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Can Cats Suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Can gets get the winter blues?

Wintertime can be hard for many people in cold climates. There's less light, it's harder to get outside, and people can suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which has symptoms like depression, increased appetite, and sleep disturbances.

If you're a cat-owner who lives in a climate that gets cold and dark in the winter, you might have wondered whether your cat can also be affected by SAD. The answer is that we think they can.

People Notice Seasonal Changes in Their Cats

A survey done by the UK organization The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals indicated that 1/3 of cat-owners noticed that their cat's mood and energy levels were lower during the winter than the summer. Not only that, but ¼ of them also noticed an increased appetite in their cat during the darker months.

These findings indicate that some cats, like some people, probably suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

What Is SAD?

SAD is a condition in which people and pets suffer ill effects because of the decreased levels of sunlight present in the cold, dark winter months. Scientists believe the symptoms of SAD are the result of disruptions in two hormone levels: melatonin and serotonin.

Melatonin is produced in the body when it is dark, and it causes sleepy and relaxed feelings. In some people, when melatonin levels get too high, the result is depression. Melatonin production is switched off when natural light hits the retinas, so when it is gloomy outside, those levels might stay elevated throughout the day.

Serotonin levels are also partly regulated by sunlight; its production requires sun, so less light equals lower serotonin levels. Low serotonin is associated with depression and comfort food cravings in humans.

How Can You Help Your Cat Avoid the Winter Blues?

In humans, light therapy can be effective at decreasing the symptoms of SAD. This is probably the case for cats, too, so you can do the following things to help your cat avoid or combat winter blues:

  • Place her bed on a platform by a window through which natural light can stream. If your cat is spending a lot of time in her bed, it's good to have it in the direct line of as much sun as is available.
  • Get a full-spectrum light bulb and play with your cat under it. Aim for an hour a day of hanging out under the full-spectrum bulb with your cat while she is awake.
  • If your cat is leash-trained, get her outside when the sun is out. If you can, get your cat outside during the day whenever the sun is actually out. You should only attempt this if your cat is already leash-trained and comfortable outside and if the weather isn't too cold. You can clear a small area on your sidewalk or grass, so your cat isn't in deep snow. Learn more here: "How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash."

Remember, if you suffer from SAD yourself, these tips can help you, too. However, if you feel depressed or helpless, contact your doctor right away.


References

  1. Stanley Coren PhD., D. F. (2013, January 2). Do Dogs Have Winter Blues or Suffer from SAD? Retrieved from psychologytoday.com.

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