Most of us are familiar with the Winter Blues- feelings of sadness, depression, and lethargy that can last the whole winter. The Winter Blues are officially known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. It is caused by a reduced amount of sunlight during the winter. In northern climates, where there is less sunlight during winter than in southern climates like ours, S.A.D. affects people at a higher rate. But even here in South Texas, we can be affected by it. A study showed that 2% of the Florida population is affected by S.A.D, and in New Hampshire it affects 10%. S.A.D. is caused by the effect that the reduced amount of sunlight has on hormones. Reduced sunlight causes an increase in melatonin (a hormone which is produced at night that causes sleepiness and lethargy) and a decrease in serotonin (a hormone which is produced in daylight and regulates appetite, mood, and sleep and is used in antidepressant medications). The recommended treatment for S.A.D. is often light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This is where you spend a certain amount of time each day in front of a lamp that simulates daylight. However, some experts agree that any modern compact fluorescent white light bulb that is advertised as being “full spectrum” or “daylight” is just as effective.
What does this have to do with your dog, you ask? Has your dog been more lethargic lately? Lying around like a big, furry lump on the floor with none of his or her usual vitality and enthusiasm? Paying no attention whatsoever to things that usually drive them crazy, like the cat across the street? Acting clingier than usual with you? You should always consult a veterinarian, but if you have ruled out other physical ailments, it could be that your dog is also suffering from S.A.D. Studies suggest that dogs can suffer from it as well. In a survey of dog owners in the United Kingdom, 40% of survey participants saw a downturn in their dog’s mood during the winter. Half of the participants reported that their dog slept longer, two out of five reported that their dog was less active overall, and one of four reported that their dog’s appetite increased.
The suggested therapy for dogs is similar to that for humans- when your dog is indoors, use full-spectrum light bulbs that simulate daylight. Also, put your pet’s bed near a window or skylight to make the most of what little natural sunlight there is. In addition to this, if it is possible and your schedule allows, try to take your dog for a walk or let your dog outside during the brightest daylight hours. By helping your dog, you will be helping yourself as well.
To learn more about S.A.D. and how it affects our pets, check out this article from Psychology Today. Also check out these books at the McAllen Public Library about Seasonal Affective Disorder and these books for all things dog-related.