How a Change in Seasons (and Environment) Affects Your Dog

How a Change in Seasons (and Environment) Affects Your Dog

Our own moods, feelings, and even health can change drastically with the seasons. If you’ve ever lived with a pet, you know the same goes for them. And also just like us, no two dogs will react to a change in seasons, in the same way, meaning there are different ways to interpret a change in behavior from your pup when the sun finally comes out or the days become shorter, so on and so on.

According to the American Kennel Club, Brachycephalic breeds have difficulty breathing in heat and therefore do best when working to stay cool in hotter weather. These breeds tend to be dogs like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers — dogs that have shorter snouts, which lead to flattened or undersized breathing passages. Long-haired breeds and larger dogs also have difficulty in heat as well, and you’ll likely notice these dogs are far less active when the weather starts to warm up.

And of course, while many of us dread the winter months with their cold and often gloomy days, most of those same long-haired dogs and larger breeds will be noticeably more active and even excitable in frigid temps. They thrive during these times and love to play, while shorthaired breeds, as you’d guess, have a contrasting adjusting to cooler temperatures. Greyhounds, older dogs, and dogs with degenerative joint illnesses will certainly not love frolicking in the snow-covered mountains, for example.

During a seasonal change, your dog can adjust to these shifts gradually, as the change is gradual. However, moving the family to an entirely new climate, for example, can shock your dog and spark more drastic reactions in their mood and even health.

“Understanding the cause of your dog’s sudden lethargy or increased activity can help you determine if his change in mood is circumstantial or medical,” the American Kennel Club says. “Lethargy is a common symptom of many illnesses and should be taken seriously, so make sure your dog is not exhibiting any other abnormal signs. If he is, consult your veterinarian immediately,” adding that some dogs will adjust to a shift to colder weather by seeking out warm places, seeking out human contact, and becoming lethargic. Your pup may seem a bit more cuddly and affectionate, when in fact they’re just adjusting to the changing temperatures.

People regularly endure something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, coincidentally referred to by the acronym “SAD,” when days get shorter and temperatures drop.

“The way we diagnose SAD is to diagnose depression that follows a seasonal pattern,” says Kelly Rohan, Ph.D., professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, Burlington. "Many of the symptoms of SAD are the same as those of clinical, or major, depression—low mood, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, fatigue." 

People with Seasonal Affective Disorder are found to sleep more and eat more as a result of their depression —  contrasting symptoms of major depression in which people tend to lose their appetite as well as have troubles getting good sleep. The tangible result of the Winter Blues then becomes weight gain for many. Research suggests the people at the highest risk of having SAD during the fall and winter months are women, people in their early 20s, people with a family history of SAD, and those who also have major depression or bipolar disorder, and unsurprisingly, people who live closer to the north or south poles where the days are already exceptionally short during winter months, to begin with. 

There are many different pieces of the puzzle that explain how SAD starts to take place. Experts believe it’s the result of the body’s struggle to adjust to when it should produce melatonin, the hormone that signals when it’s time to wind down for a full night of sleep. Early evenings trigger the body to make melatonin earlier and delayed sunrises allows us to feel groggy and slow through more of the morning. At the same time, our body starts to experience dips in serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates our mood. 

Experts say that dogs can be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder in the very same ways when their days are cut short and more time is suddenly spent indoors.

According to the AKC, to help your dog adjust you should:

-Avoid taking your dog for walks during the hottest parts of the day.
-Make sure he has plenty of fresh water.
-Raised canvas platform dog beds offer a cooling alternative to traditional beds, and you can even invest in cooling mats or kiddie pools for particularly heat-intolerant dogs.
-If you don’t have air conditioning, adjust a fan so that your dog has access to a nice, cool breeze.
-Never leave a dog unattended in an enclosed vehicle or in a warm environment that does not have good air circulation.

There are, of course, other changes to look out for. According to the pet blogger Jack Boy Bakery, “seasonal changes in daylight and temperature trigger significant hormonal changes in mammals, altering metabolism and influencing food intake. The lengthening of daylight during the warmer Spring and Summer months signals this change to the most primitive part of the brain and its hormonal responses, resulting in decreased food-seeking behavior and shifts in cellular metabolism. As winter approaches, the opposite response occurs. Lower temperatures require greater energy consumption to maintain body temperature. The shortening of daylight during this time triggers the brain to promote food-seeking behavior and alter metabolism in order to promote fat storage in preparation for lean food sources during the winter months.”

It’s also important to remember that your dog’s senses are far more attuned to changes in their environment than we’re capable of. According to Pets4Homes, “Minute atmospheric pressure changes that take place prior to bad weather or a storm will usually be clear to your dog, and you may find that dogs that get anxious or scared during storms will begin to act out anything up to several hours before the storm itself breaks, even if the weather appears clear.” So it’s even possible that some of these behavioral changes brought on by a shift in weather and into a new season may start before even the weatherman gives you a heads up.

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