S.T.E.P.S. - Boredom Busters for Winter Blues

Do you sigh as the weatherman predicts another day of bitter cold temperatures? Does your dog give you the “are you crazy - I am not going out there” look when you open the door to another day of rain? Are your pets starting to go stir crazy from boredom?

Here are a few indoor games to help your cats and dogs beat the bad weather boredom.

Games for Cats:  

Even though cats seem to sleep all the time, they still need exercise and stimulation. Kittens are wonderful bundles of energy that can play to exhaustion, especially if there is another kitten around. As cats age they lie around more. It is always good to have environmental enrichment tools around the house for cats. Perches are great, since cats love to watch the world from up high. Scratching posts and cat trees are great for encouraging them to stretch, climb and are a great  outlet for their natural need to scratch. Choose toys that trigger their natural prey drive.  In nature, cats hunt in order to eat, but because their prey is typically small, they have to hunt frequently. So while dogs can spend long periods of time playing and exercising, cats tend to prefer shorter play periods of 10-20 minutes at a time. Be sure to watch your cat and when they start to lie down or seem tired, finish the play session. 

Laser Time: Laser pointers are a great way to encourage exercise in cats. They provide great entertainment for us. Be sure not to point the laser directly into the cat or other people’s eyes. Always end the game with the cat “winning” by giving a toy to play with afterward to avoid fixation and frustration over never being able to catch the light beam. There are some dogs that enjoy chasing the laser dot as well.

Kitty Kat Whack-a-Mouse: This is a feline-friendly version of the classic Whack-a-Mole game that you may have played at an arcade. Start by taking a large box and cut some holes in the top of the box big enough for a toy mouse to fit through. Then cut a hole in the bottom panel, big enough for you to fit your hand through. Put the box on its side and call your cat over to it. Stick a furry mouse cat toy through one of the holes, wiggle it to encourage your cat to try to get it. Try to pull it back before your cat can get the mouse, and immediately stick it out another hole. 

Catch Me if You Can: Slither snakelike cat toys up and down and over different surfaces (couch, floor and tables). This activity should bring out the predator in your cat. Just make sure she doesn’t swallow the toy or any string.

Teach your cat to play fetch: Attach a favorite toy to a string, throw the toy, and pull it back as needed. As your cat gets the hang of the game, remove the string and only toss the toy. 

Feather toys: Feather toys, either on sticks or attached to a ball, can bring out the hunter in cats. Just a flick of your wrist can send your cat leaping through the air to chase after the “bird.”

If you're doing exercises at home, you can get your cat involved too!  Here are some ways to incorporate playing with your cat into your workout:

  • Laser Light Crunches: Do sit-ups with a laser pointer or a flashlight in your hands. When you get to the top of the sit-up, hold your position and crunch your abs for a few seconds while moving the flashlight beams on your wall.
  • Cat Curls: Tie a string to a toy and around your dumbbells.  As you curl, your cat will go crazy trying to catch the toy as it goes up and down.

Games for Dogs

Dogs need daily exercise, regardless of the weather. In snow or rain, they still need mental and physical stimulation. Just like with cats, monitor your dog closely for any unusual signs of fatigue or trouble breathing. If your dog wants to stop and rest, let them. Pets that overdo it can also suffer strained tendons or ligaments or other orthopedic problems. Some breeds will have an easier time exercising than other breeds. Brachycephalic breeds (the flat faced breeds like Boston Terriers and Pugs) have a harder time breathing in general. Heat and humidity can make it more difficult for dogs to breathe, especially the brachycephalic breeds and older pets with respiratory issues, so it's best to avoid exercise during the hottest part of summer days. Avoid exercising your pet immediately before or after they’ve eaten. A full stomach may cause digestive upsets, including bloat.

Dog Tag: Just like when you were a kid, tag is not only fun but is also a great workout for both you and your pet. Grab his favorite toy, "tag" your dog, then start running around and let him chase you.

Fetch Races: Grab your dog’s favorite toy and toss it. Race your pooch to the toy. Then toss it again.

Hide and Seek: Teaching your dog to seek when you hide may require two people unless your dog has a strong  “sit and stay” command. Have your dog sit and stay or have the other person hold the dog until you hide. Call the dog’s name once to have the dog start the “seek.” The other person releases the dog at this point. Praise and reward the dog when they find you. It is recommended that you leave a part of your body visible when hiding in the beginning. This helps the dog locate you. As they get better  at “seeking” you, gradually make it more difficult to find you. 

Fetch: Throwing a ball or toy is great exercise for your dog, and you can make them work harder by doing it on stairs. Be sure to clear the area of any breakable items before you start. A short session of stairwell fetch expends more energy than on a flat ground, though it is not an ideal for dogs who are clumsy, or who have physical limitations.  Chose toys that are big enough that they cannot be swallowed or become lodged in the dog’s mouth or throat and cause injury. Sticks are not a good choice of toys due to the higher incidence of splintering. Tennis balls covered with fuzz can damage enamel on dogs' teeth and cause tooth wear or even tooth breakage.

Fetch Tease for Abs: Grab your pup's favorite toy and pretend to toss it as you reach the top of your sit-up. Try to get in as many reps as you can until your dog becomes wise that you still have their toy.

Find the Treat Challenge: Start with placing a treat or piece of kibble under a cup and have the dog find it. Once they are good at finding the kibble, place the kibble under a cup inside a box and have the dog find it. Gradually add more items to the game to challenge your dog. Put kibbles on a plate with a pie tin over it, place them under a chair, or in a box inside a laundry basket to add twists to the Treat Challenge game. Each game can be different and as creative as you want it to be.

Ball and Muffin Tin Game: Start with an empty muffin tin. Place one small treat or piece of kibble in each of the cups and let your cat or dog “find” it. Repeat until they are excited and eagerly waiting for you to put another treat in the cup. Next, place one treat in each cup and place a ball on top of the cup ( so it hides the treat). Let your cat or dog see you place the ball on top of the cup. Let your pet have the muffin tin to see if they can sniff out  and “find” the treat. This may take a little time for them to find the treat. If they are starting to lose interest, pick up a ball and let them smell the treat then replace the ball. As they get used to finding the treats, you can start reducing the number of treats used, so they have to “find” the treat.

Many of the above games can be used for both cats and dogs. Always keep safety in mind when playing games. But most of all, be creative and have fun with your best friend!