It's not only humans who get the winter blues - millions of animals are affected too, according to a new poll* from veterinary charity, PDSA.It’s not only humans who get the winter blues – millions of animals are affected too, according to a new poll* from veterinary charity, PDSA.
The findings suggest that around eight million** UK pets want to eat more, avoid exercise and are grumpier during the winter months. Vets believe they could be suffering from an animal version of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Now the clocks have gone back and daylight hours are diminishing daily, millions of owners are now likely to see behavioural changes in their dogs, cats and other animals.
In the snapshot poll of UK pet owners*, PDSA found that 68% of pets are ‘grumpier’ in winter months compared to summer. Food and exercise also appear to become problematic with 51% of owners stating their pets eat more in the winter, while 48% say it’s harder to get their pets to exercise. As a result, over a third of these pets reportedly put on weight as they consume more calories than they burn.
According to Elaine Pendlebury, Senior Veterinary Surgeon with PDSA, animals can suffer from depression just like people: “According to our poll, some pets display similar symptoms of the human disorder, SAD, which include fatigue, depressed mood and lack of energy.”
The PDSA survey also found that in the winter:
• 43% of pets have less energy
• 59% of pets sleep for longer periods
• 47% of pets demand more affection from their owners
When comparing the data on cats and dogs there seems to be marked differences between the two species; 68% of cat owners felt their feline friends ate more in the winter months compared to only 34% of dog owners. When it comes to exercise, 61% of cat owners felt it was harder to motivate their cat to exercise, compared to 44% of dog owners.
Elaine continues: “We know that some animals respond to daylight and climate changes, so the very poor summer we’ve just had, combined with the onset of the dark nights, could certainly have an impact on our pets’ behaviour.
“The change in our pet’s mood may be simply due to the cold weather and fewer opportunities to stretch their legs outside, but diet and exercise can play a big part in perking up your pet. Even if you can’t go out, there are various indoor games that you can play with your pet to help cheer them up.”
PDSA is urging owners to kick-start their pets’ winter health care routine to help perk up their ‘miserable mutts’ and ‘frowning felines’. Elaine’s advice to pet owners is very simple: “Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean your pet’s diet and exercise plan shouldn’t fall by the wayside. Even if your pet isn’t in the mood to exercise you should try to encourage them as much as you can. And when it comes to food, the old adage ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’ is just as true for pets as it is for people.”
Elaine adds: “The cause of SAD in people is thought to be linked to the levels of melatonin in the body. Light inhibits the production of melatonin - a hormone which causes us to feel drowsy and down in the dumps. Therefore, when it is darker, more of this hormone is produced and that’s why it’s called ‘the hormone of darkness’.”
Case study: Westie, Gooner
Cute three -year-old Westie, Gooner (named after his owner’s favourite football team, Arsenal) usually has an incredible amount of energy, but his owner Annie Brown (50) from Shifnal in Staffordshire, has noticed a considerable difference in his behaviour and mood during the winter.
“He’s not afraid of the dark”, said Annie , “as he does go out quite late into the evenings in the summer months, but in the Winter, Gooner becomes very subdued and refuses to go out for a walk in the evenings.”
To make sure he does get his daily exercise, Annie has enlisted the help of her Aunt to take her beloved pooch for walks in the day light while she is at work.
Annie added: “He has absolutely no enthusiasm for going out for a walk in the evenings during winter and would prefer to stay in and sleep. I’m willing to go for a walk day or night, in any kind of weather, but no amount of persuasion will get Gooner past the front door.
“Such is the extent of Gooner’s disdain of the Winter months that he will even cross his legs until the very last minute rather than ask to relieve himself!
“In the spring and summer he’s the life and soul, full of boundless energy. He likes nothing more than being outside. Come winter though, his character changes. He’s down in the dumps and craves lots more affection than normal.”