When the clocks go back in late October and we count down to the shortest day of the year on 21 December, many of us experience low mood. It’s not much fun for our pets either. With a lack of sunlight and less time spent outdoors, it’s hardly surprising if our furry family members also suffer from the blues. At this time of year, our pets need their human to put a bit of sparkle back into those dreary winter days, which can be a whole lot of fun for everyone! Try our practical tips and ideas for games to play – and think up some of your own…
Make the most of available light
- Each morning when the sun finally comes up, open all the curtains to let natural light into your home. Place your pet’s bed near a sunny window – more light entering their pupils can have a positive effect on brain chemistry.
- Do your best to walk your dog at least once a day during daylight so they can top up on some vital Vitamin D and boost their feel-good serotonin levels.
- On those rare sunny days, spend some time playing with your pets in the garden – just make sure they don’t get cold or damp.
If your pet loses their appetite, has a decreased energy level or shows any other symptoms that are unusual for them, it could be more than a case of the winter blues. Visit your vet so they can rule out or treat any underlying health problems.
Think up some fun ways to play with your pets
Pets cooped up indoors will really appreciate some extra attention and some stimulating activities to try…
- Play a game of ‘find it’ with your dog, using a favourite toy or some treats to arouse your canine chum’s amazing sniffing ability. Start by getting your dog to sit and drop some treats around the room where he can see them. Give a cue to ‘find it’ and praise him when he picks each one up. Once your dog has got the hang of it, start hiding them in more challenging spots such as on a chair or under a rug. After some practice your dog will begin to home in on their natural sniffing abilities, and they’ll start relying on their nose rather than visual cues.
- Pet stores stock special pet bubbles in peanut butter and bacon scents and the ‘chasing bubbles’ game is a fun way to keep your dog or cat busy on dull, wet days. Start by blowing one or two bubbles at a time. If your pet doesn’t show interest in the bubbles at first, try pointing to them. Encourage your pet to ‘catch’ the bubbles while they’re floating around.
- From dogs to cats, ferrets to rabbits, why not encourage your pets to get some exercise on rainy days by creating an ‘indoor agility’ course? Use boxes, brooms, towels, cushions, or anything you’ve got to hand to build an indoor obstacle course. Start by using a treat as a lure and encourage your pet to jump over, under or weave around the different objects.
- The ‘which hand?’ game will really get your pet’s brain buzzing. Grab some treats and ask your dog to sit. Allow your dog to watch as you place a treat in one of your hands Close your hands into a downward facing fist and extend them out to your dog and ask: ‘which hand?’. Once your dog touches the correct hand with their paw or nose, praise them and give them the treat. Some dogs will get this game straight away, while others may need a little more practice.
- Let your imagination run wild and create a ‘winter wonderland’ cat activity centre out of cardboard boxes with holes cut out for them to climb in and explore and intriguing cat-nip infused toys to discover – how you theme it (Game of Thrones/Dr Who/ Great British Bake Off?) is up to you! Also invest in a fishing rod-style toy that you can swish about to encourage your pet to chase and grab as they pop out from their hidey-hole.
- ‘Magic cups’ is a great brain game for dogs that some cats may find intriguing too. Get three cups and some treats. Let your pet watch as you place a treat under one of the cups, then shuffle them around. Encourage your pet to identify the cup with the treat underneath with a paw or nose.
- Keep pets busy by placing food devices, such as filled Kongs or food puzzles, in different places around the house so they can ‘forage for food’ instead of just eating it from a bowl. Small pets of all kinds will enjoy seeking out tasty treats scattered in their feeding hay or wrapped up in paper bags.
- Hard plastic balls, particularly with bells inside them, will provide hours of ‘paw-patting’ fun for cats and ferrets. Toys designed for human babies, such as rattles and teething rings, should survive some serious ferret investigation. Curious mustelids will have great fun wrestling with small, soft toys (ensure squeakers or noise makers are safely enclosed inside).
- ‘Hide and seek’ isn’t just for kids – some dogs will enjoy a game, although you may need to enlist help if your tail-wagging pal won’t stay when you leave the room. Find a hiding spot and then call your dog. Give them lots of praise and a treat when they find you for simple but effective indoor fun.
Although it’s important at all times of the year, it’s vital in winter to make time every day to interact with your animal companions, talking to them, playing with them and giving them lots of attention and affection.
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