Your dog may have seasonal affective disorder, here's how you can help

We’re dog experts – here’s how to tell if your pooch has seasonal affective disorder

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes
  • READ MORE: This is the WORST week for SAD – experts explain how to fight it

It’s not only humans who feel their mood dip when the days get shorter come Autumn, as our much-loved household pets can also struggle with the lack of sunlight.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes with the changing seasons as the temperatures plummet and  the days become shorter.

According to the NHS, some of the symptoms of SAD can include a persistent low mood, irritability, feeling low, feeling lethargic, sleeping for longer than normal and difficulty concentrating.

For most people, symptoms start in autumn and continue into winter as the skies get dark earlier and the temperature drops. However, SAD can also occur during the transition from spring to summer.

But it’s not just human beings who suffer in the winter months, and dog experts at Puppy Hero have warned pet owners of the signs their pooch may be suffering from SAD. 

It’s not only humans who feel their mood dip when the days get shorter come Autumn. It turns out your furry friends’ moods could also struggle with a lack of sunlight (stock image)

There are signs to look out for this winter that could suggest your dog is suffering from the disorder.

The first sign there might be something up with your pooch is the same sign of SAD that occurs in humans; sleeping more than normal. 

Secondly, your pup might express less interest in playing games than normal, or is refusing to exercise or go for walks. This won’t be a sign for all dogs but if these are activities your pet would usually love, take notice if they start to lose interest. 

Another easy-to-spot sign you might have misinterpreted is yawning, as dogs often yawn when they are stressed as a natural relaxer. Dogs can also be seen literally shaking the stress off – so if you spot your dog having a wiggle don’t assume they were simply getting rainwater off. 

Liz Clifton, a rescue dog rehabilitator, said: ‘Support your dog(s) by offering them a variety of ways to help them naturally relax, release their built up emotions or tension and lower their base stress levels.’

Rescue dog rehabilitator Liz Clifton’s activities to help your pup if it has SAD 

Snuffle mat: This is an interactive feeding mat and scent game in which you can hide your dog or cat’s favourite treats. You can purchase these or make one yourself with a pet safe rubber mat and pet safe material strips. You can scatter healthy treats which your dog can sniff out.

Digging box appropriate to their size: This could be a pet safe cardboard box filled with pet safe shredded bedding that you can hide some healthy treats, chews or toys in.

Enjoy relaxing music, meditations or Animal Reiki together: This can help you relax, calm, release any stresses and re-balance your emotions together.

‘Dogs instinctively release stress through chewing, sniffing, licking, sleeping, gentle shake offs, other movements, digging and yawning.’ 

Many pups can misbehave or occasionally be grumpy, but another sign your dog is struggling with SAD could be that there has been a change in their behaviour. This change can range from being more irritable than usual, to acting out aggressively. 

As dogs are known for having healthy appetites, it is also important to keep an eye on how much they are eating – if you notice your pet eating less, or significantly more, than they usually do, this could be another warning sign that they have SAD.

And lastly, if your dog isn’t sleeping well and seems constantly restless or sad, this could suggest they have the seasonal disorder.

But there are ways you can help your pup cope as the seasons change.

The experts say you should be analysing your dog’s behaviour to ‘get a better understanding of if they may be feeling sad.’

They added: ‘Sometimes a change in their usual routine or their environment could result in your dog feeling unwell for quite a while. Knowing what to expect throughout the day and feeling comfortable in their surroundings is very important for a dog.’

Exercise is closely linked to mood, and ensuring your dog gets enough exercise could be another way of helping them feel happier – especially as it gets darker and going outside is less frequent. 

According to dog experts, your pet could also be suffering from symptoms of SAD – including losing interest in things they would normally enjoy and feeling lethargic

Much like humans, the lack of sunshine, or light in general, can cause lower mood levels, so the experts say it is important for your dog to get as much light exposure as possible. 

Ways to increase your pup’s light exposure can include taking them for walks whenever possible, trying out moving their bed closer to a window or using more artificial lighting. 

Most dogs need attention and love as much as humans do, so helping them feel better can be as simple as spending time with them.

Playing with and training your dog are key examples of this as they keep your pup alert. Introducing new games to get your pet excited is another way to boost their mood. 

But Liz said to make sure that you introduce any new activities and items slowly when your dog is in a relaxed state. 

‘This will avoid them associating new unknown items with fearful triggers that would instead add to any stress rather than releasing it,’ she added. 

Liz also insisted you must always see a vet to discuss any possible diagnoses concerning your pup – and be sure to share observations of their change in behaviour.

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