By Gina Hardter
Cold weather doesn’t stop humans from getting exercise, and it doesn’t have to be a reason for inactivity in pets either. Here are some fun ideas for keeping pets of all kinds healthy and happy, even when winter weather is at its chilliest.
For all of these options, make sure the level of activity you are offering is appropriate for your pet’s age and health, and any treats incorporated are safe for them and fed as part of their vet-recommended caloric intake.
Toys, toys, toys
Toys can be a lot of fun, and they are also a great way to engage your pet in play. From playing fetch with your dog’s favorite squeaky toy to seeing how high your kitten can jump to reach the feather wand, toys are an enjoyable way to get your pet up and moving.
Animals such as mice and hamsters who regularly live in enclosures have the opportunity to train for their own 0.5K on running wheels. Just make sure they have a solid, not mesh, surface for safety. Even birds can get in on the game with enrichment items that hang from adjustable branches, encouraging them to stretch their wings and leap from perch to perch.
A pet obstacle course
Your pet may not be looking to run a marathon, but give them the opportunity to jump, climb and dodge, and they are at their happiest. No matter what type of space you have, you can make a fun obstacle course for your pet to explore.
Have your dog race around chairs and under tables or set up a field of toilet paper tubes through which your cat can navigate. Small mammals can dig their way through a blanket barrier or even navigate a tiny cardboard maze. And, of course, a tasty treat – or two or three – makes an excellent lure for your pet to traverse the obstacles you’ve put in their path.
Hide and treat
What’s more fun than a game of hide and seek in a nice, warm environment that ends with a delicious snack?
Hide treats in different locations throughout the house or kennel and encourage your pet to sniff them out. Vary the difficulty of finding the treats by burying some under pillows or bedding and putting others a bit higher than their sightline, maybe on a bookshelf or on top of your guinea pig’s castle. Just make sure you remember where you hid all of the treats, or you might discover a stinky surprise on your next cleaning day.
Entertain their brains
Pets want to keep their brains as busy as their bodies. Low-impact activities like puzzle feeders and frozen Kongs may not get them moving physically but will keep them mentally stimulated.
Consider making a “busy box” for your pet by taking a small cardboard box or tube, cutting holes in it and filling it with treats like peanut butter for dogs, catnip and toys for cats, hay for rabbits or whatever your pet likes. They may make a mess as they chew their way through to get their favorite food, but it will keep them busy for hours.
Many people have seen dogs who have been clicker-trained to sit, lie down or shake, but clicker training can be used for a variety of animals to help with socialization as well as teaching new skills.
Target train your rabbit by rewarding them with a treat and click every time they touch their nose to your finger. Soon they will be greeting everyone they meet in case there is a chance that a yummy snack might be offered. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria regularly trains clever cats to perform tricks like spin and high five, so the sky’s the limit in terms of what you and your pet can learn.
Winter weather doesn’t have to mean hibernation season for you or your pet. By exploring a variety of activities to keep them active inside your home, you’ll find that you are having just as much fun as your pet.
The writer is director of marketing and communications for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting Alexandria and beyond. More information is available at AlexandriaAnimals.org.