Your dog relies on you for almost everything. Whether they’re hungry, thirsty, or desperate for a walk, they can only get those things from you. And since our dogs can’t speak, they rely on the routines that we’ve created for them.
Unfortunately, when our dogs become sick, they also rely on you noticing and taking them to the vet. Sometimes, the signs of sickness in dogs are more obvious than at other times; if they’re being sick, it’s pretty obvious that something could be wrong.
But if your dog suffers with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or any kind of mood disorder, the signs might not be so obvious.
That’s why we’ve put together this overview of dogs and seasonal affective disorder, even though the jury’s still out on whether dogs can indeed come down with a case of the seasonal blues.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
When the fall and winter months draw in, and the sun spends less time in the sky, we can suffer from SAD. With less sunlight, our brain's chemistry can change, producing less serotonin and more melatonin. Since serotonin is the chemical responsible for mood regulation, it can result in some pretty negative effects on our mood that include:
- Reduced level of appetite
- Lower levels of energy
- A dampened mood, similar to depression
It’s an unfortunate reality that the acronym for this disorder is SAD, as that’s precisely how it can make you feel. Unless you’re familiar with the condition, you might not even realize what’s causing it. Worse still, SAD can affect your dogs too.
What Are the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Dogs?
According to a survey conducted in the United Kingdom, our poor pups can suffer the same affliction as humans during winter months. We don’t blame them; their usual blue-sky walks are quickly replaced with cooler temperatures and overcast grays.
In this survey, dog owners noted that there were very specific behavioral changes that occurred in their dogs when the winter months set in. These included:
- More aggressive personalities and destruction
- Less time spent wanting to play
- Barking more frequently
- Sleeping for more hours during the day
- An increase in the amount of fur shed
- Reductions in appetite and weight
While there’s a lack of research-based, scientific evidence to support that SAD can affect dogs, the changes reported by dog owners do seem to support the idea that they can feel the winter blues.
Of course, there could be other explanations for our pups' change in behavior when it gets cooler. Dogs are commonly seen as being mirrors of our own emotional state. They're very in tune to our feelings, so if we're suffering from SAD, it could be that our dogs are picking up on and emulating that behavior.
How Can I Help My Dog Overcome SAD?
We may not know for certainty that our dogs can suffer from seasonal affective disorder, but there are ways to combat a noticeable difference in their mood. Whether you think it’s SAD or something else entirely, these tips could help:
- Don’t set a bad example: It can be tempted to hole up at home when it's cold and wet outside. But rather than bundling yourself away indoors, you should still make an effort to get outside with your dog. The exercise and sunlight will benefit yours and your dog’s mood, and you’ll avoid rubbing off that lazy, suppressed behavior on them.
- Provide plenty of light: Sunlight direction changes throughout the year, so even if your dog’s bed was in direct sunlight during the summer, it may not be in the fall and winter. Try to reposition their bed to an area of the home that gets the most sunlight exposure.
- Consider sunlight alternatives: If your home tends to lack sunlight during the darker months, you could invest in a SAD light box. These specialized lights use very bright light that replicates sunlight, and they could help improve your pup’s mood.
- Distract them while indoors: When it’s dark and gloomy outside, don’t lounge in front of the TV without any stimulation for your pup. Provide them plenty of toys, food-filled puzzles, and other distractions. Make an effort to get down to their level and engage them in play too.
Season Affective Disorder in Dogs: When to See a Vet
We've already highlighted some of the signs you might see in your dog during the cooler and darker months, and now you have some ways to try and combat them. But if they've been showing a sustained lack of appetite or energy for some time, and your efforts haven't helped, it's time to see the veterinarian.