It is nearing the end of winter in Chicagoland, which means everyone is getting a little bored and stir crazy being cooped up inside- including our pets. You might have noticed that Fido has been a little more destructive lately or getting into things that normally go untouched. Or maybe Fluffy has been clawing up the curtains and couches while knocking stuff off the shelves. Both cats and dogs can exhibit signs of boredom and when they do, it’s not just your house and furniture that can suffer. Their health is also suffering!
Signs Your Pet May Be Bored
Signs of boredom vary from pet to pet but but some common signs include destructive behaviors such as; over grooming which can lead to hot spots or balding, changes in eating habits, increased aggression towards other pets in the house, and excessive clinginess when you are around. It’s never a bad idea to have your pet evaluated by a vet, especially if the issues come on suddenly or seem very severe; but much of the time poor Fido or Fluffy is bored when left home alone and can use some extra simulation. So as much as we would love to stay in bed with our favorite furry friends and snuggle away the last of winter, there has to be a better way to help our pets beat the boredom.
Winter Stimulation Activities for Pets
Fido would love a nice long walk before you head off to work, but sometimes that just is not possible (thanks old man winter!). Instead of heading outside for some mental and physical exercise, try practicing some obedience commands for 10-15 minutes inside your living room. Once your pup has mastered the basics, move on to some fun ones like ‘roll over,’ ‘shake,’ or even to put their toys back in a basket. If your pup needs a little more physical stimulation rather than mental, try a quick game of fetch or tug-o-war. Short games or training sessions can pay off big time when it comes to keeping your dog’s mental health in check. And most dogs tend to nap after some mental and physical exercise, which means less time for destruction.
Keep Your Pet’s Mind Sharp with Chews and Puzzle Feeders
Another great way to keep your dog entertained is with toys specifically designed to provide some mental stimulation. The tried and true Kong Classic is a great one to start with. The hollow opening has plenty of room to stuff some yummy treats inside. A good combination of larger treats in first, followed by some smaller morsels in the middle, then sealed off with some Kong specific filling or peanut butter will provide Fido enough variety to keep him interested and the different sized treats increase the challenge factor. Freezing a full Kong is a great way to extend the chewing time and it provides a refreshing cool-down for when the weather finally turns warm again.
If your pup needs more of a challenge to keep them interested, look for toys with a puzzle-like design. Puzzle feeders come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from bottle or ball like to a board style puzzle. Regardless of the style, the game is the same. Fill the openings with small treats, then your pooch needs to nose and knock it around to make the treats fall out or use their nose and paws to uncover the tasty morsels. The advantage to puzzle toys is that they get your dog thinking and moving at the same time.
So now that we have Fido entertained for a few hours, what about Fluffy? As much as it might seem that she enjoys lounging in the sunny window for hours on end, she needs a little mental and physical stimulation, too. Starting the day with a quick game of chase with a toy or feather on a string is a great way to satisfy a cat’s desire to chase and pounce. Need something requiring a little less movement on your part for the morning? Most cats will enjoy chasing the little red light of a laser pointer or pen. Just like a tired dog, sleepy cats are more likely to relax calmly throughout the day and less likely to be destructive when left alone.
Cats Crave Entertainment Too
Once Fluffy is rested from her morning chase session, a good toy can offer similar mental and physical benefits. Cats might not enjoy chewing as much as dogs, but they sure do love knocking things around. Once again, puzzle feeders can provide the perfect chance to get out that crazy kitty energy while challenging her mind. The need to work for their food or treats also provides your cat an outlet for ‘hunting,’ so your cat is less likely to bully other furry family members while you are away. Cats also love something good to use as a self grooming tool. So to prevent them from clawing and rubbing all up and down the couch or curtains, be sure to offer a variety of approved surfaces to scratch and rub. Look for a kitty post that provides more than one texture- like carpeting and rope- will keep her happier longer.
Another great way to keep your kitty entertained is to provide a variety of safe surfaces to jump on. Cat towers that are multilevel leveled or with ramps and a small hideaway are the purrfect trifecta. They offer platforms for jumping, a cubby for hiding, AND a great surface for clawing. Place that kitty tower near a window and Fluffy will thank you. After all, basking in the sun and outdoor bird watching are some of her favorite things to do.
Variety is the Spice of Life
One last tidbit to consider when looking for things to keep Fluffy and Fido entertained and out of trouble is variety. Even the best designed toy that had them busy for hours on the first day will lose its appeal if that is the only option day in and day out. For dogs, provide a variety of different texture and shapes of toys for chewing and flavors in the treats used to stuff fillable toys and puzzles. For cats, try moving the kitty tower to a new window to offer new sights and sounds to watch. They will also appreciate some variety in small toys to bat around and treats to ‘hunt’ from their puzzle feeders.
At the end of the day, the only thing better than coming home to happy, healthy pets, is coming home to happy, healthy pets AND finding your house mess and damage free. Try a few options above to keep them busy while you are gone and take the time before leaving to burn some energy- even just five minutes. And don’t forget a little extra love can go along way in keeping your pets mental well-being. If you are looking to entertain your pet while boosting their health, check out our post on treats with benefits to fill those toys and puzzles with tasty treats with a healthy kick.