Avoid the Winter Blues – Keep your pet active all winter long

Tommy Holedigger here! Cold weather brings some challenges for keeping your furry friends fit and free from cabin fever. Since I am a Border Collie, I know a bit about having lots of energy, so my good buddy, Kapoodle, asked me to “weigh in” on how to keep your pets active during the winter. Remember to have your people check with your PetFocus vet first to ensure any changes to your exercise program have been given the green light!
Many pets can handle outdoor activities if it isn’t too cold. We play with our family, go for walks, and enjoy the winter wonderland along side of our humans.
The problem is, we often don’t know when to quit so we rely on you to tell us when enough is enough or, when it’s just too cold to go outside at all. The general rule is, if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for us…and yes, that applies to those of us with lots of fur too!
There’s a lot to consider when taking a pet outside in the winter so I thought you might like this link from the American Animal Hospital Association to help you out a bit:
http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?title=Winter_Pet_Care
“So Tommy (you ask), what can I do for my pet if it’s too cold to go outside?”
“Ruff ruff ruff” (I say), which means “You’re in luck!” I have some great options to rid your pets of the winter blues on cold, snowy days. Let’s talk indoor play!
First and foremost, always make sure you have removed any “obstacles” that may be harmful to your pet prior to playing with them indoors. Dog tails and fragile trinkets don’t tend to mix…not that I’d know anything about that. [Why do people put ornaments on low coffee tables anyway?]
The first game happens to be my personal favourite – “hide and seek”! You might know that one! Playing “hide and seek” is a good way to get dogs moving. Supplies needed: you, a few other humans, and some good hiding spots. Get a couple of people to hide in different places around your home and let your dog go. We will have to try and find the humans (that’s you) who should then give us a small treat. It’s always good to reward us after we find you so that we know exactly what you want us to do.
Another variation of this would be to hide treats in select places around your home and have your pet search them out; this game is especially rewarding for any dog that is considered a “hunting breed” as they are bred for these specific types of activities! Cats, being natural hunters, enjoy this game as well. I’ve been told that pet food is so yummy that some tiny humans will eat it too, so keep that in mind if you’re playing hide and seek with food! Another outdoor version that some of my friends like involves hiding things in the snow – that can be really fun.
Laser pointers are a great way to get your pet moving. While they are usually considered a toy for cats, lots of dogs actually enjoy playing with laser pointers as well. It’s an excellent toy to use indoors as you have a lot of control over where your pet goes. Make sure there is something other than just light at the end of the tunnel though or we might get a little frustrated. When you shine the laser in the last location, it’s a good idea to have a reward there that your pet can pounce on. A nice “catch” at the end of the chase helps eliminate any feelings of frustration.
Another toy that can be used for cats is a toy on the end of a string. You can get cats to jump and run wherever the toy is moving and it keeps them engaged for a long period of time. My friend Kit asked me to tell you that any toys involving string should not be left for cats to play with unattended. Apparently they like to eat them…even if they’re not coated in bacon. I’ll never understand cats.
What about a good old fashioned stair climber? Have your pets go up and down steps with you. This may take some tempting (and a little bit of exercise on your part as well) but it’s worth it for everybody.
You could also set up obstacle courses in your home. Use things like pillows for pets to jump over, and hula hoops for them to run through – and my favourite part – make sure to always reward your pets with a treat when they do something you want them to.
How about revisiting some of the obedience training you worked on during your pet’s developmental stages. Being housebound presents a great opportunity to teach new skills. More and more people are clicker training their cats now so even your feline friends can get in on the action!
Here are some more suggestions from AAHA that could come in handy for you: http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?title=Exercising_Your_Pet
Remember that with some planning, you can keep your pets happy and healthy all year round – and you might get a little extra exercise yourself too!

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