Tips for a happier winter with your pet

A little extra effort to curb winter boredom can go a long way for you and your pets

Dog looking bored

Cozy fires. Soft blankets. There’s a lot to love about winter. But even the most indoorsy person gets a little stir crazy sometimes — and our pets feel the lack of fresh air and exercise too.

Many of us are sharing space with our pets more frequently than we used to. Increased time at home with pets due to the pandemic means their behavior is on display right in front of us and almost all of the time.

Shorter, colder days are ahead. Providing your pet with enough physical and mental stimulation is especially important in keeping them from acting out and creating their own fun (aka tearing apart your house). Setting boundaries and creatively addressing their needs will not only help you coexist more peacefully, it will help them better adjust to the brighter post-pandemic days when you’re not home as often.

The importance of physical exercise

Regular exercise reduces animals’ stress and burns excess energy, preventing unwanted behaviors brought on by boredom or anxiety.

For dogs (and leash-trained cats) this includes outdoor walks when possible. Ensure you vary both the route and terrain to keep things interesting for them. If you’re unable to get outdoors with your dog, or if your cat is indoors only, you can still provide vigorous exercise without heading outside.

Ideas for physical exercise:

  • Practice calling your pet to “come” from different areas of your dwelling.
  • Some cats and dogs love a little game of hide and seek!
  • Use your hallway to toss toys, treats, or kibble.
  • Make your cat run and leap for the feather wand, or engage your dog in a game of tug-of-war.

More activities to practice with your dog, no matter their age, at home.

Long haired adult cat playing with feather toy

Mental enrichment counts too

Exercise doesn’t have to be physically strenuous to be beneficial. Another way to tire out your pet is by working their mind.

Ideas for mental exercise:

  • Teach them a new trick.
  • Create frozen treats by adding wet food and kibble to an ice cube tray or muffin tin.
  • Provide a hunting experience by hiding their food around the house for them to find.
  • Brush them — positive touch counts as mental enrichment too.
  • Provide a variety of toys, including puzzle toys that require a little more mental effort.

Tricks for cohabiting peacefully

Constant access to their favorite person and a desire to be part of the action means working from home with pets can be challenging at times. Even if you’re not telecommuting, setting boundaries in your space and time will help prevent separation anxiety when life returns to normal. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Make your pet an honorary coworker. Create a spot near your desk where they can see you and relax near you while you work.
  • Give them daily alone time. Create a cozy nest with comfy blankets, toys, and a white noise machine to drown out sounds.
  • Practice leaving and returning home. Leave your house at least once a day to maintain some normalcy in your pets’ lives.

Looking for advice and resources to address behavior concerns?

Call our free Behavior Helpline at 763-489-2202 or request behavior help online.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline