It’s December with a long, hard winter ahead of us. Everyone can develop a bit of housebound fever after too many days of cold weather. Most humans have access to multi-media entertainment and stimulation. What about our animal companions?

Our pets’ ancestors and feral brethren lived their lives foraging for food, finding safe resting places and avoiding predators. All of our dogs have evolved from a functional purpose – herding, hunting, guarding, etc. Our pet dogs rarely participate in these activities. Our feline companions all come from a noble hunting heritage. With no access to these activities, our pets are left with high levels of energy and stamina with no outlet. As a result, behavioral problems may develop including attention-seeking behavior, destructive chewing, hyperactivity, and compulsive disorders. Most of our domestic animals live their lives in a static, monotonous environment. With the winter doldrums upon us, the problem is even more magnified. How can we keep our dogs and cats happy and mentally healthy while being housebound by the bad weather? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Food can be used in many ways to stimulate dogs and cats. Thinking toys, such as Buster Cubes, Kongs, treat balls, and puzzle toys are great ways of keeping your dogs and cats entertained for hours while making them work for their food. Pet supply stores offer all of these toys, along with great treats for stuffing. Cats also enjoy the puzzle toys.
  • Your dog’s and cat’s meals can become a mental challenge. Hide your pet’s dinner and let him go “hunting” for his food. You may have to help in the beginning. When you begin the game, help them “hunt” by steering them to their food. Once they catch on to the game, you may have to shut them into a room while you hide the food.
  • Many irritating behaviors exhibited by your cat may be solved by regular, structured, interactive play. There are now many self-amusing toys and interactive toys available for your feline companions. For an in depth view on cat “Play Therapy”: http://www.littlebigcat.com/health/play-therapy/
  • Armchair tricks and games can be great fun for you and your dog. A short training session will mentally stimulate and tire your dog, while building a closer relationship. Check out the internet for a variety of tricks and games to teach your dog.

Environmental enrichment, tricks, games and puzzle toys cannot substitute for quality physical exercise. But during these wintry days, it can encourage a more normal range of behaviors in your pets and serve to constructively occupy your pet’s time and aid in reducing boredom.