Is Your Dog Suffering From Seasonal Affective Disorder?

By Gemma Hopkins on 13 December 2017

If your dog lacks the motivation to get up and move around, or is behaving in a more subdued way to its usual, playful self, many pet owners investigate Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD) as a possible cause.

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known (rather aptly) as SAD, is essentially a form of depression which has a particularly high prevalence during the winter months due to shorter days and decreased levels of sunshine. It is widely acknowledged as a condition that affects millions of humans worldwide, particularly those towards the north of the northern hemisphere, with symptoms including lethargy, social withdrawal, depression, a general feeling of malaise and fatigue.

A big part of the reason that people suffer from SAD is the fact that their levels of serotonin, a hormone which triggers feelings of happiness and euphoria, are affected by how much light and sun they are exposed to. The less sun, the lower the levels of serotonin.

Does it affect dogs?

A recent study by the PDSA concluded that one in three pet owners saw a downturn in the dog’s mood during winter months.

However, seasonal fluctuations in behaviour are normal throughout the animal kingdom. Your dog’s priorities, driven by natural instinct, will change based on day length, light levels and temperature, to focus on staying warm and expending as little energy as possible.

It’s also important to remember that there are few creatures as good as dogs at reading human emotion. If you feel affected by the winter blues, your dog may simply be mirroring changes in your behaviour.

Although it’s unlikely that your dog is suffering from SAD, there are a couple of changes to your dog that you should keep an eye on to ensure a healthy pet throughout the winter months:

  • Lethargy.
    This is one of the main symptoms owners consider to be an indicator of SAD. However, it may indicate more serious physiological issues, so make sure you get your dog checked over by a professional if symptoms persist despite taking action.
  • Poor appetite.
    Some people suggest a poor appetite may be linked to SAD, there is little evidence to support this in dogs. Hence if your dog isn’t eating as well as he or she normally does we would certainly recommend seeking the expert advice of your vet as it could be a sign of a more serious disease.

Staying healthy in winter.

There are a few steps you can take to make sure your pup is as healthy and happy as possible throughout the colder months of the year:

  • Spend more time outdoors.
    This may seem like an obvious measure, but it is easy to neglect spending quality time with our dogs when life is so full of other tasks and opportunities. Setting up a proper schedule for taking your dog out for walks, during times when the sun is still up, will have a hugely beneficial effect on a dog. Incorporating fun activities such as toys, or exploring new terrain, will boost this even further.
  • Keep your dogs engaged when inside.
    Sometimes the weather is just so awful during winter months that it is necessary to keep your dogs inside. To stop them getting restless, make sure you keep them happy and engaged while in the house. This can be done in a number of simple ways: even just paying them attention with some simple petting can work wonders.
  • Feed your dog a healthy diet.
    Poor diet is directly linked to lethargy and depression in dogs, so make sure your pup is eating good quality, nutritious foods. It is always worth asking your vet which diet they would recommend as the best for your pup.

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GEMMA HOPKINS BVETMED, CERTVC, MRCVS, RCVS ADVANCED PRACTITIONER IN VETERINARY CARDIOLOGY


Gemma holds an RCVS Certificate in Veterinary Cardiology and continues to work part time in practice to remain up to date and continue her interest in cardiology.

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