During the colder months of winter, it’s not uncommon to find your pampered pooch curled up in their warm bed, or perhaps sitting by the fire. Many dogs prefer to stay indoors where it’s warmer, and are hesitant to step outside into the cold with you. Because of these changes, many owners find themselves asking, “are dogs lazier in the winter?”
A survey by the PDSA found that 1 in 3 owners notice their dogs becoming more depressed during the winter. So, is your dog lazier in the winter? A lack of activity during the winter is often due to changes in your dog’s hormones and metabolism, and in some cases, their breed as well. Here, we discuss why some dogs are less active during the winter, and what you can do to help.
Are Dogs Lazier in the Winter?
Many owners find their dogs become less active during the colder months. But is this laziness, or a measurable change in hormones?
Firstly, like in humans, dogs rely on melatonin to regulate their sleep cycles. With the shorter days and longer nights, your dog’s pineal gland produces more melatonin. This is because the pineal gland is sensitive to light, and secretes melatonin in the dark. Similarly, winter influences how much serotonin your dog produces. Your dog produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter, to regulate their mood. A reduction in sunlight leads to less serotonin production. With less serotonin in your dog’s system, they may become lethargic, more tired, and sometimes even cranky. But what else influences your dog’s energy levels during the winter?
If your dog has short hair, they may be less willing to exercise outside. This may give the impression that your dog has become lazy. However, it usually reflects a lack of ability to cope with the cold. The same goes for small breeds and breeds with shorter legs. With this in mind, the decreasing daylight hours of winter affect your dog’s metabolism. The shorter days signal to your dog that it’s time to slow their metabolism, promoting the deposition of fat. If your dog is unwilling or not given opportunities to exercise in the winter, weight gain is more likely, giving the impression that your dog has become “lazy.” If your short-legged or short-haired dog is unable to exercise enough outside, it’s important that you encourage exercise indoors to prevent weight gain and to maintain their mental health.
What to Do If Your Dog is Lazier in the Winter
With all the hormonal changes happening in your dog’s body, it’s up to you to adjust your care to their needs. This involves altering the amount that you feed your dog, taking extra measures to keep them warm and dry, engaging in indoor exercises, and increasing the amount of quality playtime with your dog.
Don't Overfeed your Dogs
Your dog’s metabolism shifts to prepare them for the winter season. As your dog’s metabolism slows, they also begin to store more fat in their body. In a work setting, this would prepare your pooch for normal performance despite the harsh conditions of winter. However, in your home, your dog faces disadvantages as a result of this shift. Indoor dogs are not subject to this harsh weather, leaving them more likely to gain weight. So how can you prevent winter weight gain?
No two dogs are alike, and there is no precise amount to feed your furry friend. However, it is always helpful to feed your pet based on their Body Condition Score (BCS) all year-round. If your dog gains weight but is otherwise fit, it’s advisable to reduce the amount that you feed them gradually. If your dog’s BCS progresses from a 4 to 5 to a 6, consider reducing the amount that you feed your dog by 10 percent. You may need to make appropriate changes to the amount you feed to maintain your dog’s healthy BCS.
Keep them Warm and Dry
If your dog is less active in the winter, be sure to monitor them for signs of being too cold, or even hypothermia. Dogs who are reluctant to exercise in winter are often those that struggle to cope with the plummeting temperatures. Such dogs include those with short coats, short legs, and small bodies. You might notice these difficulties with breeds such as Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Whippets, or French Bulldogs, who struggle to regulate their own temperatures in the cold. So how can you help these chill-prone canines?
Toy and small breeds may benefit from wearing winter dog clothes to keep themselves warm. Chihuahuas and Greyhounds in particular struggle to keep warm during the winter, and you’ll often find clothes made specifically for these breeds! With that being said, it’s important to remove items of clothing from your dog once they are indoors. Dogs should not wear clothing indoors as they can easily overheat. Prolonged use can also cause irritation and chafing to the skin.
Help your Dog Exercise
For breeds that are more sensitive to the cold, vigorous outdoor exercise may be out of the question. While you may walk your dog short distances, these reduced walks ten aren’t enough to provide all the exercise your cooped-up canine needs. Luckily, there are many ways to exercise your dog from the comfort of your own home!
Consider setting up an indoor agility course! It doesn’t need to be expensive – cardboard tunnels and hula hoops make for an exciting obstacle course. If you have more funds to invest, you may also consider a dog treadmill to keep your pup active during the colder months. With a little training, your dog can become a pro on the treadmill in no time! Begin with minute-long intervals on the treadmill and build up to longer sessions over time, always paying attention to your dog’s body language. Never force your dog to run on the treadmill. If they want to stop, let them stop.
Plan Fun Activities with your Dog
Nothing beats having quality playtime with your pooch. Indoor games are a fantastic way to keep your dog mentally stimulated at times when going outside is out of the question. If your dog knows how to stay, a game of hide and seek might just be what your dog needs. You may also hide treats around your home to encourage them to use their innate sniffing abilities. If you have a strong dog toy, your pup will enjoy a game of tug of war, which not only provides ample exercise but strengthens their bond with you!
Dogs Being Lazy in the Winter – FAQ
Are you still wondering if dogs are lazier in the winter? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about your dog’s health, always ask your vet for advice!
Some dogs are less active in the winter, but not all are. That’s not to say that dogs become lazy in the winter – in fact, during the winter, our furry friends undergo several hormonal changes to prepare them for the harsh elements. As the winter days become shorter, your dog’s pineal gland produces more melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. On the opposite end of the scale, your dog produces less serotonin due to the reduction in daylight hours, leading to more lethargic and tired behavior. Your dog’s metabolism also slows, prompting the deposition of fat which can lead to weight gain.
As your dog undergoes these internal changes, it’s up to you as a doting owner to adapt to their changing needs. These changes don’t necessarily mean that your dog is lazier in winter, and instead, reflect normal changes that affect some dogs differently than others.
Not all dogs are prepared for the cold winter weather. Unless your dog is built to work in cold temperatures, your dog cannot stay warm during the winter by themselves for long periods of time. So, during cold weather, it’s up to you to provide your pooch with the warmth they need. Be sure to provide warm blankets, a comfortable dog bed, towels to dry off your dog if they get wet, and jumpers if your dog needs them.
If your dog spends most of their time outside, consider bringing them inside during the harsh weather. By bringing your outdoor dog inside, you can better protect them from hypothermia, and injuries from snow and ice. If your dog has access to the outdoors and you have an outdoor doghouse, be sure to pad it well with clean blankets or straw bedding for insulation, and to face to away from the wind where possible.
Even if you are not inclined to spend long hours frolicking in the snow outdoors, there is plenty of fun to be had indoors with your dog! A game of hide and seek, running up and down the stairs, fetch, indoor agility, and your own ingenious games are all great ways to keep your pooch active. You may also consider teaching your dog new tricks!
If your pup is more food-oriented, consider making them work for their food. Feeding games are a great outlet for your dog’s mental and physical energy. Treat-dispensing toys, slow feeders, and hiding treats around the house are just a few ways to incorporate snacks into your dog’s playtime.
Unfortunately, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in dogs is not yet well-studied. Because of this, it’s generally considered possible, but not yet proven, that dogs can also suffer from SAD. We share much of our brain chemistry with dogs, including the hormones serotonin and melatonin, which govern mood and sleep. As the days grow shorter, the brain produces less serotonin and more melatonin. Both of these changes together create a negative impact on one’s mood. The problem is, despite these changes, SAD cannot be objectively measured or diagnosed in our pets.
If your dog is lethargic, has a lack of appetite, and isolates themselves more often, always talk to your vet for advice. These symptoms are not always signs of depression, and may in fact reflect physical pain and discomfort.
So, are dogs lazier in the winter? With hormonal changes, a shift in metabolism, and breed differences all at play, many dogs become less active as winter arrives. Be sure to adapt to your dog’s needs during this time, and consult with your vet if you have any questions or concerns. Check out our lazy dog name ideas!