Pet experts explain how to support our dogs during the winter

Pet experts explain how to support our dogs during the winter

As the colder weather and darker days are upon us, it’s normal for some of us to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – in fact, one in three Brits experience symptoms.

The reason this happens is due to our brains’ chemistry when the drop in daylight hours combined with chillier temperatures causes the human brain to produce less serotonin and more melatonin. This causes a chemical imbalance that produces SAD symptoms.

Low mood, a lack of sleep and a loss of appetite are just some of the symptoms associated with SAD.

But it seems that our dogs can also be affected and can go through their own ruff time (pardon the pun) if they are able to pick up on changes to owners’ behaviour during the seasonal changes.

A study by the UK’s leading vet charity, People’s Dispensary of Sick Animals (PDSA), revealed that a third of dog owners noticed a downward turn in their pet’s mood during the colder months.

Half of the owners studied also reported that their pets slept for longer periods of time, while 20 per cent noted that their pets were significantly less active.

As a result of the study’s findings, we spoke to the head of clinical behaviour at the RSPCA Lorella Notari and pet expert at Webbox Naturals Julie Butcher on how we can support our pooches during the colder season.

Notari said: “There’s no clear evidence to suggest that dogs can be impacted by seasonal affective disorder itself but changes to owners’ behaviour due to the season can definitely have an impact on their daily routine and, therefore, their mental wellbeing.”

Butcher, meanwhile, notes how studies have shown “that humans share a lot of the same brain chemistry with dogs” and therefore it’s conceivable that they may possibly experience a similar chemical imbalance to those of us who experience SAD.

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Here are some of their top tips to follow if you notice any changes in your dogs’ behaviour.

Keep up your summer routine through the winter months

Butcher says: “Try to keep their daily routine up throughout the winter months. Whilst we do appreciate that windy walks in the rain may not be as inviting as those lovely warm summer strolls, it’s important to keep your dog stimulated by new sights and smells.

“With less sunshine throughout the winter months, a daily walk may also be the only chance your dog gets to experience some natural sunlight, so try to get out during the day if you can.”

Notari also added how it is “vital that you ensure your dog has continued levels of exercise and stimulation to keep them happy during the winter months.”

Remember that every dog is different

“Some dogs may receive less outdoor activity and reduced exercise during the colder, wet and darker winter months and this can cause boredom and frustration for our dogs,” Notari said.

“For others, winter can actually be less challenging for them as the hot summer weather but it’s important to protect our pets and keep them safe during both hot and cold seasons.”

Ensure your dog keeps warm during cold weather

“With the colder weather taking hold, the freezing temperature will no doubt affect all of our moods so just like we would want to keep warm, we need to ensure we do the same for our pooches.

“It’s really important to keep your dogs warm during the colder weather - especially if they’re ageing or have underlying health conditions,” Nortari explained.

Encourage indoor activity

“It’s important to ensure that dogs frequently have opportunities for stimulation and entertainment, so make time to interact with your dog throughout the day,” Butcher said.

“You could also invest in some sensory pet toys that will give your pooch something to play with, even if you’re not at home.”

Improve your internal lighting

“You could even purchase special light boxes that are designed to replicate natural sunlight to help alleviate the effects of SAD. While these products are designed by humans, it’s something that could also have a positive effect on your pooch.”

Butcher added: “If you’d rather not disturb your current lighting situation, simply moving your dog’s bed nearer a sunny-side window could help them soak up the natural rays better.”

Look after yourself

“Many people agree that pets will often react to and reflect their owner’s moods, so it’s important that you look after your own mental health – especially if you’re worried about your pets’.

“Focus on your stress levels, and make sure that you’re not outwardly projecting any negative characteristics around your pet that they could pick up on.”

Notari similarly voiced this point and added how “changes to owners’ behaviour due to the season can definitely have an impact on their daily routine and, therefore, their mental wellbeing.”

For further information, visit the RSPCA and Webbox website

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