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Although cats might not be formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, the mood disorder that causes some people to experience symptoms of depression in the winter, veterinarians and feline fanciers say they do notice similar changes in some cats.
One in three cat owners finds that their pets seem more sad and less playful in the winter, according to a 2007 survey by People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), England's largest veterinary charity. Dr. Elaine Pendlebury, a senior veterinary surgeon with PDSA, believes that low levels of light can adversely affect all animals, including nonhuman ones.
How Winter Can Affect Your Kitty's Behavior
Like their human counterparts, kitties can show changes in energy levels, appetite, sleep patterns and temperament when exposure to light decreases. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, sees it every winter. Dr. Colleran maintains feline-only practices in both Chico, Calif., and Portland, Ore. The weather might be a bit gray in Portland, but it's fairly consistent year-round, says Dr. Colleran. Her feline clientele in Portland doesn't demonstrate noticeable seasonal changes. But Dr. Colleran has noted quite a seasonal shift in the kitties she sees in Chico, which is hot and sunny in the summer but far gloomier during the winter.
"I really do see a difference, I'm absolutely convinced of it," says Dr. Colleran. In the wild, other cat behaviors, such as mating, are related to exposure to light. It's therefore logical to assume that the onset of winter might have some effect on your kitty as well, Dr. Colleran explains.
Dr. Debra Givin, DVM, isn't sure there are physiological reasons for cats to suffer from a seasonal depression. Nonetheless, she notes changes in some felines she sees in her Portland, Maine, practice. "Certainly in the Northern latitudes, I've on occasion thought for the older cats," says Dr. Givin. "As they face another winter, some of them seem to take a turn for the worse. In the wintertime, life is harder. It's cold and dark."
Helping Kitty Cope
Fortunately, you can do plenty to perk up your moping feline. Simple changes in your behavior and activities in the winter might also play a role in how your cat is behaving, says Dr. Givin. If you and your veterinarian have ruled out medical causes for your kitty's malaise, here are several areas to consider when it comes to your cat's wintertime behavior:
Knowing your cat well -- winter and summer -- is the best way to judge behavioral changes. As Dr. Colleran concludes, "You have to really be aware of what's going on with your cat."
Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat, based in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.