Treat your pets to light therapy - simulated sunshine

by Sally Gutteridge

Does your dog or cat become tired in the winter months? Perhaps they seem different but you simply can’t define why or maybe a much loved pet shows obvious signs of depression when the days get shorter?    

Your pet may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as Seasonal Depression or the condition simply called SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) carries the same symptoms as depression and manifests in exactly the same way. This is because it is actually an increasingly recognized form of depression. It is a physical disorder that causes problems which appear as psychological, this is because depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that changes the way we think and feel.  

There are rarely cases of Seasonal depression in geographical areas with much daylight throughout the year. In areas where winters are dark and daylight is substantially reduced the disorder is becoming increasingly common in people and symptoms are being recognized in dogs and cats.


Your Pet and the Winter Blues

Many veterinarians and organized studies now recognize that domestic animals also suffer from a depressed state of mind and sometimes prescribe medication to help alleviate the symptoms. Seasonal depression in our pets however is poorly publicized at this point in time. So as responsible and loving pet owners it is important that we observe our own domestic animals carefully particularly if they do show behavior changes in the winter months. Dogs and cats cannot tell us when they feel a bit low or lethargic. They rely on us to notice their change in behavior and offer them some help to feel better. The signs that a domestic canine or feline is feeling depressed can vary, but if the behavior or mood of your pet changes as days become gloomy he may have symptoms of SAD. 

 Here are some of the most common symptoms;

- Tiredness and extra sleeping it may be difficult to wake your pet or encourage them to go into the garden/for a walk

- Excessive hunger or lack of interest in food, your pet may seem famished and become highly distracted by food or not want to eat anything at all

- Your pet may display listless behavior such as disinterest in usual activities and just seem to carry a general low mood.

- Behavior problems based in anxiety may appear. Your pet will not know why he or she feels this way and may become anxious and this will often cause behavior changes.

Your pet may display listless behavior such as disinterest in usual activities and just seem to carry a general low mood.
Behavior problems based in anxiety may appear. Your pet will not know why he or she feels this way and may become anxious and this will often cause behavior changes.  


The Cause of Seasonal Depression is as simple of lack of sunlight reaching the retina. The brain then responds to this by an inability to produce the hormone that maintains mood in the sufferer. This hormone is called serotonin and the brain can be encouraged to produce more ‘better mood’ hormones by taking regular medication. Lack of sunlight also encourages the brain to increase its production of the hormone melatonin; this is the one that sends us to sleep when it goes dark at night. Medication does work to combat depression in many cases. Prescription drugs can be very useful in providing a stepping stone for the sufferer to move up into a clearer state of mind. Seasonal depression sufferers however often stay away from medical inception in favor of more natural treatment. There are many reasons for this including the side effects of medication and an avoidance of constant chemical ingestion during every winter season.
Our pets cannot tell us whether the medication is working or whether they have any distressing side effects, we simply have to watch their behavior carefully.  

Light Therapy

Light therapy is chosen as a natural remedy and many sufferers state that by introducing light into their homes over the winter months the symptoms have dissipated to a more manageable level. Symptoms have sometimes disappeared altogether without the need of any drugs at all. 

Light therapy is far more than just turning all of the electric lights on in the home. Electric lighting is so poor in comparison to sunlight that it has no effect at all on sufferers of SAD. It simply cannot reach the area of the eye that it needs to in order to produce the same result as sunshine. To be successful the retina must receive the equivalent of bright sunlight on a daily basis for sufficient periods of time.

The benefits of introducing our pets to light therapy are vast.

Extra powerful light provides them with an equivalent of the sunshine that keeps us all healthy.
The important results that light therapy can give without the need for any chemical intervention.
Light therapy is treating the poor mood of our pets in the most natural way we can without moving to sunnier climates.

Choosing a light therapy box can be confusing. The basic rule is to get a box with an output of at least 10,000 lux. There are many cheaper boxes for sale on the internet but they are also low in brightness which is stated as “lux” It is better to buy a more expensive one than go low budget but get poor results. A 10,000 lux light box will, during light therapy treatment provide your pet with exactly what he needs in replacement of the evasive sunshine and dark days of the winter.  Light therapy may even lift your mood too, particularly if you suffer from winter blues.  

The most enchanting thing I found with my pets is that when the light is switched on the animals voluntarily approach and settle down by it. You cannot get a better endorsement that that!