Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Cats

Does your cat get the winter blues? I am not sure anyone knows but if you do please leave a comment. It is a topic worthy of a discussion even though it might be inconclusive because people suffer from the winter blues quite a lot so what about cats?

Cat in sunlight
Cat in sunlight. Photo Logan Smith
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Dr. Rosenthal, in a study published on the NCBI website, states that 6 percent of Americans – mainly living in the northern states – are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) “in its most marked form” implying there is a higher percentage overall; indeed another 14% suffer from a milder version of the winter blues. In Oslo, Norway, the prevalence of SAD is reported at 14% compared to 4.7% in New York City.

The general conclusion is that SAD affects a lot of people. Does it affect our cats? The answer starts by trying to find out what causes it.

“The syndrome is linked to a lack of light” (Dr Rosenthal)

A medical clinic in Sweden has a “light lounge”, a room with eight colorful chaise longues swamped in bright lights. Sixty to eighty percent of SAD sufferers benefit from light therapy.

The staff at state:

“Do our cats suffer from the same malaise? Probably not”

They aren’t sure. They say cats have a hormonal response to seasonal changes although it is “quite minimal”. For indoor cats the change in seasons is muted. Does this mean that indoor cats are less likely to receive the benefits of sunlight if cats do suffer from the feline equivalent of human SAD?

There are at least two feline processes dictated by the presence of light.

The shedding of fur by a cat is not due to seasonal temperature changes but is influenced more by changes in ambient light. The more the cat is exposed to natural light the more the cat sheds fur. It makes no difference if the cat is neutered or not. This process tells us that cats respond to ambient light levels.

In people, vitamin D is created (synthesised) in the skin by the action of sunlight on the skin – in fact the ultraviolet B rays convert cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D. For both cats and people vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the small intestine.

Dr Morris (of Catwatching fame) states cats can lick vitamin D from their fur and ingest it but I am not sure this is correct.

“If cats have been in sunlight they increase their grooming even more….because the action of sunlight on their fur produces essential vitamin D.”

We are told that the domestic cat needs to be fed vitamin D because they can’t create it in their body. But if he is correct then a lack of sunlight means less vitamin D and the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in humans are vague such as tiredness and general aches. Could these symptoms be linked to the blues? There appears to be an overlap with SAD because tiredness is a symptom of depression.

The Vitamin Council state that:

“Researchers are now discovering that vitamin D may play an important role in mental health and in depression. Vitamin D acts on the areas of your brain that are linked to depression….”

Perhaps SAD is linked to levels of vitamin D in the person. Sun is the essential ingredient for the making of vitamin D.

I have this simple viewpoint that going outside in the sun makes me feel good. That applies to almost anyone. Is this the opposite to SAD? If so do cats feel the same way when they go out?

11 thoughts on “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Cats”

  1. Since my cat was 2 years old, from the end of July, when the light begins to change until March when the days become lighter and longer my cat becomes anorexic. He then requires hand and often syringe feeding until the days begin to lengthen again. Without this intervention he would literally starve to death.
    Vets do not believe that animals suffer from Sad Syndrome and only laugh at my despair at not being able to help him and always want to give him steroids. My cat Pippin is now, against all the odds,14 years of age. The anorexia has damaged his liver and 18 months ago he was classed as (beyond ‘gravely’ill) with liver failure, kidney failure and only 10% of red blood cells. He has made a slow recovery,but easily gets jaundiced, meaning the damage is permanent. Now it is October 2018 and already Pip has started to lose weight. I can’t get the advice I need, but does anyone know if I can give him Seratonin/Melatonin or may know if I can supplement with Vitamin D and if so, how much could I safely give him. I love my cat and he is only alive, and happy because of my daily intervention, but I would love to get him through this winter by supplementing him with what his body seems to need. I 100% know that Pip suffers with Seasonal Affective Disorder. From March until August he is absolutely normal. His liver is now damaged because vets in England don’t believe this condition exists. He is on Hepaticare, Dr Mercola Probiotics and just started on CBD oil. Any advice or ideas would be very welcome. Thank you. From Valerie.

    • Valerie I’ll do some work on this today. One simple thing comes to mind (too simple?) – buy a lamp that produces light exactly like the sun (you can get them for people) and keep him in a room with the lamp on for a set time per day (say 2 hours) and see what happens.

  2. Yes I agree very much, as if Humans can cats can. At this Present time I’m suffering from it, and im Sure Ozzie is as well. Not having enough natural light is a huge issue. I’m having too go to bed earlier, just to get a good nights rest to catch the natural light.
    The sun is gone by 2pm Here where i am so got to make sure take advantage of it. Its amazing even a small amount of light can affect your health as well as the cats. I dont think the other cats are as bothered by it. Though they are staying close to home a lot more now. They love the sun

  3. ‘I have this simple viewpoint that going out in the sun makes me feel good. That applies to almost anyone. Is this the opposite to SAD?’
    Below is a passage from Return of the Native (title underlined), by Thomas Hardy, one of the most beautiful descriptions of nature in Eng. Lit.

    Blazing sunlight is as physically painful to me as the palettes of Gauguin and Picasso; the martial oom-pah-pah of John Phillip Sousa; the kah-BUNG, kah-BUNG beat of most popular music; 4th of July cherry bombs — and everything else in-your-face visually/aurally raucous.

    Summer can be borne with fortitude, yes. But Dec. 21 until early April are exquisite in their silence and muted colorations. As for the Vitamin D output? Probably zip.

    My boy and girl enjoyed basking in the sun just as they did their warm blankets and crackling wood stove. Doubt the Vit. D. penetrated the windows, though, hence the sun porch. Did they show symptoms of ADD in the winter? Nah. In the depths of winter they were as good-natured, playful and happy as they were in their summers out on he porch.

    As for their mother, the time of year endured with a squint is June 21 onwards, when the solar blasts & punk rock thrummings close in with a vengeance. The loveliest time? Dec. 21 until mid-April…after which point the rhododendrons start hammering the eyeballs. To state it succinctly: Winter is subtlety. Summer is gaud.

    In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its nightly roll into darkness the great and particular glory of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to understand the heath who had not been there at such a time. It could best be felt when it could not clearly be seen, its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the succeeding hours before the next dawn; then, and only then, did it tell its true tale. The spot was, indeed, a near relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together in a black fraternization towards which each advanced halfway.

    The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank blooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis–the final overthrow.

    It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity. Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do this, for they are permanently harmonious only with an existence of better reputation as to its issues than the present. Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity. The qualifications which frequently invest the facade of a prison with far more dignity than is found in the facade of a palace double its size lent to this heath a sublimity in which spots renowned for beauty of the accepted kind are utterly wanting. Fair prospects wed happily with fair times; but alas, if times be not fair! Men have oftener suffered from the mockery of a place too smiling for their reason than from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged. Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct, to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which responds to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.

    Indeed, it is a question if the exclusive reign of this orthodox beauty is not approaching its last quarter. The new Vale of Tempe may be a gaunt waste in Thule; human souls may find themselves in closer and closer harmony with external things wearing a sombreness distasteful to our race when it was young. The time seems near, if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a mountain will be all of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods of the more thinking among mankind. And ultimately, to the commonest tourist, spots like Iceland may become what the vineyards and myrtle gardens of South Europe are to him now; and Heidelberg and Baden be passed unheeded as he hastens from the Alps to the sand dunes of Scheveningen.

    The most thoroughgoing ascetic could feel that he had a natural right to wander on Egdon–he was keeping within the line of legitimate indulgence when he laid himself open to influences such as these. Colours and beauties so far subdued were, at least, the birthright of all. Only in summer days of highest feather did its mood touch the level of gaiety. Intensity was more usually reached by way of the solemn than by way of the brilliant, and such a sort of intensity was often arrived at during winter darkness, tempests, and mists. Then Egdon was aroused to reciprocity; for the storm was its lover, and the wind its friend. Then it became the home of strange phantoms; and it was found to be the hitherto unrecognized original of those wild regions of obscurity which are vaguely felt to be compassing us about in midnight dreams of flight and disaster, and are never thought of after the dream till revived by scenes like this.

    It was at present a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature–neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly; neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man, slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony. As with some persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed to look out of its countenance…

    • I enjoyed that quote. I understand that. My reference to the sun was a reference to the English sun not the Texan sun or the Cyrus sun! 😉 What I mean is going out into the light and nature. This washes away the discomforts of life, the worries and the baggage in the brain – for me anyway. There is no reason why cats don’t feel the same way.

  4. It makes sense to me moods would fluctuate with seasons. I don’t see it so much here since changes can be subtle. But I bet I would in those places where season changes are very obvious.

  5. I think cats know sunshine is good for them, they love to bask in it, whether outdoors in the fresh air, or indoors through a window.
    Maybe indoor/outdoor cats are happier all year round with the sun shining directly on them, not through glass, because our boyz don’t get depressed in Winter, there are still some sunny days and they venture out even if it’s cold.
    I can imagine indoor only cats having to live with central heating in the winter instead of fresh air and the bit of winter sun shine, developing SAD.

  6. Absolutely – I think so – maybe though it has to do with the limitations of cold and wet that makes them feel depressed and restricted. They like to go out in the dark anyway right. I mean they are crepiscular – so daylight sun is more something they like to sleep in if anything.

    Having said all that there is anyway less light and that can and probably at least a little bit, does also have an effect on the situation.


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