We know that a lack of sunshine and outdoor activities can lead to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, for humans, but we’re not the only species that can get down in the dumps during winter. Pets experience the same feelings of malaise when their outdoor play is curtailed. Even those in warmer climates feel the effects of weaker winter sunlight.
Just like with people, however, pets can be nursed back to health and happiness with a few modifications to the winter routine. With daily attention to diet and exercise, pets can be healthier, happier, and exhibit fewer behavioral issues when the summer sun is still a fond memory.
Dogs need outdoor time 2-3 times a day, both for elimination and to stimulate the senses and get them moving. Weather usually isn’t a deterrent for our dogs as much as it is for us, so if the prospect of romping in the snow doesn’t appeal to you, hire a dog walker or engage in an indoor game of fetch, tug-of-war or wrestling to help burn off your pup’s energy and stimulate his appetite.
Cats are easily entertained inside, using a laser pointer, string, and anything else that stimulates a cat’s natural predatory instinct. Set up a viewing station for your cat in a window, or invest in an outdoor enclosure that will keep kitty safe and allow for some outside investigating and playtime.
Cut back on the winter pudge by cutting your pet’s calories. All that snow-induced cuddling doesn’t burn many calories, so our pets—just like their owners—may not need as much food during the winter months. You can make them work for their treats, providing activity and stimulus, by freezing them inside a “Kong” or similar treat-based toy. Automated pet feeding systems can also help you keep track of, and even limit, your pets’ food consumption.
Let There Be Light
When the sun keeps its distance in the winter months, pets get downright cranky (who doesn’t?). A depressed pet could express his displeasure by exhibiting inappropriate soiling, aggression, lethargy, and even separation anxiety. According to an Animal Behavior College report, “Light is intimately tied to the functioning of the pituitary and endocrine glands, and can stimulate the body to release hormones that have an uplifting effect on mood.” If it’s too cold to go out, simply open the drapes and let the natural light in, turn up your indoor lights, and consider replacing bulbs with the full spectrum or daylight variety to better simulate a daytime environment. A company called Pawsitive Lighting, has even developed a light box to help conquer those wintertime blues.
Scented toys can really engage an animal’s interests and natural stalking instincts, also keeping them occupied and mentally focused as they try to find the source of the smell. Luckily dogs respond to a variety of smells and there are seemingly infinite availability of toys that engage that legendary canine olfactory prowess. A game of hide and seek can go a long way with your pooch!
For cats that respond well to catnip, there are catnip and other “play sprays” that can be squirted onto indoor climbing structures, cardboard boxes, and scratching posts. A multi-story cat climber or “tree” with strategically placed treats or scented play toys can readily get kitty jumping and stalking his prey, a natural behavior that will improve attitude and lead to better and more restful sleep for everyone in the house.