Vets warn about seasonal affective disorder in pets

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published October 15, 2014

METRO DETROIT — The onset of fall has lots of folks dreading the impending effects of winter — shorter days, frigid temperatures and overcast skies that can leave us without sunshine for months on end.

There might be one member of the family we don’t think of when it comes to the miserable symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder: the family pet. Our four-legged friends can sometimes be just as frustrated by cabin fever as we can, according to veterinarians.

Dr. Kailash Bana of Hoover Road Animal Hospital in Warren said cats can be especially subject to the winter blues, and the symptoms can range from unusual behavior to serious health problems.

“I guess the stress is just because it’s gloomy, with no sun and that kind of stuff. But the cats can get clogged and they cannot pass urine. The bladder stops in young cats,” said Bana.

The problem can become severe, he said, explaining that when a cat isn’t able to properly use the litter box, toxins in the urine aren’t eliminated and back up into their system.

“It depends on when they’re brought to us, but sometimes they’re in really bad shape. We have to empty the bladder manually. Treatment is expensive, and sometimes we have no choice but to put them down,” he said.

That’s where a keen eye to your pet’s behavior can come in useful, Bana noted. If your animal doesn’t seem to be acting like itself, make sure to have it evaluated by a veterinarian before it gets worse.

“If they stop eating and start to isolate themselves,” he said of warning signs. “You won’t see the litter box being used, and you can just see their distended abdomen. If you feel the abdomen, you’ll find a rock-hard bladder.”

Simple things like leaving the windows open during the day and a bit of extra petting and attention can work wonders, too, he said. In more advanced cases, vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medications.

Other health problems become more prominent in the winter, as well, Bana said, particularly urinary tract infections in dogs.

“The reason is because people see urine on the white snow when the dogs urinate,” he said. “It’s not because there’s more cases in winter, but because the owners are able to see the redness in the urine.”

At Five & Two Pet Clinic in West Bloomfield, Dr. Charlotte Kim said she sees other conditions increase in pets during the winter, such as allergies and skin disorders. The cold weather can be blamed for that, she said.

The temperatures can also make it more difficult for pet parents to get their animals to get the exercise they need during the winter, she said, and that can lead to restless behavior and other problems.

“Older dogs with arthritis need some activity, but not a lot. They do need to move their joints a little more though in the winter, because they’ll feel more painful if they’re not using them,” said Kim. “People’s behavior and depression change with the season, and they’re not as active as much and don’t take their dogs out as much. It has more to do with activity than the weather itself.”

A tired dog is a happy dog, as they say, and Kim recommends that dog owners keep exercise routines regular during cold-weather months to avoid the onset of problems.