Winter Activities for Pets

Dec 19, 2018   Tracey Aston   Health & Wellness

The winter months will be upon us shortly, but as temperatures decrease, our pets' energy levels and exercise needs don't go down with the outside temperatures.  There are many benefits to keeping our pets active during the colder months, including weight maintenance, cardiovascular and joint health, mental stimulation and combating behavior issues which can result from boredom.  Quality time and some creativity will go a long way in keeping pets bright eyed and bushy tailed. 

If you are using treats for mental stimulation, properly lower the amount of calories during meals, as too many extra treats will pack on the pounds. 

Hide and Seek and Search and Sniff are great indoor games that double as a treasure hunt! Who doesn't love a treasure hunt? Both games can be played indoors using your pet's favorite toys, treats or even you! Have your pet stay in one area and hide the objects around the house - remember not to hide anything in places where your expensive lamp can get knocked over by a rambunctious seeker. Once the objects are placed, call your pet to find them asking "where is your toy", “where did it go”, “come find me.”  This type of game is great for dogs, as it uses their natural skills and provides both physical and mental stimulation. 

Another great lower energy game that utilizes our pets' nose is Guess Which Hand. Behind your back, place a treat or kibble in your hand, without allowing your pet to see what you're doing, then bring your hands around to the front, where your pet is sitting and ask them “where is the treat?” 

Remember playing Red Light, Green Light as a kid? Now you can play it again with your pets! Instead of using the words “red light” and “green light” use the words “come” and “stay.”  This fun game doubles as a training session and provides confidence building, and physical and mental stimulation! 

The old tried and true games, like fetch or tug of war, have held up all this time because they are still great options.  If you have a long hallway or open area of your room, a soft or stuffed ball can be rolled along the floor for your pet to fetch. Always remember to use a ball comparable to your pet's size. You may think a smaller ball is better for indoor play, but a ball too small for your pet is a choking hazard.  Avoid throwing the objects into the air, as it could lead to injury of your pet or broken objects around the house.  Tug of war is great for smaller places and still provides plenty of physical exercise. 

Play a game of tag. This game will require two or more people. Each person will stand or sit on opposite sides of the room with a toy or treats, and take turns throwing the toy back and forth, or calling your pet over to you for a treat. Not only is this physical exercise, it's a fun way to reinforce recall.

Many games can be set up using things you already have around your home! The Muffin Tin Game is played by hiding good smelling treats in a few holes of a muffin tin and then covering every hole with a toy, such as a tennis ball, and letting your pet sniff out which hole has the treat and how to remove the toy to get to the treat. Toilet paper rolls can even be used to make fun toys for your pet. Fold over one end of a toilet paper roll, fill the roll with treats or kibble and then fold over the opposite end, to close the toilet paper roll around the treats.  Be careful with this game that your pet is eating the treats and not the toilet paper roll itself. 

Teaching a new trick is a great way to spend quality time with your pet, strengthen the bond with your pet and provide them with mental stimulation. Contrary to the old saying, an older dog can absolutely learn new tricks. The trick you choose to teach your pet is completely up to you and your pet's comfort level. You can teach anything from basic give paw tricks to teaching your pet to clean up their own toys, fetch your slippers, or bring the paper! Tricks are a great source of mental stimulation, while learning new things helps to build your pet's confidence!

Another great confidence builder for our pet is an at home agility course! Agility courses provide physical and mental exercise, build confidence and strengthen the bond with your pet and they are tons of fun! Agility courses don't need to be large or expensive, and simply teaching your pet to weave through your legs can be part of a fun course. Teaching your pet to back-up, or spin to the left or right following your hand, or jump through a hoop or over objects, and running through a tunnel are fun ways to learn basic agility. An easy agility tunnel can be made by placing blankets over two chairs spaced apart, and a low jump can be made by laying a broom across 2 stacks of books. Weave poles can be set up with just about anything - toys, book stacks, empty 2 liter soda bottles or agility cones.  Your imagination is the limit when it comes to a fun in-home agility course. Our recent blog post At Home Agility Fun has even more inside agility ideas and tips.

 We want to spend as much quality time with our pets as possible, but that's not always an option. For times when we can't be there, interactive feeder games and puzzles can provide mental stimulation for our pets!  These games can be as simple as filling a Kong with treats and having our pets work to get the treats out by rolling the Kong around to interactive puzzle games designed to be a little more complicated than a Kong, but still provides a small treat or kibble when figured out. There is a large variety of these puzzle games to pick from including: Hide-and-Slide Puzzle, IQ Treat Ball, and classic Kong. Along with basic hide and roll treat puzzles, there are puzzles for the more advanced pet, like Outward Hound Dog Brick Interactive Dog Toy that includes sliding discs and mazes, and Dog Twister Interactive Dog Toy which challenges pets to “look for treats by moving one block after another in different circles.”  

Cats are inquisitive and love to stalk and hunt prey, and there are many fun mental stimulation games made just for them, too! Bunk Bed and Playroom for cats is a box with many different holes and kitty toys attached. Similar to dogs, there are also treat games for cats, like the multi-tier Catit Senses Food Maze.  Cat puzzle boxes where the cat must attempt to remove toys from the box through different holes can be hours of fun for kitty. Puzzle boxes can even be made by cutting holes into the top of a cardboard box, putting your cats' favorite toys inside and taping the sides shut. Make the holes large enough for your cat to fit their paw and toy through, but not large enough to get their head inside to get stuck.

Depending on the weather conditions and temperatures, our pets can still benefit from outside time, but with shorter intervals. For high energy, or younger, pets, that may not be enough. Winter time doesn't have to mean boredom for our pets. A little creativity and quality time can result in a happy, healthy, mentally stimulated and well-behaved pet. 

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