Vet Q&A: Does the change in seasons affect pets?

by PDSA Vets | 21 October 2020 #VetQ&As

We all know that people can get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) this time of year and it might seem like our pets are under the weather too, but how much do the seasons really affect pets?

SAD – sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ – is something people can suffer with around this time of year. If you’re starting to feel down in the dumps, you might be wondering if your pet feels it too, and if the change in season has an effect on them.


Do pets get Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Unlike us, our pets can’t actually suffer with SAD. If they seem a little off over the gloomier months, this could just be because we’re feeling down and we naturally project our feelings onto our pets.

You might think that because the weather gets worse around this time of year, your pet won’t want to go out as much. While this may be true in some cases, most of the time your pet will be happy to go out whatever the weather.

Most dogs will still be excited to go out for their normal walks come rain or shine, but even if they don’t seem as keen in the colder months it’s still important to encourage them to get some exercise. Maybe try a short stroll somewhere sheltered instead. Not great news for us though – better get the wellies and raincoat ready!

With cats who have free access to the outdoors, you might find that they choose to stay inside a little more than usual (especially if it’s wet). This may not just be because of the weather, for example small animals going into hibernation so there’s nothing to hunt outside. If they are spending more time indoors, try to schedule extra playtime so they don’t get bored and to keep them active.

If your rabbits and guinea pigs normally have access to an outside run, they’ll often still want to go out. Just make sure they have plenty of shelter from the wind and rain as well as a snuggly home filled with plenty of hay where they can go to if they want to rest and warm up.


So how do the colder seasons affect pets?

Even though our pets don’t get SAD, they can seem a little different over autumn and winter, especially as the weather turns cooler. There are a number of changes you may notice in your pet over these months:

  • Eating more. You might notice your pet appears hungrier over cooler months. There are lots of reasons this could be happening. One theory is that even though our cats and dogs have been domesticated for years, the instinct to build up fat stores so they have the energy to stay warm over the winter still remains. It could also be that as we’re spending more time with them in winter, we’re around to see them eating so it seems like they’re more hungry. Keep an eye on them and if it gets to a point where they’re hungry all the time and it’s starting to make them stressed or anxious or if they seem to be gaining weight, give the vet a call to make sure there’s nothing more serious causing it.
  • Sleeping more. You might notice your pet prefers to nap a little longer, especially as evenings and mornings get darker. Again, there’s a good chance this could be a very deep instinct to make sure your pet can make the most of the daylight and to preserve energy over colder months. It’s important to make sure your pet is still getting all the exercise they need, though. Take a look at our guides on exercising dogs and exercising cats.
  • Stiff joints. As the temperature drops, pets who suffer from arthritis or stiff joints might find it a little harder and start to slow a bit more. Try to keep them warm and comfortable, and call your vet if you’re worried or think they’re getting worse. You can take a look at some joint care tips on our blog.
  • More shedding. You might find your pet sheds more during the autumn months due to the process of moulting where their thicker winter coat kicks in, so you might find more hair around the home. Try giving them a brush more often and take a look at our fur-busting tips. If you’re noticing bald patches or itchy skin, this could be a sign of a skin problem so contact your vet for help.


How can I take care of my pet in cooler months?

There are lots of things you can do to take care of your pet in cooler months. Our top tips are:

  • Think about getting a coat for older dogs or those with thinner fur. You can read about finding a dog coat in our free guide.
  • Make sure to keep your home a good temperature for your pet and give them a comfy, cosy space to curl up in.
  • Pay more attention to older pets and make sure you call the vet if they’re struggling with the drop in temperature.
  • Consider providing extra litter trays for cats reluctant to go outside.
  • Don’t stop exercising your pet! They’ll still need to get just as much exercise as they normally would to keep them healthy and stop them getting bored. If it’s too cold or wet for playtime outdoors, why not try a game or fun toy to keep your cat, dog or rabbits entertained indoors instead?

We have lots of extra information about caring for your pet in our free guides:

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