Content reviewed by Nell Ostermeier, D.V.M., CVA, FAAVA.
If you live in a city that's grey for the majority of the winter, you've probably heard of or have first-hand experience with a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a form of depression that typically affects people during the winter and fall months. Experts believe that the shorter daylight hours during these seasons may trigger symptoms like exhaustion, withdrawal, or irritation. But is it just humans that suffer from SAD? Or can the gloomy weather affect your soulful sidekicks as well?
Figo's here to help you identify if your pet is suffering through a seasonal slump, and give some tips and tricks to keep tails wagging all winter.
Can dogs get seasonal depression? What about cats?
Some owners claim that their dogs and cats seem more depressed during the gloomy winter months. Their pets sleep more, are grumpier, or just aren't interested in doing much.
Many of these symptoms are similar to those experienced by humans affected by SAD. However, not everyone is in total agreement on whether this means pets can get SAD. In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recently stated that there is "no scientific evidence" to prove that dogs are affected by SAD.
That's not to say that dogs can't become depressed. Experts do believe that dogs can experience depression for various reasons, but it is usually triggered by a specific event. For example, some pets will show signs of depression after losing a long-time companion or even as simple as moving to a new home.
It's also possible that a pet may feel depressed due to behavioral shifts connected to the seasons. For example, you may not be able to take your dog on as many walks during the winter, because it's too wet or too cold for your usual number of outings. Or maybe all of your walks have to be done in the dark before and after you go to work.
Can pets sense depression?
Most dogs and cats are very attuned to their owners' feelings. So, if you are feeling sad and depressed or just less motivated during the winter months, your pet may mirror some of these feelings.
You may notice them sleeping in more, moping, or being less active overall. While these behaviors may seem out of character, your pet should continue to eat and drink normally. If that's not the case, you need to prioritize a vet visit ASAP.
Ways to help pets affected by seasonal depression
Let there be light: Open your shades during the day, so your pets can enjoy the sunlight.
Greater heights: Have perches in warmer areas of the house for cats to relax. Views of the outdoors are a bonus!
Tick-tock: Try to continue your regular schedule and routine when it comes to feeding
Schedule smart: Continue regular walks or play. If done in dark hours be sure to wear bright clothing and lights!
Brain games: When the weather is bad, consider doggy daycare or games at home (such as food puzzles or laser pointer for cats).
Enlist in help: A dog walker during the day if mornings are too dark before or after work. Many will also visit with your cat during the day as well!
Ninja warrior: Working on training or agility skills indoors. Set up mini obstacles down the hall or throughout your space to provide mental and physical stimulation.
Quality time: Provide more 1:1 cuddle time, a benefit for you and your pet!
Keep an eye on your pet
Another reason why your pet may not be their normal happy self? Your companion could have a physical condition affecting their mood. If your pet's mood does not improve after a few days, or you notice changes in appetite or water intake, you may need to contact your veterinarian.
Don't forget: regular vet visits and investing in pet insurance are two ways you can help ensure that your pet lives a healthy and happy life, no matter the season.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.