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the chemistry of light The extended days of summer are inextricably linked with chemical changes within our pets’ bodies. In addition to sex hormones, the two most important hormones affected by changes in UV light are melatonin and serotonin. Known as the “sleep hormone,” melatonin is secreted in response to UV light. Longer days mean more UV light and less melatonin, resulting in fewer hours of sleep and more time to stray. Melatonin is also associated with noise phobia and separation anxiety in pets. You can see the connection: an animal needs to be more vigilant to predators during the summer (noise sensitivity) and stay close to the pack and newly-born offspring (separation anxiety). The production of serotonin, the “feel good substance of the brain,” requires sunlight. Lack of exposure is the main cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Perhaps one of the reasons cats lounge on windowsills and dogs seek out sunny porches is to get their daily dose of serotonin. I like to think serotonin is responsible for the happiness our pets enjoy in summer. Maybe that’s why I’m happier, too. In addition to hormones, summer sunshine influences other cells. Our pets’ fur slows its growth during summer. Minimal follicular activity results in fewer trips to the groomer and cooler body temperatures. When exposed to longer daylight, fat cells appear to experience genetic alterations that promote growth. This is likely a response to the abundance of food during summer and fall, to better store energy for lean months. Unfortunately, those genes encourage obesity in generously fed modern-day pets, regardless of season or sunlight. Finally, in my two-and-a-half decades of medical practice, I’ve observed a “change of seasons” “Known as the ‘sleep hormone,’ melatonin is secreted in response to UV light. Longer days mean more UV light and less melatonin, resulting in fewer hours of sleep and more time to stray.” 40 fun in the sun issue


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