West Chelsea Veterinary Clinic Newsletter Copy
Feature Article – Banishing the Winter Blues
Winter months can be discouraging for humans and pets. Days are shorter and the sun rarely shines. Gloomy skies, frigid air, and streets covered with snow and ice lead to fatigue and less interest in activity. Pets and their human companions have a tendency to experience the doldrums when winter arrives. Unlike people, pets cannot stave off the winter blues on their own. They rely on their owners to address cabin fever.
If your dog exhibits symptoms like a lack of energy, no interest in playing, a loss of appetite, diminished social interaction, increased daytime sleeping, restlessness at night and weight loss or weight gain, he or she could be experiencing depression, possibly related to the winter doldrums. Cats can feel down during the season as well.
Here are some steps you can implement to make you and your pet happier during the long winter ahead:
If weather permits, leave the confines of home for a brisk run or healthy play time. Aerobic exercise is the best tonic for the winter blues. It is also beneficial when you take your dog on a walk and you interact with other people. Studies have shown that canines and humans see increases in oxytocin and dopamine levels (which are neurological signs of happiness) following exercise and positive interactions with one another.
Encourage Play Time
Even when you are indoors, and it is too cold to spend time outdoors, you can increase your pet’s physical activity level by playing. Dogs and cats alike love play time. Cats respond to simple homemade toys, like crumpled paper and the cardboard toilet paper rings. Dogs burn energy through heartier activities like chasing a ball through the house or playing tug of war with a toy.
Teach Your Dog Some Tricks
Winter is an ideal time to teach your canine companion tricks in the comfort of your home. “Tricks and Games to Teach Your Dog: A Dog Fancy Book,” by Sophie Collins with Suellen Dainty (I-5 Press, Irvine, CA, 2014; $19.95) is one of the many titles to provide insight. Fun learning is healthy for dogs, and teaching tricks further strengthens the human-animal bond. In the winter, it breaks up the monotony when the weather outside does not cooperate.
Brighten the Lights
If your home fills with natural light, let it in. At the least, illuminate your place with brighter light. Dogs and cats favorably respond to illumination and tend to be peppier when the lights are brightened.
Make Your Home Brim With Pet-Pleasing Smells
Scented toys capture the attention of dogs as they love to explore their home to locate the source of the smell. Cats, of course, treasure catnip-filled toys and scratching posts coated with catnip.
Share Your Dog and Brighten Someone’s Day
As a pet enthusiast, you understand the joy of the unbreakable human-animal bond, and the value of the unconditional love that a pet provides. These are among the reasons why pets are perfect sources of therapy for patients in hospitals, hospices and other facilities. Fortunately, New York City is home to the Good Dog Foundation (www.thegooddogfoundation.org), which certifies human-dog therapy teams for animal-assisted therapy. Winter is an ideal time to embark on this rewarding pursuit since it increases the interaction with other humans for your dog during a time when he or she is typically more restricted to your home.
Sidebar Story: Pet Therapy Through The Good Dog Foundation
Dogs are known as “man’s best friend” for legitimate reasons. Many people feel happier and more at ease when they are around a canine companion. This is especially true for individuals who are coping with grief, trauma or illness, and it is why the use of animal-assisted therapy has dramatically increased in recent decades.
Founded in 1998 and based in New York City, The Good Dog Foundation offers therapy dog services to people in health care, social service, educational and community facilities in the city’s five boroughs; across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts; and at disaster sites around the country. The nonprofit organization professionally trains and certifies all therapy dog teams, which consist of a human handler and a therapy dog, and coordinates visits to facilities.
Extensive evidence demonstrates that dogs improve the health and well-being of people. Multiple studies indicate that visits with therapy dogs can decrease blood pressure, lower anxiety, reduce stress and increase the quality of life for people receiving the visits. The visits also benefit the dogs and their human handlers, especially during the dreary winter months when outside interaction is typically less frequent.
If you think you and your dog would make an ideal therapy team, keep in mind that temperament of the dog is more important than breed and size. Ideally, your dog will be calm, friendly and welcome attention from people. To work with the Good Dog Foundation, your dog must be at least one year old.
Good Dog teams are trained and certified by the organization’s professional trainers and staffers, who also coordinate therapy dog visits and maintain communication with its teams. All teams are required to complete a full re-certification process every year. For more information, visit www.gooddogfoundation.org.