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home : health : health December 15, 2017

11/14/2017 12:14:00 PM
Seasonal changes can affect your pet, too
Your dog may get down when the days grow short. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Your dog may get down when the days grow short. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

Just about everyone has heard the phrase "winter blues." Some individuals are negatively affected by the shift into winter. Serious depression of this nature is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that affects one to 10 percent of the population depending on the specific location.

The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. The decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression because a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, might play a role in the disorder.

Scientists have also discovered that the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Common symptoms include feeling depressed, having little energy, or sleeping too much. What sets this condition apart from other forms of depression is the symptoms will naturally go away on their own during the brighter and warmer months of the year.

Since this is a very real problem in humans, it's understandable to wonder if pets are also susceptible to mood shifts with seasonal changes.

According to Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant, "The definitive answer is - maybe."

Dale says we share much of the same brain chemistry with dogs, including hormones melatonin and serotonin. So, it's conceivable that pets can get SAD, but there could be other explanations.

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), the United Kingdom's leading vet charity, found that approximately 40 percent of dog pet parents saw a considerable decline in their pet's moods during the winter months. In addition, half of the pet parents felt that their dogs slept longer, with around two in five reporting their pets to be less active. The PDSA states that animals who suffer from SAD are likely to display symptoms very similar to that of humans, such as depression, lack of energy, and fatigue.

And according to Dr. Nicholas, a veterinary behaviorist and professor at Tufts University in Maryland, "Everything in the psychological or psychiatric arena that affects people is eventually discovered to affect domestic animals. Knowing this, it would be very surprising if SAD didn't exist in animals."

So, what can you do if your pet is showing signs of this seasonal disorder?

If you've noticed your furry friend acting a little more down than normal at this time of year and you want to take action to help prevent any blues from setting in, the good news is there are definitely way you can help. The first is to keep your dog active. While you'll want to protect your pet from harsh weather conditions, taking your dog out for a walk is proven to release endorphins and ease any stress.

And if your pooch seems to have a really tough time when the seasons change and you've gone to your veterinarian to rule out any other medical conditions, it may be worth investing in a light box. This type of treatment is a common option for people struggling with SAD. You can actually find a device known as the Sol Box that is specifically designed for dogs.

Since there is not enough data to support a definite diagnosis of SAD in pets, lack of energy, lack of appetite and other SAD-like symptoms that may occur during this time of year can also be attributed to other factors. Taking a few simple steps like bonding with your furry friend, promoting exercise, increasing lighting, and ensuring a proper diet, can go a long way to promote the health of your pet - not just during colder months of the year.

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