by Jason Cox
Seasonal affective disorder is defined as a mood disorder that occurs when seasonal changes occur throughout the year, especially during the winter time when there is not sufficient direct sunlight. In addition, known as SAD or winter blues, this disorder occurs to both humans and pets. Dogs and cats are commonly the most affected and symptoms include depression, lack of energy, restlessness, difficulty in sleeping, anxiety, decreased appetite and social withdrawal with its owner or other animals.
Most pets suffer the effects of seasonal affective disorder at some point in their lives, but the effects are more intense and prevalent depending upon location. Pets who reside in regions characterized with harsh winters, heavy snowfall and remarkably low amounts of sunlight tend to be the most affected due to the natural absence of sunlight over a prolonged time, usually lasting up to 4 months.
There are several causes as to why seasonal affective disorder occurs in pets. The most prominent cause is the natural absence of sunlight during the winter season. Pets just like any other living organism rely on direct or indirect sunlight for proper physiological functioning. Particular animal breeds can be more susceptible to the symptoms of this disorder. Some breeds are more resistant to the disorder while others are weaker.
Most pet owners also often overlook the importance for their pets to have adequate sunlight throughout the day. Pets must be kept in outdoor places such as a patio or garden at least a couple of hours every day. Those pets that are kept indoors are more likely to suffer the effects of SAD. The living conditions and location where pets reside or spend most of their time contributes a key factor toward experiencing the harsh effects of this disorder.
As we all know, winter is often perceived as a depressive season full of undesirable weather conditions, snowfall and with the desire to remain indoors. However, the notion that has been acquired among all pet owners is that pets simply feel sad or depressed during the winter time due to the absence of sunlight. The physiological effects that occur to both cats and dogs during SAD are often ignored. One of these primary effects is the inability of the brain receptors to tell the body when to sleep or wake up.
Other physiological mechanisms that take place during the gloomy winter season are focused into the diminished production of vital hormones in the pet’s body. One of these vital hormones is serotonin, which is produced when sunlight impacts the retina and the eye nerves signal the brain to produce serotonin. Many hormones in pets’ body such as serotonin are responsible for proper mental stability, mood stability, temperament and overall well-being. Numerous studies have determined that the production of these hormones is linked to considerable physical and mental conditions in pets.
When sunlight is absent during the winter season, pets encounter a chemical imbalance within the brain which triggers mood swings, mood disorders, anxiety, lethargy and overall mood instability. Given that the mood is primarily affected, the impact on mood can then cause other physiological effects such as decreased physical activity. All these negative effects can also be redirected to the production of hormones that do the exact opposite of what good hormones such as serotonin contribute.
Many scientists have determined the
importance of particular genes in dogs and cats that contribute to the
overall resistance or weakness toward experiencing seasonal affective
disorder. Certain dog and cat breeds, depending upon their ancestors and
inherited genes, may be more resistant to the harsh effects of this
disorder. Likewise, some mutations in genes may contribute to a lower
level of resistance for these same effects, which brings the factor of
genes, the pet’s family history, mutations and environmental factors to
the nature of the disorder. Endocrine disruptors, which are harmful
chemicals derived from the production of food, have also been linked to
the prevalence of this disorder.
One last aspect about the exploration of seasonal affective disorder is its wide prevalence among pets around the world, especially in dogs and cats. An estimated of 20% to 30% of dogs and cats around the world suffer the devastating effects of the disorder every year. While almost 90% of all dogs and cats have experienced these same effects to a lesser extent at some point in their lives. These facts are quite significant in terms of prevalence, representing a crucial need to take of care of pets during the winter time with the proper and effective treatment solutions available for quelling the symptoms associated with the disorder.
There are many treatment options available for alleviating the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. These options include light therapy, socializing more with pets, playing with them, exercising, proper nutrition and maintaining an active lifestyle during the seasonal changes. Even though there are several treatment options available, the most reliable and effective solution is to expose pets to light therapy, which is highly recommended due to its excellent ability to transmit artificial sunlight to pets. No other forms of treatment have proven to be as effective as light therapy given that the main cause of the disorder is the absence of sunlight, an absence that light therapy fulfills within an indoor setting.
Light therapy encompasses light therapy boxes also known as Sol Box from Pawsitive Lighting. Light therapy boxes are lamps that radiate artificial sunlight to an indoor space. Light therapy boxes are medically certified, and UV filtered. They also possess an incredible luminosity of 10,000 luxes. This amount is equivalent degree of sunlight and energy of a clear sky during daylight. The main advantages of light therapy boxes are its straightforward use and immediate alleviation of symptoms derived from SAD.