Seasonal Depression and Colds in Pets: Myth or Reality?

We have never been more aware of cold or flu symptoms, and at this point in the year, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also reported to affect around two million people in the UK.

But are these exclusively human conditions, or do our pets suffer too? And what can we do to help our four-legged friends?

Agria Pet Insurance, one of the world’s leading animal insurers, has shared responses to some frequently asked questions on these topics, to help us understand that we’re not alone when it comes to winter conditions.

Can my pet catch the common cold?

Contrary to popular belief, our pets can also catch a cold. Admittedly, not the same cold or flu as humans, but they can show similar symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, or a persistent cough.

Like us, they may want to take things a little easier if they’re feeling under the weather, so you may notice they are less energetic or more sleepy than usual.

Top tip: If you think your cat or dog has a cold, keep them warm, let them rest, and ensure they are drinking enough water. A cold can last for up to 10 days.

If your pet is struggling with their breathing, appears to be in pain, is not eating or drinking, or becomes very lethargic, always call your vet for advice. Never give your pet any medication for cold symptoms unless the vet has prescribed it.

How about seasonal depression in our four-legged friends?

Pets can also be affected by seasonal mood changes, just like humans. Even though they can’t express their feelings the same way, the cold weather, decreased physical activity, or even a lack of interaction with other animals can considerably affect your pets’ wellbeing.

For dogs, the longer hours of darkness, rain, and mud make it harder for them to continue their summer routines. Many will find they walk less and enjoy fewer opportunities to do the ‘dog things’ they need for their well-being. These include using their noses, running, chasing, playing with other dogs, and simply having something to do to use their brain and their energy.

Cats too can find themselves doing a lot less during the winter months, sleeping their way through the wet days and cold nights. Pets that are used to company that are now finding themselves alone again for long periods of time can feel very bored and lonely, which may bring on a persistent lower mood.

How can I cheer my pet up?

If your pet is left alone, organising a pet sitter or dog walker to break up their day can significantly improve their well-being and happiness. It can also help owners reduce the anxiety of knowing their pet is alone.

Like us, having little going on and fewer outlets for fun can get our pets down. All pets appreciate your time, so if they aren’t getting out of the house as much as they would like, make more time together indoors – play with them, groom them, and make mealtimes more fun with interactive feeders.

Top tip: Brave the rain and think about how you could adjust your schedule to give your dog the exercise they love. If you and your dog both have waterproof coats and are clearly visible in low light, walking is still great for you both. Encourage your cat outdoors by spending time with them in the garden; if it’s not raining, try scattering their food so they have to ‘hunt’ for it.

Remember that pets’ low moods can sometimes signify that they are in pain or there is something else wrong. If you are concerned about your pet, do not hesitate to contact your vet for advice.