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 brighter in the summer, feeling restless or mopey about the cold weather is not the same as SAD. Affected people may have unexplainable crying episodes, excessive fatigue, and difficulty doing even the most basic of tasks. Can the lack of sunlight affect our dogs just as severely? There are several ways it could.
Do Animals Get Seasonal Affective Disorder?
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 chemistry of the rodents’ brains. The hippocampus shrank, which is thought to be a reason for depression. The study hasn’t been directly conducted on dogs, but it shows that the chance of SAD affecting them isn’t inconceivable. After all, dogs are a lot more emotionally complex than hamsters and rats, making it seem 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 around. If you’re unable to pry yourself out of bed on a particularly dark morning, your dog may mirror that despondency.
Can You Help Your Dog Stop Feeling SAD?
So how do you combat Seasonal Affective Disorder in your dog? First, you need to know the possible signs, which are likely similar to those of a human suffering from the condition: excessive lethargy, unwillingness 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 should first contact your veterinarian so they can rule out other causes and discuss treatment with you. If you decide to treat your dog for Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can try to combat symptoms in the same way you would with a human: increase exposure to sunlight. This can be done by placing your pup’s bed near a window or under a skylight. Try 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 the exercise may help boost serotonin levels, as well. Serotonin is the “feel-good” chemical in the brain that is produced, in large part, by exposure to sunlight.
Another option is an artificial sunlight lamp. Unlike most lamps in your home, these special light therapy products produce light that mimics sunlight. These can be bought at most general merchandise retailers or online. Make sure your pup is awake while using these lamps so their retinas get some exposure to the incoming light. Doctors recommend humans use these lamps at least 45 minutes a day to help combat SAD. Talk to your vet to see if that is a good amount for your pup, too.
Have you noticed your dog getting less like themselves since the days have gotten shorter? What have you done to help them? Let us know in the comments.