Among the many various dog health questions and symptoms, pet owners will bring to their veterinarian is the question of whether their dog can suffer from many of the same illnesses and conditions that humans suffer from. There are certainly some illnesses and conditions that dogs and other pets can suffer from that are not also suffered by humans and vice versa, but there are also a few illnesses and conditions that pets and humans share. One such condition is the winter blues.

Dog Health Problems and Symptoms

Along with shorter days and colder temperatures, the winter season can also bring about what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, as a type of depression that can lead to low energy, loss of appetite, and feelings of sadness. It is most often seen in the darker, gloomier days of late fall or early winter, and tends to go away in the brighter, warmer days of spring. One thing that is particularly interesting about SAD, however, is that it appears that it may affect dogs as well as humans.

Certified animal behavior consultant Steve Dale indicates that humans and dogs share a lot of the same brain chemistry. This includes the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, both of which can influence an individual’s mood. When daylight hours decrease, our brain produces more melatonin and less serotonin, and this may contribute to feelings of sadness and lethargy. There is currently no way to objectively measure whether SAD definitely occurs in dogs or other pets, but many owners feel like they can perceive a shift in their pet’s mood during the winter season, so it is safe to assume that it is possible that they may be suffering from depression similar to humans. On the other hand, they may simply be responding to their owner’s behavior.

You may have noticed that your pets tend to mimic your own mood and behavior, and this can certainly be true during the winter season when you feel sad or low on energy. A recent study that was published in The Royal Society’s Biology Letters seems to confirm this, stating the dogs can actually cognitively recognize the emotions in humans and other dogs. In some cases, however, they may simply be bored instead of depressed. After all, we tend to spend more time indoors during the colder winter months, which means that our pets may not be getting adequate exercise or mental stimulation.

How You Can Help

Whether your pet is truly suffering from seasonal depression, is simply mimicking your mood and behavior or is just bored, there are some things you can do to help them feel better and happier, including:

  • Improve your indoor lighting to make the space brighter. You will also want to open up window shades to let in natural sunlight, as this can provide additional warmth and light–especially to pets that don’t go outside.
  • Go outside and exercise whenever you can. Fresh air and exercise can benefit both you and your pet. Just make sure they are well-protected against excessively cold or wet weather where needed.
  • Interact with them as often as possible. When you interact with your pet you provide them with opportunities to engage in valuable mental stimulation. Play games, hide treats, and cuddle with your pet.
  • Check with your veterinarian about your pet’s diet and whether they would benefit from nutritional supplements. You should never assume it is safe to simply change your pet’s diet or add nutritional supplements without first consulting with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend that you shift your pet’s diet during the winter season or give them nutritional supplements if they seem to be suffering from depression.

Whenever your pet’s normal mood and behavior changes, it is always wise to have your veterinarian check him out to make sure that there isn’t an underlying, and potentially serious, medical reason. To find out more about SAD or to get answers to other dog medical questions, contact AMC today.