If you’re struggling with the winter weather, you may not be the only one. Animal experts say Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or ‘winter depression’ can also affect your pets.
SAD is believed to be caused by a lack of natural light, which causes a part of the human brain called the hypothalamus to struggle to function properly. It interferes with the body’s production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, and disrupts our internal clocks. This causes low mood, lethargy, poor sleep and even feelings of guilt and worthlessness in extreme cases.
Jennifer Dean, a technologist at pet food brand Webbox Natural, argues that as we share much of the same brain chemistry with dogs, so our four-legged friends could feel low at this time of year, too.
Says Jennifer, “There has been no definitive study to confirm categorically that dogs are affected by SAD in the same way humans are, but there’s much anecdotal evidence to suggest that they are.
“They might display a general malaise, a lack of energy or even loss of appetite.
“But there are things you can do to protect your dog and ensure they don’t suffer a drop in mental wellbeing during the winter months.”
It’s believed that symptoms of SAD in dogs include: aggressive behaviour, inappropriate soiling, as well as clawing at the furniture, demanding more attention or appearing withdrawn, sleeping more than usual, less interest in going for walks or playing, reduced appetite and weight loss.
Jennifer has provided her top tips to prevent SAD.
Get out more
Jennifer says, “A good way of improving mood is through exercise, as this increases the firing rate of serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain, increasing serotonin levels. Tryptophan (an amino acid) levels are also raised in the brain for a period of time after exercise, which can then be synthesised into serotonin to prolong the improved mood. Therefore going for longer or more frequent walks with your dog, or just simply playing in the garden with them, will help their mood.”
Improve your own mood
“There have been recent studies which showed how dogs can recognise emotions in humans and other dogs. So if you’re suffering SAD, your dog might pick up on that emotion and become withdrawn, too. Dogs, like us, also get bored. So giving them a focused activity – such as teaching them tricks and rewarding with treats or giving them something to chew – can help to ‘take their mind off’ anything which is frustrating them. Meanwhile increased activity levels lead to increased serotonin and lifted mood.”
Chicken and eggs
“Foods rich in tryptophan could help to increase the serotonin levels in the body and lift mood. And there are a number of dog-friendly foods which contain tryptophan – such as fish, eggs, and poultry. Chicken and egg whites are also an excellent source of protein.”
Whole grains and turkey
“B vitamins help the body metabolise nutrients, including carbohydrates, fats and protein, and also help the nervous system function efficiently, as they are needed by the brain to synthesise neurotransmitters. And they are also referred to as ‘anti-stress’ vitamins as they contribute to immune system function. Dog-friendly foods rich in B-vitamins include whole grains, chicken and turkey.”
Brown rice, carrots and potatoes
“Magnesium can also act to increase energy levels and activate B-vitamins that have the effect mentioned above. Magnesium rich foods include potatoes, brown rice and carrots and thankfully you can find those ingredients in some pet foods. For example, our wet food trays contain brown rice and carrots.”
Foods that boost your dog’s brain function
“Essential fatty acids are important for correct brain function, so foods including fish oil and flax seed are important. Again, certain pet foods contain fish oil, flaxseed, carrot and chicken or turkey.”
Throw open the curtains
“If SADs in pets is triggered in the same way as humans – ie, through a lack of sunlight – the best thing you can do is make sure your blinds and curtains are thrown open as soon as the sun comes up to make sure your home is flooded with natural light. At a fundamental level, it should help to improve mood.”
Get creative indoors
“Dogs are social creatures and crave stimulus. If you think your dog is feeling down, make sure you’re interacting with your companion regularly both inside the home and out of it. Giving them access to a window to the outside world can help, too, as it again provides mental stimulation.”