With the dark nights and cold, miserable weather, winter is not everyone’s favourite time of year; and the change in seasons can have a dramatic effect on us, with a reported increase in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in recent years. It’s not just humans that experience this though – it’s widely believed that our pets can suffer from the winter blues too, exhibiting many similar symptoms to ourselves. A study by the PDSA (The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) found that approximately 40% of dog owners saw a considerable downturn in their pet’s moods during the winter months. So, if, as the nights draw in, you notice your furry friend doesn’t seem quite their usual self it could well be a reflection of what’s happening outside.
The reason behind this change in mood is due primarily to the impact the decreased light has on the production of two hormones: melatonin and serotonin. Produced in the light sensitive pineal gland, melatonin is key in helping to regulate our sleep cycles; so the reduced hours of daylight means higher levels are produced which can leave us feeling tired and lethargic. Serotonin, often thought of as the ‘happy hormone’, is directly linked to our type of mood, and is reliant upon exposure to sunlight for its production. With less sunlight, and even daylight, in winter, both cats and dogs can become less playful and active, and many pet owners report them as sleeping for significantly longer over the winter months. It’s important, therefore, to take steps to minimise the effects of this as much as possible. Take your dog out for a walk earlier in the evening, or later in the morning, to catch some of the brighter hours if you can. It’s also a good idea to move your pet’s bed or blanket near a window that gets the light, and even turning up the inside lighting around the house can help.
Does it seem that your pet has an increase in appetite compared to usual too, craving treat related foods in particular? This can be a case of them mirroring the symptoms we experience in winter, with an increased desire for comforting, unhealthy foods which are associated with the release of serotonin – therefore making us feel good in the short term! If you find this is the case, a treat once in a while won’t hurt, but be careful to maintain a healthy diet and not to overindulge your pet (or yourself!). Likewise, you should be keeping up their usual exercise schedule with walks and games outside and toys for inside; if they are seeming less active then engage in extra play together, which will be beneficial for you both.
Our pets bring us endless joy, so if you do find either of you are suffering from a case of the winter blues, then don’t forget that each other’s company can be a great mood booster and cosy nights in are a great excuse to spend some quality time together.