Can Dogs Get Seasonal Depression?

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Oct. 20, 2023
A dog looks out the window to a snowy forest.

In This Article

Do Dogs Get Depressed?

The days are getting shorter, and the nights are growing longer.

The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and winter is on the horizon. People sometimes feel a little more down this time of year compared to the warm, sunny summer months, and it’s reasonable to wonder if the same is true for your dog.

Luckily, this change in mood isn’t present in our four-legged friends.

That being said, let’s look at the relationship between seasonal affective disorder and your pup.

Do Dogs Get Depressed?

Depression in our animal companions is typically different from the type of depression seen in humans.

In animals, depression is most typically triggered by a specific event, such as the loss of a long-term companion, a major lifestyle change, or a move to a new home.

Rather than experiencing vague sadness, there’s typically a specific and identifiable reason for your dog to feel sad.

Affected dogs may be less interested in their normal activities and need more coaxing to go for walks or to play a game of Frisbee. However, they generally continue to eat and drink, and will play energetically once they get moving.

Does Seasonal Depression Affect Dogs?

Currently, there’s no evidence indicating that dogs get seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression.

The condition in humans is believed to be triggered by shortened days and decreased amount of sunlight, which lowers the amount of serotonin and increases melatonin levels. This triggers the desire to sleep more and can influence mood changes.

Some dogs may also develop higher melatonin levels over the winter, which could cause them to sleep more than normal.

Currently, there’s no evidence that pups experience the emotional equivalence of seasonal depression that humans do.

Pet parents may notice that their dogs are less active and sleepier than in the summer months. 

This can be caused by a variety of reasons that aren’t seasonal depression. This is most likely due to cold and poor weather conditions, making it less fun for them to go outside and play.

Dogs are quite sensitive to what you are feeling, too. If you’re sluggish and reluctant to go out, they likely will be too.

Just like us, when dogs get less exercise, they don’t feel as enthused to start exercising. Once the habit of sleeping more is created, it can be hard to break.

So although it isn’t proven that dogs can get seasonal depression, they may develop their own version of the winter blues triggered by long nights, cold days, and lack of exercise and play.

Currently, there’s no evidence that pups experience the emotional equivalence of seasonal depression that humans do.

What Are the Symptoms of Winter Blues in Dogs?

Since dogs haven’t been proven to get seasonal depression, what signs indicate that your dog is developing a case of the general winter blues? Some may include:

  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Acting bored and uninterested

  • Not asking to go for walks or to play games

What Causes Winter Blues in Dogs?

Winter blues in dogs is probably better thought of as boredom or cabin fever, rather than depression. 

There are fewer activities to do outside, and it’s less comfortable for pups due to frigid temperatures. Additionally, their humans usually aren’t as enthusiastic about spending long periods of time outside. 

Dogs love to spend time outside discovering new smells, feeling the warm breeze, and swimming in a nearby lake or pond. In winter, all these things have disappeared, so life may get a little sluggish and boring.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do as a pet parent to help your dog get through the long, cold winter.

Comforting a Pup With Winter Blues

Luckily, dogs are typically easy to entertain, and there are many options to keep their bodies and minds engaged during the long winter months.

In fact, many of these ideas are good for human winter blues as well!

Provide your dog with exercise to help keep them in shape. It might be cold out, but unless it is icy, a good game of catch, Frisbee, or a long walk is always fun and good for the mind and body.

If the weather is bad enough to make outdoor activities impossible, consider having your pup spend a few days a week at doggy daycare or schedule a play date with a friend’s dog.

Teaching your pup agility or scent work can also be done indoors year-round. You can even make courses at home that can be changed up regularly. If you have children, taking your dog with you when they go sledding on a hill is great fun and exercise for everyone.

Indoor activities might include extra attention, snuggle time, and engagement while you are doing household chores.

Using challenging games such as food puzzles can help exercise your pup’s brain—just be mindful to not overfeed your dog.

Placing toys and treats around the house can lead to fun games of hide and seek, too. You may also want to work on your dog’s training.

If the weather is bad enough to make outdoor activities impossible, consider having your pup spend a few days a week at doggy daycare or schedule a play date with a friend’s dog.

Consider enrolling your pup in obedience classes or work with a private trainer. Both can make for fun field trips.

Even if your dog is great at basic commands, winter is a great time to work on more advanced skills, or even tricks. Having a job to focus on will keep your dog busy and hardly caring that the weather isn’t cooperating outside.

When to Call Your Vet

Much more common than any form of dog sadness is illness. If your dog’s behavior has changed in any way, contact your veterinarian for an appointment.

Unless you have a well-known trigger such as a major change in schedule or death of a companion animal, it’s better to assume that your pet is sick rather than depressed.

If your dog is not eating, lacks energy, or appears in pain or uncomfortable, ask your vet to do a complete health check. Dogs may sleep more during the winter, but they should enjoy their walks outside and be ready for their meals.

Winter blues don’t have to be a worry, because with a little creativity they can be avoided.

Featured Image: GettyImages/NicolasMcComber

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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