf) plagued by tragedy and drama, it's easy to feel bleak at this time of the year. You're not alone if you've noticed the weather impacts your mood. The weather affects your pet's mood too!

As a pet parent, it's essential to know how weather conditions could impact your fur baby's mood or mental health and be there to help them adjust to the changing seasons if they need extra support. Therefore, we want to ensure you recognize the symptoms and do what you can to prevent your doggo from getting Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD) this winter.

WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD)?

what is seasonal affective disorder

When the days get shorter and the temperature starts to drop, many of us can suffer from the "winter blues," officially known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). However, it's more than just "feeling the blues." It manifests as fatigue, low mood, and social withdrawal, making the winter months even more challenging.

It disrupts our circadian rhythm— the internal 24-hour clock that tells us when to rest and when to wake.

The diminishing daylight reduces the amount of serotonin (the happy hormone) our brains produce and consequently affects our mood.

On the other hand, melatonin, a hormone produced during periods of darkness that affects our mood and sleep patterns, sharply increases and makes us feel listless and sleepy.

The result is a lethargic melancholy: the harsh weather means we spend more time inside, but none of our hobbies seem interesting. The desire to carb-load skyrockets and nothing seems more compelling than a long, undisturbed sleep until you spot the early light of spring on the horizon.

Unfortunately, research shows that our four-legged friends can also exhibit symptoms of SAD and seasonal depression.

DOES SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD) AND SEASONAL DEPRESSION AFFECT DOGS?

does seasonal affective disorder affect dogs

Seasonal Affective Disorder affects roughly 10 million people annually in the United States. Like people, dogs can be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.

According to research completed by The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), an estimated 40% of dogs suffer from SAD each winter. Dogs supposedly suffering from SAD tended to sleep for longer and lost interest in activities they usually enjoyed.

That SAD is linked to low sunlight levels seems to be demonstrated by research that has compared winter depression in places with high levels of sunlight to those with low sunlight.

For example, one study showed that SAD was less common in Florida, which has high light levels in winter (only 1.4% of people were diagnosed with SAD), compared to New Hampshire, where the winter light levels are much lower (9.7% of people were diagnosed with SAD).

As the seasons change, you'll likely notice that your dog's behavior does, too. This is a direct effect triggered by how your pet is feeling.

For example, your pup may be more cuddly when it's cold and snappy or irritable when you try to snuggle on hot days. Your dog may also be more active in winter and sluggish when it's hot outside. They might even lose their appetite on the hottest days of the year!

Alternatively, doggos afraid of extreme weather like thunder and lightning may become agitated as soon as they sense a storm coming and won't relax until after it passes.

That said, your pet's responses to these weather conditions shouldn't be too surprising.

In fact, they likely mirror your own!

Another possible reason why dogs get SAD is simply boredom. When they're used to going outside and rolling around in the grass, playing frisbee, or going for long walks, suddenly having inside time can make a pup irritable.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all way to describe how the weather will affect the mood of every fur baby. Although the above descriptions are generally accurate, every dog is unique, with its likes and dislikes. For example, while some dogs loathe the changing seasons, others couldn't be happier.

Related Reading: Can Dogs Get Colds?

SIGNS OF SAD AND DEPRESSION IN DOGS

signs of seasonal affective disorder in dogs

You can look for several signs to see if your fur baby has winter depression. These signs may indicate your furriest family member is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

  1. Withdrawn – the dog may have little enthusiasm for exercise, games, or doing things they usually enjoy
  2. Lethargic – they may be sleeping more than usual
  3. Aggressive behavior or soiling inappropriately
  4. Demanding more attention
  5. Frequent or excessive barking
  6. Loss of appetite – they may lose interest in food, or there may be other changes to eating patterns
  7. Inability to settle – the dog may appear restless, not sleeping well or deeply, or other changes to sleeping patterns
  8. Increased shedding, loss of fur, or overgrooming

Of course, periodically displaying one or two of these symptoms is normal. Environment changes, new additions to the family, sickness, or even alterations to your pet's diet can cause them to demonstrate some of these mannerisms.

The key is to be mindful of sudden shifts that might have caused your pet some physical, mental, and/or emotional discomfort. Also, be conscious of how long these symptoms present themselves.

DOG BREEDS MORE PRONE TO DEPRESSION AND SAD

dog breeds more prone to seasonal affective disorder like border collie

As mentioned above, not all dogs get SAD. Hyperactive and highly intelligent dog breeds seem to suffer more from mental illness. These breeds can include:

  • Border Collie
  • Bichon Frise
  • German Shepherd
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Basset Hounds
  • Labrador Retrievers

Of course, other breeds can also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is just a quick summary.

Remember, these signs can also be from medical issues, so it's best to have your pet evaluated by a vet to ensure he's healthy.

HOW CAN I PREVENT MY DOG FROM GETTING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER OR DEPRESSION

how to prevent dog from getting SAD

This might all seem a bit doom and gloom, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. Whether you want to prevent your dog from feeling depressed or are attempting to support a dog who seems to be displaying symptoms of SAD, the best way to boost its well-being is with physical and mental stimulation.

The good news is that SAD in dogs is easily treatable. Moreover, these 'cures' are also likely to lift your mood.

1. SPEND TIME IN THE SUN

We know what you're thinking: there is no sunshine during winter. However, leaving your curtains open in the late mornings and early afternoons can bring some daylight into your home. And artificial lighting can trick your dog into thinking it's summer.

If you have a pet, who fares better with less light throughout the day to keep them calm, consider turning on a SAD lamp for them for 15-60 minutes in the morning. This will provide them with all the proper full-spectrum benefits while keeping them calmer while you're away.

2. GET MOVING

Even though it might be frosty on that cold December night, your dog will really appreciate some outdoor exercise or a good brisk walk – even if it's just half an hour, just make sure you’re taking precautions when walking in cold weather. Find out how to warm your dog after a cold winter walk.

3. TEAM UP AND ASK FOR HELP

Dark mornings and evenings do not make for a pleasant walk. If you're worried about your safety, consider joining a local dog-walking group or accompanying a neighbor, friend, or family member on their dog walk.

If it's not physically possible for you to get out and about, you could hire a dog walker to take your dog out while you dream up some enriching indoor activities to try when they get home.

4. ENCOURAGE INDOOR PLAYTIME

When the weather doesn't cooperate, you can employ various methods to tire out your dog indoors: try scent detection with your dogs (at least 3-4 rounds, and don't forget to give them treats for finding all the smells!) or teach them new tricks.

Dogs can also benefit from snuffle mats and puzzle toys - studies have shown that 15 minutes of sniffing and foraging can be equivalent to over 30 minutes of outdoor exercise. That said, don't leave snuffle mats unattended—bored pets might try to pull them apart and eat the fabric strips.

5. BE MINDFUL OF NIGHTTIME ROUTINES

In the evenings, start turning off lights as the night advances to get your pet ready for bed, and be mindful of the blue light from your screens. Blue light decreases melatonin and makes it harder for you and your pet to fall asleep. (Maybe move them to another room if you HAVE TO finish binging that series.)

6. FEED YOUR DOG A HEALTHY DIET

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

Never give your pet any medication or supplement to help with their 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 significant issues for pets. On the other hand, some supplements could be beneficial for your dog, like Omega-3s and probiotics, but always check with your vet first. Some puppies can benefit from vitamins as well!

7. PAY ATTENTION TO THEM THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Keep them in good spirits. If you need to be away from home for extended periods, letting them have access to a window can be beneficial.

RECAP OF DOGS & SEASONAL DEPRESSION & SEASON AFFECTIVE DISORDER

brown dog experiencing seasonal depression | Pupford

It can be stressful and disheartening when our fur babies aren't acting like themselves. While it might be tempting to immediately blame your pup's mood change on seasonal affective disorder, remember not to jump to conclusions!

SAD and seasonal depression can be remedied, but you don't want to overlook any other potentially serious underlying issues. Don't be afraid to go to your vet if you notice any dramatic changes in their behavior—it's better to know for sure than be caught unaware.

We hope our tips help you and your pet enjoy the winter months! Let us know in the comments if you've tried any.

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