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The Ruff Report: Don't let the winter blues get hold of your pet

Lack of sunlight, cold and snow, and curtailed outdoor activities can be depressing for anyone, including our pets, and those winter blues can have serious health consequences for dogs and cats, too, a leading veterinarian warns.

Many pets deal with the psychological effects of wintertime by sleeping too much, overeating and avoiding exercise, a routine that can lead to obesity and other illnesses, according to Dr. Elaine Pendlebury of PDSA, a leading veterinary charity in Britain.

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean your pet’s diet and exercise plan should fall by the wayside," Dr. Pendlebury states in a media release. "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.”

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According to a PDSA survey of pet owners, 40 percent of dogs and 33 percent of cats suffer symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition that causes depression from lack of sunlight.

The cause of SAD in people is thought to be linked to the levels of melatonin in the body," Dr. Pendlebury explained. "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’.”

The symptoms displayed by pets - fatigue, depressed mood and decreased interest in activities - are similar to those of people, according to PDSA. A pet may hide in a corner and sleep all day, show little interest in going outside, get up briefly and binge eat, and quickly return to the corner hideaway.

According to the PDSA survey, one-third of pets that suffer from wintertime depression put on weight from consuming more calories than they burn.

The PDSA survey also found:
  • 68 percent of pets are ‘grumpier’ in winter months compared to summer.
  • 51 percent of pets eat more in the winter. 
  • 48 percent of owners say it is harder to get their pets to exercise. 
  • 43 percent of pets have less energy. 
  • 59 percent of pets sleep for longer periods.
  • 47 percent of pets demand more affection from their owners.
Pet parents can help cheer up their dogs and cats, Dr. Elaine Pendlebury says. "Owners need to kick-start their pet's winter health routine with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet."

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PDSA offers these tips to help brighten your pet's mood:
  • Play hide and seek. This will get your pet's legs and brain into action. Hide your pet's favorite toy and encourage him to sniff it out. Make your dog work for his food as well by putting a savory food treat in an activity toy. Even cats will enjoy this.
  • The name game. Use a group of friends, get them individually to call your dog and give a reward when he goes to the correct caller. 
  • Mobiles. Cat mobiles hung from a door or hook will create hours of fun.
  • Boxes of fun. Boxes can be used to provide entertainment for your cat or dog by creating tunnels for your pet to run in and out of. 
  • Pet talk. Talking to your pet and giving it a cuddle will bring lots of cheer.

The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on


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