Dogs and Seasonal Affective DisorderJust like humans, dogs aren’t nearly as active in winter. Recent studies have also shown that dogs likely suffer from SAD just as humans do. Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Nickholas Dodman, says it would be very surprising if animals didn’t experience SAD. Scroll down to see why humans and pets can get SAD and signs to look for, as well as treatment.
Studies of SAD in RodentsInterestingly, a few new studies on hamsters and grass rats may prove the existence of SAD in animals. The study showed that when exposed to less sunlight, the animals acted depressed, with their hippocampus having shrunk, which is a key factor in depression. Even though there’s no studies yet on dogs, it makes sense they would suffer from the disorder. After all, dogs are more emotionally involved than rodents. Some vets think a pet can also mimic their owners. If you have SAD and change your behavior during the winter, they may pick up on that and do the same. Dogs are intuitive, and if they see you’re ill or sad, they may mirror that despondency. Or, they may see that you’re sad and stay by you more often.
Why Do Pets Get SAD?Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn’t happen in all people nor all pets. However, the lack of sunshine, shorter daylight hours, and less access to the outdoors can directly contribute to someone developing the disorder. In the winter, humans, and animals alike produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone), while serotonin (the feel-good hormone) decreases, so pets’ moods are likely to change. Melatonin, produced in the pineal gland, regulates sleep cycles. The pineal gland is light sensitive and is why melatonin is typically released during the night in darkness. When light hits the retina, melatonin production reduces. In winter, with the low light conditions, more melatonin is produced. The higher the melatonin, the more feelings of lethargy and depression sets in, along with the reduced motivation to engage in play or work. Another hormone that contributes to SAD is serotonin, which affects mood, sleep, and appetite. Low levels of the hormone have a distinct effect on animals and humans, thus why doctors prescribe Prozac to both. Another possible reason why dogs get SAD is simple boredom. When they’re used to going outside and rolling around in the grass, playing Frisbee with their owner, or going for long walks, suddenly having inside time can make a pup irritable.
The Sunshine VitaminDoctors say the “Sunshine Cure,” as it’s called for Vitamin D deficiency, is usually the cure since sunshine, or at least something that mimics the sun, has ample of the vitamin. The benefits of Vitamin D include:
- Improved brain function
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved sleep quality
- Better bone health
- Reduction in Alzheimer’s symptoms
- Boosted growth in children
- Improved mood
- Higher serotonin levels
- Reduced cancer
- Fewer skin conditions
Signs of SAD in DogsThere are several signs you can look for to see if your fur baby has winter depression. These signs include:
- Less energy
- More lethargy
- Sleeping more
- Appetite reduced
- Whimpering or whining
- Feeling sad or down
- Weight loss
- Bathroom accidents
Dog Breeds More Prone To DepressionAs mentioned above, not all dogs will get depression. Hyperactive and highly intelligent dog breeds seem to suffer more from mental illness. These breeds include Border Collie, Bichon Frise, German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and Labrador Retriever. If you own one of these breeds and they suffer from the above symptoms, they may have SAD. Consider getting them checked out by your vet; they can recommend the best treatment.
Treatment for SAD in PetsIf your pup has the above symptoms and is otherwise healthy, what can you do to help them? It may seem like a no-brainer, but get them out in the sun or find ways to mimic the sun. Here are some easy ways:
- When days are sunny, although cold, grab your coat and take your pup on a 10-15 minute walk.
- Take them for a joyride with the windows down.
- If you work, think about taking them to a daycare, so they can socialize with other dogs and get exercise outside.
- Place your dog’s bed under a window or a skylight.
- Purchase an artificial sunlight lamp that mimics sunlight (use for 30-45 minutes a day or as long as your vet recommends)
- Let them stay outside in a fenced yard for longer times.