Banish the Winter Wiggles: Fun Indoor Activities for Your Pet

Dog playing with Kong

Food puzzles are a great way to keep your pet's mind stimulated during feedings.

“Want to find mommy? OK … one, two, three… go find mommy!”

That’s the voice of Julie Mullins’ husband, Steven, encouraging their Airedale, Jack, to play hide-and seek. “He runs all over the house looking for me,” Mullins says. “He will search until he finds me and then jump with joy! Then we’ll do it again.”

Mullins, the lead trainer at Doggone Healthy in Calabash, North Carolina, knows that some owners aren’t meeting their pets’ physical needs now that winter has arrived. And while the winters down South aren’t considered frigid, she still fits in lots of playtime with her dog, which often includes playing hide-and seek. “When owners meet their pets’ needs for play and exercise, they have relaxed homes with happy pets,” she says.

So with winter months bringing record-low temperatures and mountains of snow, how can you help your pet get the activity he needs on a daily basis? Why not try a little indoor exercise? Take a look at these tips for getting your pets moving indoors so they’re relaxed and happy all year long.

Break Out the Indoor Fun and Games

“The key is to just start moving,” says Greg Cunningham, DVM, who practices in Westlake, Ohio. “If you stay more active in the winter, your pets will stay more active, too.” But in Ohio, as well as many other parts of the country, the weather can remain frigid for days on end. So the next time you’re stuck inside, pull out this arsenal of fun and creative indoor activities.

Chasing the laser pointer. Getting your cat to chase the red dot from a laser pointer is a fun way to promote activity, says Robin Downing, DVM, owner of Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colorado. “But be careful, as cats can develop a compulsion for this activity,” she says. “Keep the sessions short, and change up the play from day to day.”

Note: Only use pet-safe laser pointers, and make sure you don’t point the light directly at anyone.

Hunting for treats. “These games are cheap and a whole lot of fun,” says Patty Khuly, DVM, a Miami-based veterinarian and blogger. “I started hiding smelly commercial treats, but now I use frozen peas so my pets aren’t getting too many extra calories.” Try hiding treats under furniture, atop windowsills, and in other nooks and crannies. This gets pets moving and provides mental stimulation.

Fishing for kitty. Start by tying a cat toy to the end of a child-size fishing rod. “Then cast the toy down a hallway or across a room, and reel it in slowly so the toy spins and dances,” Dr. Downing says. “Most cats cannot resist this!”

Playing with food puzzles. Both Mullins and Dr. Khuly are big fans of commercially available puzzle games designed for mental stimulation during feedings. It’s important to supervise your pets while they’re using these games to ensure they don’t break off pieces that could be ingested or cause choking.

Training time. Winter is a great time to reinforce good behaviors or tricks through short training sessions. Keep these interactions positive, and use your time to bond with your pet.

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