Seasonal Affective Disorder

everything you need to know

At this time of year it's easy to feel a little fed up - dark mornings, dark evenings, cold (and often wet!) weather doesn't give many people the motivation to get outdoors. For many Brits, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition which makes the winter months truly tough, but research has shown that our four-legged friends can also exhibit the symptoms of SAD. With the clocks due to go back this weekend, we want to make sure you know how to recognise the symptoms, and what you can do to prevent your dog getting SAD this winter.

Dogs by nature want to be outside in natural sunlight, exploring and getting their paws grubby, but for a number of reasons these moments are missed. Many pet owners are put off walking in the dark for safety reasons, while others don’t like to get out with their dogs in the rain. It means that our pets often take on a more sedentary lifestyle, with reduced exposure to daylight.

Forthglade completed a national survey of 2000 UK pet owners last year, which showed that almost half of pet owners questioned had seen a notable difference in their dog's behaviour during winter. A huge 44% had considered consulting, or had actually consulted a vet or animal behaviourist to help with their dog's seasonal depression.

Recent statistics from our friends at PitPat show that of the 20,000 dogs across the country wearing their fitness monitors, their dogs are walked 20% less during the winter months. So even the most dedicated of owners don't escape the natural effect of winter weather on our dog-walking habits.

We enlisted the expertise of Canine Behaviourist Nick Jones to find out more:

“The long dark days of winter don’t just take a toll on the two-legged population; our four-legged friends also feel the strain. It's clear that many dogs exhibit symptoms replicating the human condition of SAD: lethargy, an increased appetite, irritability and a reluctance to go outside and exercise - all as a result of natural sunlight being at a minimum" Nick Jones, canine behaviourist

Wintery walkies

Despite wanting the best for our dogs, the survey showed that dog owners walk their dogs less in the winter and for shorter periods due to the reduction of daylight hours. It was also showed that whilst 56% of owners walk their dogs for over 30 minutes per session during summer, only 28% do in the winter months. 71% of those surveyed also stated that their pets sleep substantially more than usual during the winter months.

Comfort eating

A third questioned in the survey revealed their pet's eating habits had also altered due to them feeling downbeat, with a quarter admitting to using extra food and treats to try and improve their dog's mood. Many pet owners felt their pets begged more and craved more comfort food.

"Those of us who suffer from winter blues know how important it is to resist junk food and keep our diets healthy, and the same goes for our pets. Poor diet can be directly linked to lethargy and depression within canines, so try not to be tempted to overindulge and keep away from pet foods with artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. Feeding a natural healthy diet is key to winter-proofing a dog!” Nick Jones, Canine Behaviourist

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is the result of two opposing hormones – Melatonin and Serotonin - and how the balance of these hormones are affected as a result of reduced light exposure during the winter. This lack of sunlight causes an increase in Melatonin, which makes mammals sleepier. It also leads to low levels of Serotonin (commonly known as the ‘Happy Hormone’), which can lead to depression and a craving for comfort food.

Symptoms to look out for

  • Sleeping more
  • Reluctant to go outside
  • Less active than usual
  • Less energy/are lethargic
  • Eating more
  • Generally hungrier
  • Desire to be alone and in a quiet place
  • Eating more comfort food/begging for human food more often
  • Sadder than usual
  • Less playful

Click here to visit the PitPat website for tips & advice on how to play with your dog, and 10 great cost-effective games you can play at home.

Click here to find out more about canine behaviourist Nick Jones, and for lots more useful hints & tips on common issues and concerns facing dog owners.