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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do dogs suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?


Is your dog SAD?

My friend Marjean and I were talking the other day and she said that she thought her pooch Rosie was seemingly a bit depressed. Lately Rosie was not so quick to give up her spot on the recliner or otherwise play until she was brought outside at which time she acted not like a 12 year old dog, but like a puppy again.

So she asked me… well let’s be honest here… Marjean’s retired from all things work related so in a round about way, she suggested I look into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as it pertains to dogs. Humans suffer from this in the winter months (aka winter blues), so there was some curiosity after our discussion if dogs did as well.

In people, Seasonal Affective Disorder is thought to bring on crying, fatigue, lethargy, anxiety and an insatiable appetite for Reese’s. Okay, okay, I added the whole Reese’s part, but there is a desire for sweets.

So I went in search for an answer because after all, what are friends for? (Beside taking your money, food, alcohol, and borrowing your car.) Delightfully that brings us here!

I found sites that both agreed and disagreed with the theory that dogs suffer from this during the winter months or even during other extended bad weather intervals. Seasonal Affective Disorder is thought to come from the lack of sunlight that affects a hormonal balance in humans.

In reading different articles according to one that I read on Dr. Jon’s pet place, Dr Nick Dodman, professor and director at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine says your dog is more likely mirroring your feelings and not suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
On the other hand, in this same article it is stated that dogs can become depressed or grieve at the loss of a loved one. Is it depression or grief or are we putting our own ‘human emotional’ title to it?

To me it would stand to reason that if you are locked in your house due to gray skies or cold weather, your blues (or lack of energy) may indeed be put upon the dog. Most of us are not likely to go out and play fetch in -15 degree weather unless we are Eskimos, nor would your dog be entertained inside by viewing a great movie or TV show as we would during this period!
So what’s a dog to do? 
I have heard the story of the dog of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier whose owner passed and was buried in the churchyard. Supposedly the dog went and lay on the grave of the owner for the next 14 or 15 years until he too eventually passed away.

But theoretically we know that dogs have a keen sense of smell so could the dog have distinguished the odor of owner’s clothing upon burial and so thought it was there he should sit and wait for him? Did the dog suffer from separation anxiety so badly that he stayed by the grave site because it was the last place he detected the owner to be?

These are my thoughts and questions viewed with a little common sense minus the human emotion. Deciphering which is correct is the hard part! Who knows, maybe human emotion and common sense can go together.

Hey, my late Cocker Spaniel Cody suffered with what humans have labeled as separation anxiety and it was first noted when I had to go out to a job related in-service training in the evening hours. The weather started turning gray and stormy. Peter tried to call Cody inside to get him out of the pouring rain but the dog would not move from that gate, which was the last place he saw me. Cody stood in the downpour staring at the gate until I came home three hours later.

So what emotion would we put on that? Sorrow, blues, loss, depression, absence, anxiety, or the fear that if left in Peter’s hands the dog would not be made to feel quite as loved?

To date I have a house full of Newfoundlands and one Golden Retriever. They all sleep 80 percent of the day. So are they mirroring my mood as I sit in my room working with blinds halfway closed as Dr Dodman stated? Are they in need of more sunshine to make them peppier? Or, are they perfectly fine just lying around? Like me, they are older so maybe they enjoy the rest and relaxation. I doubt a puppy would get such pleasure out of this routine, but we’re all practically retired in this house and we’ve earned the rest!

But please don’t underestimate the possibility of your dog’s health being in jeopardy either. If your dog is acting depressed don’t just assume it is the winter blues, have the dog examined for other illnesses. Your vet can take a blood test and rule out serious illnesses that might be the cause of your dog’s sluggishness.

A look at 2 chemicals in the body affected by direct sunlight that may give us a clue to SAD in Dogs

From what I have found, darkness and light (not artificial light) can reduce or improve two chemicals of the brain which can lead to a tired, lack luster kind of feeling or one that will lift the spirit and energy level. Either of the two can lead to behavior changes in both people and dogs.

Serotonin: a serum that gives tone. Serotonin is found throughout the body, but only a small portion is in the brain. In the brain it affects appetite, mood, and sleep. So the lack of it in the brain can possibly have an affect on the mood in animals. Sunlight is necessary for production of serotonin which is the ‘feel good’ substance in the brain and which is also contained in sweets, so that may be why people tend to eat more sweets in a darkened/ inside atmosphere.

Hmm, will opening my blinds and positioning my desk toward the window help me to stay away from Reese’s? Food for thought!

Melatonin : A hormone produced in the pineal gland which plays a role in regulating sleep and reproductive cycles. In many animals, melatonin also regulates the physical effects that occur in response to seasonal changes, such as the growth of a thicker coat for winter months. The pineal gland responds to low light conditions so as the sun goes down the gland begins to produce melatonin. Melatonin, in turn, causes a person to relax and get sleepy. Melatonin levels are affected by light exposure to the eyes which rise during the day and fall at night to help regulate the body’s sleep patterns.

So with the above brain chemicals taken into account for mood, boost the Serotonin levels by increasing sunlight. Open all your blinds and bring some of that natural sunlight into the home. Get yer Long Johns, snow pants, and boots on and drag your pooch out in the sun for a while during these winter months, or realize that the dog may be a bit more moodier than normal if stuck inside the house with artificial light.

In closing, I would like to thank my friend who talked me into doing this blog article because with this expanded information, I have now diagnosed myself as a pathetic, manic depressive, quite possibly with a  twist of by-polar tendencies! Great! No wonder I’m eating my way into oblivion!

Untill next time, eat two Reese's and call me in the morning! 


  1. It was a real surprise for me when I found out that animals suffer from SAD, as well as, people do.
    I have some tips for human treatment here: