Welcome to our Peculiar Pet Facts series, where we investigate the oddities of our pets and explore the science behind them.
Have you ever just wanted to sleep the winter away? Just snuggle up on the couch with your favorite furry friend, pull an afghan (the blanket, not the dog) over your head and tell people to wake you when the days are long and the mornings are warm? Did you know that your pet might feel the same way?
If you’ve ever wondered if your dog or cat sleeps more in the winter months, you might be on to something. While there aren’t many studies about pets’ seasonal sleeping habits, it stands to reason that with shorter days and more inside time, what’s a pet to do but curl up and take an extra snooze every few hours? It might fall under the category of “anecdotal evidence” but it’s not too difficult for a pet owner to clock their own pets’ sleeping habits as fall fades into winter.
If you do find that your pet is sleeping the day away even more than usual, there might be a reason — the same reason, in fact, that might cause your desire to snuggle in for the season: seasonal affective disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms sap people’s energy and cause “moodiness” from the end of fall and throughout winter. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy and feeling sluggish
- Having problems with sleeping too much
- Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain
If any of these symptoms can be seen in your pet this winter, they might have the winter blues.
UK Pets Have the SADs?
In 2013, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals conducted a study of U.K. pet owners about SAD and pets. Forty percent of participants reported a “downturn in mood” in their pets when the days get shorter and temperatures get colder. Even more telling: half of participants reported their animals slept more and four out of ten noticed that their pets were less active. One in three cat owners specifically said that their feline friends seemed “sadder” than usual, and 25 percent of all respondents said that their pets were eating more.
While this study is far from conclusive, there are some very real reasons that your pet’s mood might be negatively impacted during winter.
There Goes the Sun
Sunlight impacts melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Melatonin is produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Low melatonin levels can cause daytime sleepiness as well as disruptive normal sleep, which can in turn cause exhaustion.
Sunlight also helps produce serotonin, which is partially responsible for the brain’s ability to make you feel good. For people, many anti-depressant medications boost serotonin in order to ward off the bad feelings. Serotonin is also released into the body when decadent, sugary food is ingested, which might explain why some depressed people (and animals) tend to overeat.
In the winter there are just naturally fewer hours of sunshine, and pets are cooped up inside more often because it’s either too cold, wet or both to go frolic around outside. That means less melatonin to regulate your pet’s sleep patterns and serotonin to “feel good.” Does that count as a form of depression? We might never know our pets’ true thoughts and feelings, but it can certainly appear as a form of depression.
Your Mood Is Their Mood
You ever notice how when you talk to your dog (and sometimes, even your cat) in an excited manner, they get all excited? Tails flapping, feet hopping. They’re just excited because you seem excited. Well, the opposite might be true as well. If you are letting the winter blahs get you down, your pet picks up on it and might respond accordingly. A study by the University of Lincoln showed that dogs can and do recognize human emotions. If you act sad, they might notice and act sad as a show of solidarity.
All Sleep and No Play Makes Biscuits a Sad Boy
There’s more practical reason your pet might be experiencing SAD. They might just be bummed out about less playtime. They’re bored, and understandably so. What used to be a nice warm 7 p.m. walk might now be some boring old couch time. Those yard-exploring pee breaks might now be a “run out and run right back in” situation. It’s not just a lack of sunshine getting them down; it’s a lack of playtime. Heck, that might be affecting you as well. And you, in turn, might be impacting your pet’s mood. Winter is a bummer! If you let it be one.
A Little In-and-Out Can Circumvent SAD
There are two things you can do to alleviate SAD symptoms in your pet. The first is obvious. Go outside! Get you and your pet some sunshine and playtime in the great outdoors. Exercise will do you both good and the sun will work its magic.
Of course, excessive outdoors time isn’t always possible when winter rears its chilly head. In those cases, heightened indoor activities are a must. Tug-of-war, tag, hide-and-seek and fetch are just some of the “outdoor” activities that you can easily adapt for interior spaces. Get that blood pumping and wear your pet out naturally. Yeah, they might sleep more, but it’ll be the right kind of sleep.
It’s so peculiar that your pet can be hit with seasonal affective disorder, but it’s not peculiar that you can alleviate the symptoms with just a little effort. And you might feel better yourself!
RELATED POST: A WINTER SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR PETS