Learn signs and tips for helping alleviate your pet’s winter blues.

With summer drawing to a close, many of us are looking at the approach of cold, inclement weather, earlier nightfall and limited outdoor time. Regardless of where we live, the busier schedules of work and school, holidays and other commitments often leave us with less time to spend at home and outdoors, and less time to spend with our pets.

The sudden change in schedule can limit time for company, play and attention. These reduced opportunities for exercise can sometimes leave pets bored, stressed and even depressed.

How can I tell if my pet has the blues?

Not all pets will have the blues when winter rolls around. But there are some signs to look for to make sure your pet is just hunkered down, and not in distress or struggling. Find these signs and symptoms in the chart to the left.

What can I do to help?

First, try to figure out what’s different. Are you and your family homeless? Are you going on fewer walks? Are the kids away at college? Are you too busy to spend time playing? Is it just too cold to have much fun outside?

Next, think about what might help bring some enrichment back into your pet’s life. Rather than give them their meal in a bowl, capitalize on their natural instincts by using food dispensing toys, hidden stashes of edible goodies, and five-minute training sessions using some of their food as rewards (reward yourself, too, with a special treat so you want to do it more often). Set up mini-obstacle courses with cushions and cardboard boxes, teach them some useful or silly tricks and play nosework. Play fetch and hide-and-seek games up and down the stairs and throughout the house to help tire out more active dogs and cats.

Exercising your pet’s brain can be as rewarding as exercising their bodies. While this holds true any time of the year, it’s especially important in the winter months to keep their bodies and minds happy, challenged and free of the winter blues.

Signs of the blues:

 

Sleeping more than usual can be a sign of stress, depression or illness.

 

Increased attention-seeking behaviors, such as scratching, chewing and other destructive behaviors can be indicators of a bored, understimulated or stressed pet.

 

Changes in regular eating, toileting or sleeping habits can also be a sign of illness, stress or depression in a pet.

 

“High-strung” behaviors such as hypervigilance, problem barking, urgent, loud meowing, and repetitive behaviors can be indicators of a stressed, bored or anxious pet.

 

For cats, not using the litterbox is a telltale sign of stress.

Cold weather can cause flare-ups in arthritis and other physical ailments, causing stress and pain, making activities less fun and contributing to the blues.

Marjie Alonso, CDBC, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP is the Executive Director of the IAABC.
She has served as Training Director, and then behavioral consultant for the New England Dog Training Club, the oldest AKC club in the US, and as a member of the America Humane Association’s Advisory Board for Companion Animal Behavior and Training. Marjie is the co-founder of the Somerville Foundation for Animals and Somerville Pet Food Bank, providing pet food to homeless and at-risk families throughout eastern Massachusetts.