Dr. Laurel Davis, WNC’s holistic vet, offers Stories from a Holistic Veterinarian, the blog of a holistic vet and “animal interpreter.” With a clinic in downtown Asheville, NC. Dr. Laurel also offers animal health, lifestyle and vaccination advice for cats, dogs and their human friends across the country.
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Sunshine Therapy for Your Furry Friends
I’ve noticed something lately, and maybe you’ve noticed it too… The light outside is lingering just a little bit longer. This promise of the returning sunshine has me giddy!
The decreased sunlight in winter can affect humans, be it a case of normal, natural, quiet inwardness or the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Personally, the shorter days in winter are hard for me. I’m more tired, ready to eat all the (gluten-free!) carbs I can get my hands on, and, most of all, I miss my friend, the sun. We humans aren’t the only ones who go inward during the winter. Have you ever considered how the changing seasons might affect our animal-friends? If you notice your four-legged friend sleeping more and seeming a bit down in the dumps, It’s highly likely that we can associate Fido’s sluggishness and moodier disposition during the winter months with the lack of sunshine.
Here’s a little bit of the science behind it…
For all of us mammals, melatonin, a light-sensitive hormone produced by the pineal gland, regulates our own and our companion animal’s circadian rhythms.
Since there are shorter periods of daylight in the winter, the brain produces more melatonin, and this disrupts the sleep cycle, leaving us and our sensitive pups and kitties feeling quieter and less energetic, like the weather outside. After all, many of their mammalian cousins (and ours) are in full hibernation during this season.
Serotonin, known as the “feel good” hormone, is also light sensitive. Lower levels of this happiness hormone in the winter can increase our appetites and cause us to crave comfort foods. We might reach to our favorite cookies & cakes, but since those are off limits for your fluffy love-muffins, you might notice them begging for more treats.
Many dogs and cats also sleep more in the winter. When it is extra cold outside, they will conserve heat and energy by curling up for multiple siestas, especially near windows where they can feel the touch of the sunshine!
What can we dog and cat lovers do to ensure our furry friends get all of the solar energy they can get, so they can stay energized and uplifted during the darker times of the year?
Aside from showering them with love (since I’m sure you do that already!), you can exercise and get outside! Get that blood pumping, go out in the daylight and dance around directly in the sun. Take an early morning walk with your pup that may be chilly, but also physically stimulating for your hearts. If your cat is up for it, she can accompany you on walks in her cat harness.
If she’s not a walk-on-a-leash sort of cat, you can make sure she is exposed to plenty of sunlight by finding the perfect sunbeam for her bed or cat tree. And take time every day to see if she would like to engage in playtime. If you can dance a piece of yarn around in a sunny spot in your house, all the better.
As our animals are giving us the saddest little puppy dog and puss-n-boots eyes to beg for more treats, it may be tempting to indulge their increased appetites.
I encourage you to make it a game instead. Have them work and play for the extra snacks by hiding them around the house, requiring them to run through their trained tricks, or tossing them for your cat to run and collect. This provides your furry friends with exercise AND mental stimulation. A trim svelte physique is one of the greatest gifts you can give your cat or dog!
Most importantly, you can be there for your furry friends.
You can snuggle with them under the covers, watch the setting sun linger outside your window, and let them know that this time of rest is natural and the light is returning. Your days of epic games of fetch, romps outside, and sunshiney yard-prowling are just a few weeks away. Hang in there, buttercup!
Be sure to tune in next week for part two in this Sunshine series where I write about why cats and dogs love the sunshine!
Dr. Laurel Davis is WNC’s holistic vet, offering phone and Skype consultations for animal lovers everywhere. Call 828-254-2221 or order an Ask Dr. Laurel™ phone or Skype session or bring your dog or cat to her downtown Asheville, NC clinic. Read more patient stories.
Get to know Dr. Laurel by reading her blog.