What is SAD? In Humans, the symptoms include fatigue, depressed mood and lack of energy. In our pets, they may want to eat more, they might even spend more time in their beds, sleeping, they avoid exercise and are grumpier in the winter months. Does any of that sound familiar?
There are shorter days in the winter, which means less sunlight. Sunlight affects levels of melatonin and serotonin. This can lead to fatigue, anxiety, and sadness in both humans and cats. Outdoor cats are especially susceptible to depression in the winter as so much of their time is spent outdoors.
Both Casey and Gibbs seem to be experiencing the symptoms of SAD at the moment. When we had our glorious summer last year, Gibbs went out after his breakfast every morning and didn’t return till tea-time at 5.00pm. Casey usually doesn’t go out as much as Gibbs but even he spent more time outside during last summer. Both cats could be found stretched out on the chairs sleeping or watching birds, butterflies or other insects flying by.
Since before Christmas, they’re usually in bed when I get up (and I’m not an early riser) and then after they’ve had breakfast (an extra half a sachet each) they retire to their chosen area for the rest of the day. For Gibbs, this is either the dining room table or one of the four dining chairs, or a box under the dining room table. For Casey, this is the ottoman in the office.
So how can you cheer your cat up? Just a few simple things might help although don’t force them to do things they don’t want to do.
Cardboard boxes can be used in many ways to provide fun for your cat. Cut a few peep holes around the sides so they can look out if they want to. If you turn the box upside down, make sure they’re not ‘trapped’. Cut a doorway and a window in opposite sides so they can come and go at will.
Create newspaper ‘tunnels’ for your cat to play and hide in. These will be flimsy but replaceable. Just use the centre fold of the newspaper as the edge of the ‘roof’ of the tunnel so that it’s like a wide ‘A’ frame that the cat can easily walk through or hide in.
Play with your cat each day and rotate their toys to provide a fresh perspective. It is important that you spend time with your cat each day, no matter what kind of day YOU’VE had. If you’re out of the house for long periods at a time, your cat will be looking forward to your return. Take a few minutes to interact with him when you first get home, and throw a catnip mouse up the hallway or even up the stairs for him to chase while you take your coat off. A rolled-up piece of foil can give your cat hours of fun if he’s spending that time with you. If you have a toy box full of cat toys, you may have an adventurous cat that will go and help himself to whichever toy takes his fancy. But sometimes a pile of toys can be overwhelming so choose one ‘new’ one every couple of days and when you see that your cat is no longer playing with it, that’s the time to put that one away and get another out.
When you play with your cat, five minutes at a time is plenty. You can do that throughout the evening if you’re someone who’s out of the house for most of the day. If you’re at home during the day, then you can still spend more quality time with your cat.
Talk to and cuddle your cat. It goes without saying that if you share your home with another person, or your family, you’d talk to them, wouldn’t you? Also, you’d be demonstrative with them, kissing, cuddling, and generally sharing time with them. But you’d be surprised how many people don’t even think of talking to their pets, ‘believing that they’re stupid and wouldn’t understand’, or ‘it’s not worth it, they can’t talk back’. Likewise, many people believe that because a cat is considered ‘aloof’, it doesn’t need human interaction, ‘it’s happy as it is.’ How do they know it’s happy?
I never stop talking to my cats. Every time I pass the dining table where Gibbs usually spends most of his day, I always stroke his head and tell him what a good boy he is. Sometimes he pulls his head away and sometimes he pushes it more into my hand. I always speak to him because the more he gets used to my voice and my ways, the more he’ll settle into our routine.
Casey is the same. I always tell him what I’m going to be doing and if I go downstairs for any length of time, I tell him either that I’ll be back up later, or that I’m going to get some dinner. If he wants some, he’ll follow me down. If he doesn’t, he stays where he is. When I go back to the office, I stroke him, kiss him on the head and tell him that ’Mummy loves him.’
Neither cat is particularly demonstrative but each has his own way of letting me know that I’m ok as their human food bowl attendant. Gibbs does sit on my lap when he wants to but jumps off when I cough (which is frequently at the moment as I’m getting over a cold and I always have a residual cough which lasts ages). He gives me a look of annoyance as if I’ve inconvenienced him in some way before going over to his box, turning around three times and lying down.
Most of the previous Daily Mewsers were chatty cats, especially Garfield. He and I had some wonderful conversations but he would always have the last meow. And if I’d been away for a few days Sam would always come and recite all the naughty things that all the other cats got up to in my absence.
Don’t let your mood affect your cat’s. If you suffer with SAD, or feel down in the dumps for some reason, try not to let how you’re feeling affect those around you. Cats (and dogs) are very susceptible to our emotions and often if we are in a bad mood about something you’ll notice, perhaps, that your cat or dog will respond with uncharacteristic behaviour. They are not being naughty. They are unsure about what is going on and are responding to change that they have no control over.
Stroking a pet can make you both feel better!
Pauline Dewberry (with help from Casey and Gibbs)