Short of ideas for fun things to do in the winter? The short, chilly days can take their toll on our pets, which is why it’s important that, as responsible pet guardians, we go all out to boost the feelgood factor for our four-legged friends. From ‘treat-seeking missions’ to indoor circuits, getting creative with cardboard box activity centres and paper bag wraps, we’ve lots of ideas for you to try out.
Plan a treat seeking mission
Your dog’s mission, should they choose to accept it, is to seek out the hidden treats. Most dogs will love this as it gives them a chance to use their amazing sniffing abilities and be rewarded by discovering a tasty titbit. Start by getting your dog to sit and drop some treats around the room where he can see them. Say in an excited voice: ‘find the treats’ and, when he picks each one up, give him lots of praise. Do this until your dog begins to understand the game. Next, start hiding treats in more challenging spots such as under a rug or behind a curtain. After some practice, your dog will start relying on their nose rather than visual cues. Alternatively, you could hide a favourite toy.
Bubble and chase
Chasing bubbles around the lounge is a great way to keep your dog or cat entertained when it’s cold, dark and wet outside. Pet stores even stock special pet bubbles in alluring peanut butter and bacon scents. Start by blowing one or two bubbles at a time. If your pet doesn’t show much interest at first, try pointing to them as they fly around the room. Encourage your pet to ‘catch’ the bubbles while they’re floating around and they’ll soon be enjoying lots of bubble hunting fun.
From dogs to cats, chinchillas to ferrets and rabbits to rats, why not encourage your pets to get some exercise on rainy days with some indoor agility? What you create your course with is up to you – use boxes, books, brooms, towels, cushions, or whatever you’ve got to hand to create your own indoor obstacle challenge. Start by using a treat as a lure and encourage your pet to jump over, under or weave around the different objects.
King or Queen of the Castle
What cat, rabbit, ferret or rat wouldn’t like their very own castle? With a little imagination you can create a noble playing place out of cardboard boxes with towers and turrets and holes cut out for your pets to climb in and explore (alternatively, you could buy a wooden version). If you have bunnies, stuff some hay in there so they can munch away happily while checking out their new residence. Ferrets will love a ‘secret’ tunnel or two to wriggle through. Rats will enjoy finding their way around a miniature Hampton Court-style maze constructed from cardboard. For curious felines, lure them in with some intriguing catnip infused toys to discover. You could even rig up a fishing rod- style toy from an old garden cane with something floaty tied to the end (such as a pair of old tights). Swish this about to encourage your cat to chase and grab as they pop out to defend their regal hidey-hole. You could even create a miniature version or small pets such as hamsters, mice, gerbils and degus. Make sure you use safe, non-toxic glue to stick your creations together.
Play for the hay
Most bunnies like to play and throw toys around, particularly if there’s some tasty hay involved. A willow ball or cardboard tube stuffed with hay is ideal for batting about. Try putting a bunch in a sheet of brown paper and tie the ends with a strand of hay to look like a Christmas cracker. Your buns will love chucking this around and then ripping it open to get to the hay inside. PDSA has more ideas for homemade bunny toys here >>
Take three cups
This 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.
Fun and forage
Keep dogs, cats and ferrets busy by placing food devices, such as filled Kongs or food puzzles, in different places so they can ‘forage for food’ instead of just eating it from a bowl. Small furries of all kinds will enjoy seeking out yummy treats scattered in their feeding hay or wrapped up in paper bags. Animal charity Wood Green has a guide go making your own forage feeder here >>
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 a great time wrestling with small, soft toys (ensure any squeakers are safely enclosed inside).
The name game
It’s estimated that dogs are capable of learning over 200 words – so why not put that ability to good use by teaching them the names of their toys? Start with one specific toy and use a name for it. Repeat the name while they’re playing with it and they’ll start to pick up on the name you’re using. After practicing with a few different toys, you can then set them a challenge to ‘find Fergus the pheasant’ or ‘blue ball’. If they succeed, give them lots of praise. You could even train them to ‘drop it’, while they’re standing over their toy box, teaching them another useful game – ‘put your toys away’!
Chew and chill
After all that activity, it’s time for your pets to enjoy some down time – and what better way to do that than with something good to chew on. Dogs find chewing a very soothing activity and small pets love to keep those endlessly growing teeth occupied. Flavoured rubber or wooden chews will provide canines with hours of chewing fun (without extra calories), while small pets will love to get their teeth stuck into some wholesome gnaw sticks.
Even more ideas…
Dogs Trust shows you how to make your canine chum a Snuffle Mat. This enrichment toy encourages your dog to sniff and search out hidden treats amongst the mat. You could also teach your dog some tricks, such as the ‘Figure Eight Game’ and the ‘Snoot Challenge’ –there’s a whole range of easy-to-follow guides on the charity’s Dog School videos
The RSPCA has put together 8 simple DIY loo rolls games to keep your pets entertained including: A Dog Scent Game, Mouse House, Cat Hunt Game and Rabbit Treat Toy
Blue Cross has lots of ideas for DIY pet toys for dogs, cats and small pets
PDSA has a range of homemade toys for cats that you can create yourself.
Is your pet a Burgess pet? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.
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Sources: puppyleaks.com, bluecross.org.uk, positively.com, pfma.org.uk, pdsa.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, petmd.com