Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is something that is known to affect humans. With less sunlight and the colder, grayer days, some people are prone to SAD, which is characterized by episodes of depression during the time of year when the day is shorter. You may have noticed that not only some human friends, but Fido has also been looking despondent as the days have gotten colder.
While most of us can agree that life is a lot sweeter in the summer, feeling restless or mopey about the cold weather is not the same as SAD. Affected people may have unexplainable crying jags, excessive fatigue, and may find it immensely difficult to do even the most basic of tasks. Can the lack of sunlight affect our dogs just as severely? There are several avenues as to why it could.
Until recently, there hasn’t been an official diagnosis of SAD in an animal, as there is no model for it. Newer studies on hamsters and grass rats may prove that the seasonal change can negatively affect animals as well. When exposed to less sunlight, the hamsters and grass rats acted depressed. The study discovered that there was an alteration in the rodents’ brain chemistries. The hippocampus shrank, which is thought to be a reason for depression. The study has not been directly on dogs, but it does show that the chance of SAD affecting them is not inconceivable. After all, dogs are a lot more emotionally complex than hamsters and rats, making it much more likely that they experience changes in brain chemistry and mood during periods of shorter days.
Some veterinarians think SAD could indirectly affect dogs as well. Ever notice how your dog tends to match your mood? Dogs are highly intuitive creatures, especially with the humans they spend the most time. If you find yourself unable to pry yourself out of bed on a particularly dark morning, your dog may mirror that despondency.
So how do you combat Seasonal Affective Disorder in your dog? First, you need to know the signs, which are similar to that of a human suffering from the condition: excessive lethargy, unwilling to play, severe weight loss or gain, bathroom accidents, and in severe cases, even hair loss.
If you notice your dog displaying a number of these symptoms, you can combat them in the same way you could with a human: increase exposure to sunlight. This can be done by placing your pup’s bed near a window or under a skylight. It can be accomplished by waking up a little earlier and getting in a brisk, sunrise walk. Not only will these things help lift Fido out of the funk, but it may help boost your serotonin levels as well. Serotonin is the “feel-good” chemical in the brain that is produced largely in part thanks to sunlight.
Another option is an artificial sunlight lamp. Unlike most lamps in your home, these special light therapy products produce light that mimics that of the sun. These can be bought at most general merchandise retailers or online. Make sure your pup is awake while exposed to this light so his retinas are exposed to the incoming light. Doctors recommend that humans use these lamps at least 45 minutes a day to help combat SAD, so it seems like a good amount for your pup, too.
Have you noticed your dog getting less like herself since the days have gotten shorter? What have you done to help her? Let us know in the comments.