Cabin Fever Tips for Your Pets!

February 17, 2017

Before the glorious PNW summer arrives, the weather can be less than hospitable for pets and their owners. Spending more time indoors, pets and people are both at risk of experiencing some “cabin fever” and owners may notice an uptick in behavior problems due to increased boredom and lack of outside time. Here are some easy tips to help your cats and dogs ward off the dreaded cabin fever!

 

One simple thing to incorporate into your daily routine is using food puzzles with your pets, either for feeding their meals, or even just for giving treats. You can find food puzzles for both cats and dogs online, at most pet stores, or you can even make your own! Food puzzles are just items that can contain kibble or treats that make the animals “work” for their food. Some are round or oval objects with holes that require the animal to roll it around on the ground to make the food fall out. Others require the animal to move different pieces around with their nose or paw to access the food hidden underneath. There are also puzzles (also called slow feeders) that look more like bowls or trays with spirals/mazes that just takes them a little longer to eat the food. You can also make cheap, easy homemade food puzzles with cupcake tins, or even old cereal boxes! Most pets have preferences of either food puzzles that are stationary, or that move around- figure out which your pet prefers! If your pet has never used a food puzzle, start easy with slow feeders or cupcake tins. As you make it more difficult, add more exciting food or treats to it to encourage the dog to challenge themselves. Many dogs “fail” at food puzzles because they are too hard and they struggle to get the food out. If your pet won’t use or eat out of a food puzzle, make sure they are still getting their daily meals.

 

Bored dogs often enjoy to chew, so before your shoe or couch cushion becomes the next victim, invest in some good chew toys! Kongs toys can be stuffed peanut butter or wet food and frozen, which takes your dog a while to work on. You can also give your dog “bully sticks” or “pigs ears” to keep them occupied during inside time.

 

Despite the weather, you can still “exercise” your pets inside. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise and can even tire a dog out faster. Training can be hard work for your pet’s brain! Basic commands and tricks like “stay”, “shake” or “roll over” can be fun for the dog to learn. In addition, training doesn’t have to take a long time. Even 15 minutes of training can help tire out his brain. Cats who are used to roaming outside during nice weather are safer inside during the winter, but still need exercise to stay happy and healthy. Invest in a laser pointer or wand toy for your cat to encourage them to run, jump, and climb. Cat trees and scratching posts are also important  “furniture” to provide your cat so he can practice his natural instinct of climbing and scratching. Cats might also enjoy exploring and grazing on potted “cat grass” or cat nip plants, which can be bought at many pet stores and garden centers.

 

Another fun thing you can do indoors is “nose work”! There are books, online resources, and trainers available who teach how to get started on nose work and different techniques, but below is an easy way to get started:

  • Grab 5 boxes and lots of smelly treats your dog really likes. Start with boxes that are easy for your dog to fit his head into and that don’t have lids or flaps.
  • Place your dog away in another room.
  • Set the boxes up in a circle on the floor and put a treat in every box.
  • Let your dog out, say “find it!” and encourage him to approach the boxes.
  • Follow closely behind him as he smells the boxes. Ignore him if he looks to your for direction. You want him to focus on using his nose, not listen to your directions.
  • When he sticks his nose into a box, praise him and put a couple more treats into the box while his head is still inside. Then let him move on to the next box and repeat.
  • After a few minutes, say “all done!” and move him back to the crate/other room. It’s okay if he doesn’t find all the treats in the beginning!
  • Repeat one or two more times and then call it quits for the day. Most dogs are good after about 15 minutes of using their nose and are tired, and you want to stop while your dog still has fun with the game.

Over time, you can start using harder boxes, spreading them further about the room, and even placing them on different levels to encourage your dog to search for the smells. When it’s warmer, you can even do nose work outside!