It’s nearly time for spooky costumes, dazzling fireworks and warm drinks on frosty nights. But first, on this Sunday 28th, the clocks fell back. This might mean you get that much needed extra hour in bed, but shorter days mean some of us will struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this winter. You might be surprised, but did you know that research suggests dogs might suffer from the changes in daylight and temperature as well?
SAD causes symptoms of depression in humans including lethargy, sleeping problems, altered appetite, social withdrawal, a higher risk of illness and a lack of concentration when the winter months come in, according to Mind. It can feel only too tempting to head to bed as soon as the sun disappears with these symptoms, which make everyday tasks feel much harder than normal. If you think this sounds familiar, you’re not alone: BBC research shows 1 in 20 people in the UK suffer from these symptoms.
These changes in mental health could also be true for dogs. According to a survey from The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, 1 in 3 people noticed changes in their dog's mood during winter, describing them in ways such as less playful or depressed. Although this study was quite subjective and based around human emotional perception, the ‘winter blues’ might apply to these behaviours. Other observations that might apply include a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in your dog for things that they normally enjoy (tricks training, treats, walks, even barking at the postman), changes in appetite and lower energy levels. It could be worth monitoring these behaviours to judge whether you agree with the findings of this study.
If you do agree with the findings and think your dog might suffer from persistent low moods during darker months, there's a few things you could try. Since humans love natural light too, try putting their bed or mat somewhere in the house that's close to natural light sources. On walks, don't just plod beside them, checking your phone for messages; be engaged and you'll both have more fun! There's games of chase to be had, hide-and-seek, fetch and much more to enthuse your dog, and to keep them active on chilly walks.
You could also make an effort to tick off something fun from this list everyday to improve their overall mood:
- a daytrip or short walk somewhere new (check out our last blog on new routes in your area)
- jogging together
- fetching toys
- visit to a dog-friendly pub or café
- dog playdates
- blowing some bubbles for them to catch
- testing out or teaching a new trick
- researching massage techniques for dogs
- making homemade obstacle courses in the house or garden
Even if you’ve only got a small amount of time, your dog’s wellbeing is always enhanced by a fun break in their everyday routine.
There's plenty of help out there for you if you think you might have SAD yourself. Mind's page on support and treatment can tell you about potential treatment options and which professionals you can talk to if you're concerned, as well as self-help you can try. The Mental Health Foundation has also found that pets can benefit people with depressive symptoms, inducing feelings of relaxation when cuddling pets and encouraging social encounters on walks.
If you'd like to join us on our own doggy walk, there will be plenty of pups and people at The Great Dog Walk Together next month on November 24th. There are also lots of great organisations for spending time with other people's dogs more regularly, such as BorrowMyDoggy - spending a few hours cuddling or walking a dog can lift your mood hugely.
If you and your dog would like to help other people, there’s information on how to sign you and your dog up to visiting nursing homes, hospitals and schools to cheer up others who might be feeling the affects of winter particularly hard on the Pets as Therapy website.
Keep an eye out for your family and friends, yourself and your dog this winter and make an extra special effort towards those who might seem more withdrawn - it's always nice to go the extra mile towards making someone feel their best.