Banish the Winter Wiggles: Fun Indoor Activities for Your Pet

Don’t Become a Cookie Monster

In winter, pets’ pent-up energy is often addressed with something they don’t really need: more treats, says trainer Julie Mullins. Too often when a pet “asks” for attention — maybe lobbying for a walk during the winter months — the owner provides a rawhide chew or some other treat instead of engaging in real physical activity. Of course, that can lead to unhealthy weight gain and behavior problems and doesn’t provide your house-bound pets with the mental or physical stimulation they desire. “If your pet appears to be begging, meet that need with a game of fetch or a run around the house,” Mullins says. “A treat probably isn’t what your pet was asking for in the first place.” See if you can avoid the treats altogether, unless you can get your pet to work for them through training exercises or games.

When to Call It Quits

Dr. Khuly tells her pet owners they should encourage active play for at least five minutes at a time three times a day. “But that’s only a rough rule,” she says. “Young dogs need much more play time — at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise two or three times daily.”

Before you start an exercise program, check with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is healthy enough for increased exercise. He or she can also offer advice on how to slowly work your pet up to 20 minutes if that’s not what he’s used to. And remember to reduce the duration and intensity if your pet seems sore afterward or the next day.

Burn Off Excess Steam

If your pet requires more activity, you may need other options for exercise.

“Several of my clients have taught their dogs to walk on full-size treadmills during inclement weather,” Dr. Downing says. “This requires intensive supervision, but it’s pretty easy for most dogs to learn.”

Another option: a doggy daycare that offers playtime. Even one or two visits a week could help pets get the wiggles out. “Likewise, there may be indoor swimming options in your area,” Dr. Downing says.

If your pup prefers running or jogging outdoors, consider hiring a dog jogger. “This service is popping up everywhere,” Mullins says. Be sure to provide plenty of water before, during, and after the run. And in more frigid climates, bundle pets up with a coat and booties.

Finally, perusing the aisles of your local pet store offers mental and physical stimulation — and great new smells. “The more places you take your vaccinated pet for socialization, the better,” Mullins says.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of HealthyPet magazine.

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