by  Claudia Bensimoun

We love our furry -best friends. We take them on vacation with us, to outside cafes, exclusive doggie daycares and sometimes even create a trust fund for them. But do we really understand them? What if they were depressed? Would we understand why and could we help them overcome the winter blues?

If you and your dog enjoy parks, traveling and plenty of outdoor activities, your dog no doubt enjoys the open space and lots of sunlight. Given the inevitability of rain, snow and cold weather in the fall, dogs are often faced with a change of schedule; change of environment and with being indoors for long periods of time. They can’t tell you how gloomy they feel, but there are certain tell tale signs. Across the U.S., Canada and Europe, dogs at home, in daycares or at kennels suffer from seasonal affective disorder.(SAD)

Why is Seasonal Affective Disorder So Common in Dogs? 

Dogs, as pack animals are not genetically made to spend long periods of time alone indoors. Combine long periods of time alone with our modern dog’s lifestyle, which normally includes less exercise during the fall and perhaps longer stays at kennels when we are away or a new pet sitter and presto: SAD. Given that our furry- best friends need sunlight, regular exercise and hardly any change in their daily routine, we need to help them during the winter months –overcome the winter blues.

What Causes SAD? 

SAD in canines, as in people, is influenced by the amount of sunlight that your dog is exposed to. It is a type of depression. Nonetheless, it only affects dogs and humans during the same season each year. You may notice your furry -best friend feeling gloomier during the winter months, yet when April and May arrive, he is more energetic and has a healthier appetite. This is called winter depression and is caused by the lack of full spectrum light that sunlight provides. Lack of sunlight reduces the production of melatonin, which in turn will lead to depression, drowsiness and sometimes anxiety. Lack of full spectrum light also results in low levels of serotonin. Dogs suffering from low levels of serotonin, a hormone that serves as a neurotransmitter, will display symptoms of depression, aggression and have mood changes.

Research suggests that restoring the chemical balance is not done easily, since serotonin cannot be given as a shot or in pill form. Many veterinarians when faced with a depressed or anxious pet will turn to drugs that are most often prescribed for humans. If the idea of giving your dog Prozac or a “serotonin reuptake inhibitor” (SRI) makes your heart ache, then learning about the predicable and natural ways of manipulating your dog’s environment, such as using light therapy which simulates the brightness of sunlight is the way to go. If you find yourself compelled to switch on more lights in your home when your pets appear to be withdrawn, passive or even aggressive, then keep in mind that normal household lights do not emit adequate amounts of light to help balance the mood and behavior of dogs and cats.

Symptoms of SAD

While we all enjoy lounging on the sofa and bed with our furry - best friends, there is nothing wrong in taking note of a few simple symptoms that your pet may be displaying. Is your dog or cat over anxious? Perhaps less playful? Or gradually spending most of his days sleeping, displaying little interest in new foods or toys? Dedicated pet parents sometimes will fall into a trap of overfeeding during the winter months or gradually accustoming ourselves to our pet’s lack of enthusiasm. The very behavior that humans with SAD display is similar to that of pets suffering from SAD. Pets suffering from winter depression need for us as pet parents to recognize the symptoms and to make all the necessary changes to combat SAD. Just because you enjoy the grey skies and snow, doesn’t mean that your furry-best friends have to as well.

Prevention Checklist for SAD During the Holidays

Most of us exercise less in the fall. Less exercise in your dog’s daily schedule will induce depression. When exercise decreases, your pets produce fewer endorphins. Guess what? These endorphins are what make him feel good. The very behavior that increases the risk of canine depression during the winter months is the one we all repeatedly choose to maintain. If the idea of going jogging in the rain with Fido does not appeal to you, then think about the subsequent consequences. Changes of schedule, less exercise and more indoor time do more than just trigger off behavioral changes in your pets. Like us, dogs need regular exercise every day to feel good. With little or no exercise, healthy pets will be more prone to SAD. Giving your dog the benefits of a predicable daily routine will decrease feelings of anxiety, helplessness and aggression.

Do Your Pets Enjoy Pet Vacays Or Going to the Kennels?

Either way, these environmental changes are not what your pets envisioned for themselves during the holidays. After all, with so much bustle and excitement, visitors and all that wonderful holiday food, who would want to leave home? Dogs need security and stability. The combination of dreary kennels with little or no sunlight and separation anxiety can also trigger off SAD. Dedicated pet parents may suggest the use of the Sol Box for their boarded pets during the winter months when there is limited sunlight. Most kennels are only too happy to oblige a dedicated dog lover.

Taking your furry-best friend with you on holiday? Try keeping him accustomed to being crated, going in and out of his crate and also going to new places. Travel is stressful, whether by car or plane. Going over simple pet etiquette rules that would make you and your furry-best friend great hotel guests, will also reduce stressful situations. If your canine does not understand what is expected of him during hotel stays and travel, you will find yourself at odds with your dog. Hotel rooms can be depressing for pets. Giving your dog the benefit of a Sol Box and bringing it along for winter travels will enable your pets to enjoy a fun holiday with their pet families and to pursue fun interests that everyone can enjoy.

Is your Dog Being Submissive?

Submissive behavior patterns similar to those exhibited by low ranking dogs in a pack may become evident. Bonding with their pet parents is an expression of canine love. Should a change in the family unit occur, such as the inclusion of a pet sitter, your pets can become emotionally affected. Emotional identification connects your furry-best friend to his human family. Should this human connection be broken with everyone leaving on vacation and a new pet sitter arriving, depression may set in. Add the winter blues, and even a well-adjusted pet will face behavioral problems. 

Changes in Health 

Depression is often brought on by illness. Lavishing your pets with the best in veterinary care and maintaining regular physicals at least twice a year guarantees the knowledge that your pet’s depression is not brought on by an illness. Brain chemistry is also affected by your dog’s sense of smell. Certain smells like lavender may improve his mood by changing his brain chemistry.

How is SAD Treated?

Veterinarians often recommend light therapy to treat SAD. Being informed about non-invasive and low cost treatments that are natural and certainly cost less than yearly supplies of doggie Prozac, allows for pet parents to maintain control over their pets emotional well-being. Using a full spectrum light therapy that is generated through a light box and emits light on all wavelengths helps ease the winter blues.

Whether you are a pet parent or a shelter volunteer that has recently been affected by a depressed pet, here are a few suggestions that may ease your dog’s emotional pain.

Introduce your dog to the pack at your local dog park. Your furry-best friend may be shy at first or just too depressed for any sort of interaction. Bring along a Frisbee or ball and get those endorphins going.

Prepare a home cooked meal of salmon, sweet potato,broccoli and brown rice. Hand feed him with Bach playing in the background. Adding some Omega 3,6, 9’s helps combat depression.

Consider calling in a pet masseur and lavishing your dog with an aroma therapeutic massage. After the massage you can wrap your dog in a warm towel for further relaxation. Using only vegan products provides total emotional relaxation.

Unless you’re leaving for Tokyo, taking your furry-best friend along on short trips creates that alone time together. Dogs simply relish being alone with their pet parents. Shopping for the latest in interactive canine toys and of course, the Sol Box helps ease canine boredom and depression when you’re out and about. Dogs have emotional ups and downs. As long as we are committed to pinpointing these emotional lows and creating effective changes in our pet’s environment, canine depression and SAD can be treated effectively in a natural way.