Approximately 2 million people in the UK suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but do pets get affected in the same way by these winter blues? For animals, especially dogs, who rely heavily on the outdoors for most of their exploration, the colder months could be difficult.
Here, Cliverton, experts in kennel insurance, look into how our beloved pets are affected by the changes in season and what we can do to help our pets get through the winter months still wagging their tails.
How do the winter blues affect pets?
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder usually present in humans are a change in appetite, sleep schedule and energy, low moods and irritability. But did you know that this can actually present in your pets too. If you notice a shift in sleeping or eating behaviour, it might be down to SAD. Whether your cat is overeating and becoming more irritable towards you, or your dog isn’t as excited when you come home and avoiding their food bowl, it could be due to the changes in weather.
The lack of sunlight can have a large effect on your pets, especially dogs who are accustomed to being energetic outside. A study by PDSA found that one third of owners spot signs of depression within their dogs during the winter months.
Some believe that pets are not negatively affected by the colder months, but rather they feed on our emotions. In fact, studies show that dogs can find human emotions contagious, with the shifting moods of an owner influencing the way a pet feels. With one in three of us Brits showing symptoms of SAD annually, we could be causing our pets to feel the same way.
What can I do to help my pet during the winter months?
Keep a routine
One of the main symptoms of SAD is a change in behaviour, especially sleep. As with humans, if pets are showing signs they are sleeping too little, or too much, they could be struggling emotionally. By maintaining a routine, you can help keep sleeping patterns at a constant across the year. This can be anything from scheduling playtimes, feeding times, and walks to maintaining your own routines, such as your habits in the evenings and mornings to help your pet regulate theirs. However, understand that sometimes your pets will just feel like sleeping more. Sleeping more in winter can help conserve heat and energy during the coldest days of the year, so keeping an eye on your pet’s routine and monitoring abnormalities is important. If your pets cannot be motivated, there might be something else at play, so consider a trip to the vets.
Maintain your own energy
Pets can provide emotional support, but sometimes our emotions can impact them more than we understand. Seasonal Affective Disorder might not only affect your pet, but the way you react to these shifting temperatures and shorter days might also impact their wellbeing. Maintaining self-care during this time can help your pets feel more relaxed. If you are feeling yourself then they might too. Try increasing light exposure in your house to fight off those short days or spend time outside during sunlight hours. Battling your own SAD could help your pets too.
And as with humans, your pet’s diet can also contribute to their mood. One quarter of owners questioned in a survey said they attempted to improve their pet’s moods through additional food, especially treats. While it can be difficult to know what to feed your pets, especially if they are showing signs of a loss of appetite, it is important that you maintain a healthy diet to fight those winter blues. Planning ahead of time can help with this, start maintaining a healthy diet early in the year in preparation for the winter can mean you can maintain a routine while also benefitting your pet’s health. Staying away from treats and food which have high levels of artificial flavours, colours, and additives can help boost your pet’s mood.
It is important to know how to fight off the winter blues as we enter the colder months. Our pets can often be our sources of happiness, but we are also theirs. Maintaining our own emotions throughout the winter might help them maintain their own energy levels. So whether you are going on more walks than normal during the sunlight, or accepting that some days are duvet days, you can get through seasonal affective disorder together.