Last reviewed on January 21, 2016
New research shows that even pets get the blues during the time of year when the Earth is tilted away from the sun’s direct intervention. The waning light of winter certainly yields more depressive incidents among the human population—why not our pets?
The study, however flawed, at least shows that people consider their pets to be depressed during these months. They report greater indolence, increased sleep time, and less of an appetite. I question its merits only because true Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) is difficult to establish among humans, let alone in pets. After all, pets may well rest more in the winter, as all mother nature’s creatures tend to do when faced with a diminished opportunity for play or prey time.
Our anthropomorphic sensibilities clearly make way for our observation of quiet during winter time as depression symptoms, when it might, in fact, be a mere storing of energy by way of augmented fat reserves for the busy months to come. Bears, whales, and penguins do it, why not our pets, too?
More interesting, however, is the possibility that what we humans perceive as depression in our pets (and in each other) is heightened by our natural tendencies towards the same. This makes more sense for those living in Fairbanks, Norway, or upper Minnesota than for folk like me living in winterless Miami.
It’s clear from a multitude of studies that melatonin and other dwindling-light-related hormones push us in the direction of quiet contemplation that is perhaps ill-suited to humanity. Why else the suicidal tendencies observed in Northern latitudes where it is cold and dark for longer periods? Genetics? Perhaps genetics are accountable for mental illness in some populations, but why then is the cure thought to be an influx of natural light when the same individuals move southwards, where there are longer days and warmer temperatures?
Pets must surely feel the same as we do to some extent. They too are affected by many of the same mammalian hormones. Does that mean that pets are “happier” in southerly climes as well?
I don’t have an answer, but I do know that SAD exacts a decided toll on humans. It is then reasonable to believe that pets whose breeds are more acclimated to equatorial regions might be more susceptible to the insinuation of this disorder. But who knows? IMO, studies in this vein are only as good as the humans who rank their pets’ behavior in two different climactic zones over a period of years.