How to relieve seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in dogs

How to treat SAD in dogs
Dogs can experience mood shifts too (Picture: Getty)

When the seasons change, many of us become susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka SAD.

The disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. It is often referred to as ‘winter depression’ because symptoms become more severe during the colder and darker months.

As daylight decreases, the human brain produces more melatonin and less serotonin. This creates a chemical imbalance which ultimately can have an impact on mood, appetite and sleep.

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One in three Brits will experience symptoms… but did you know our dogs can, too? A study carried out by the UK’s leading vet charity, People’s Dispensary of Sick Animals (PDSA) found a third of dog owners noticed a downward turn in their pet’s mood during the colder months.

Half of the owners studied also reported their pets slept for longer periods.

Meanwhile, 20% noted their pets were less active.

If you are worried about your pet’s response to the darker evenings, we chatted with Julie Butcher, pet expert at Webbox Naturals, who is trying to educate owners on identifying and relieving SAD symptoms in dogs.

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‘Studies have shown that humans share a lot of the same brain chemistry with dogs, so it’s no surprise that our pets may also experience the chemical imbalance that causes SAD,’ Julie explains.

‘It’s already known that canines can suffer from mental health problems, so it’s only natural that the shifts we experience, such as grumpiness and irritability can be triggered in dogs in autumn and winter.’

Julie says there are certain signs owners should be aware of.

‘Some of the most common symptoms in dogs include irritability, fatigue, reduced energy and a disinterest in activities such as walks and changes in appetite,’ she explains.

Be Diligent about Vet Visits. “Don’t wait for the signs,” Dr. Becker stresses. Focus on “prevention first.” Pets age fast, and when it comes to illness they are programmed to mask weakness, “they’re naturally secretive.” One to two visits a year is ideal, but if you suspect a problem, don’t hesitate, and don’t self-diagnose. “In the last two years I’ve seen four or five cases where people went to the internet for help, and by the time they get to the vet it’s too late,” says Dr. Becker.

‘So to keep your dog happy, you need to implement a stable routine.’

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog, here are ways to reduce the effects of SAD.

Keep your summer routine through the winter months

‘Try to keep your dog’s daily routine up throughout the winter months,’ Julie advises. ‘While we do appreciate that windy walks in the rain may not be as inviting as those lovely warm summer strolls, it’s important to keep your dog stimulated by new sights and smells.

‘With less sunshine throughout the winter months, a daily walk may also be the only chance your dog gets to experience some natural sunlight, so try to get out during the day if you can.

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‘If you’ve found yourself returning back to the office and are worried about your dogs getting enough exposure, we’d recommend asking a friend or utilising a local dog walking network so that someone is available to give your pooch the exercise and sunlight they need.’

Encourage indoor activity

‘It’s important to ensure that dogs frequently have opportunities for stimulation and entertainment, so make time to interact with your dog throughout the day,’ Julie says.

‘You could also invest in some sensory pet toys that will give your pooch something to play with, even if you’re not at home.’

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Improve your internal lighting

‘Think about purchasing special light boxes that are designed to replicate natural sunlight to help alleviate the effects of SAD,’ Julie notes. ‘While these products are designed by humans, it’s something that could also have a positive effect on your pooch.

‘If you’d rather not disturb your current lighting situation, simply moving your dog’s bed nearer to a sunny-side window. This will help them soak up the natural rays better.’

Look after yourself

‘This is probably the most important piece of advise,’ Julie excalims. ‘Many people agree that pets will often react to and reflect their owner’s moods, so it’s important that you look after your own mental health – especially if you’re worried about your pets.’

Research what type of pet is best suited for your family’s personality and lifestyle. Dogs require more attention, time and energy than cats do, so if you don’t enjoy walks or hikes in the outdoors, or can’t imagine getting up on cold winter mornings to take your pet out to potty, a cat may be more your style.

‘Focus on your stress levels, and make sure that you’re not outwardly projecting any negative characteristics around your pet that they could pick up on.’

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