Ever get that feeling during winter? You know the one. That feeling that makes you not want to get up in the morning and just stay in your warm comfortable bed all day? The winter blues are real and can cause a general feeling of depression. The shorter days reduces exposure to sunlight, which in turn affects production of melatonin – a hormone produced by the pineal gland that makes you feel sleepy. The lack of sunlight also reduces the serotonin in your body, also known as the “feel good” substance in your brain, it affects sleep, your mood and your appetite.

So, when you start to get irritable, feel lethargic and start craving for food and gaining weight. You may actually be battling with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Interestingly, your pets can get it, too! While dogs are empathetic creatures and your depression may just be rubbing off on them, evidence suggests that they can be affected by SAD all on their own.

A study by the UK Group, People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) found that about 40% of dog owners saw a change in their pet’s mood during the winter months. Two out of five of their respondents reported seeing less activity in their dogs. Cats seem to be affected too with one in three cat owners saying their pets seem less playful during the winter months. For both cats and dogs, one in four say their pets have had an increase in appetite during the cold season.

So, your beloved pet may be suffering and you didn’t even know about it! Here are some telltale signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Change in eating habits
  • Lethargy
  • Sleeping more hours than usual
  • Increased neediness
  • Possible aggression
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in things they usually like

If your pet seems to be affected by SAD, the first thing you need to do is to ensure he or she has exercise. If you take out your pets for a walk daily, continue doing so throughout winter if the weather permits it. Keep them nice and warm during walks with a jacket. Also check their feet for build up of frost as this can be painful.

Not getting enough sun these days? Try using light boxes or special lights that replicate outdoor lighting. You can also turn up interior lights – changing your bulbs to replicate daylight (sometimes labeled as full spectrum) may be a good idea. Make sure you open up the curtains and let the rays in when the sun shines. If you have a skylight, you may want to move your pets’ beds under it.

New toys and lots of play time can also help mentally stimulate your pet to elevate their mood.

Talk to your vet today if you have any concerns about your pet’s health and well-being.