Cabin Fever in Pets
When the weather gets horribly cold, it is really difficult to give our pets as much exercise and play outside. Both dogs and cats that go outside may act up due to boredom. Feet freeze, making in painful to walk very far. It is harder to find the ball in the snow or chase mice and birds that are hunkering down in the shrubbery. Sometimes dogs may have accidents in the house because it is too hard on their feet to get "in position" to potty. Their toilet area may be covered with snow or just frozen, making it hard to smell the area. Accidents are forgivable; they are also very aggravating. Other ways that pets may act up in the winter is being more mischievous in the home. Cats may be knocking more items off your dresser or getting on the counters. Dogs may be pulling things off shelves to get your attention. You may hear more barking at squirrels out the window, or your cats may be swatting at each other more.
What to do? First of all, try to understand why your pets are behaving badly. The house is no where nearly as fun as the great outdoors. There are not as many places to sniff out, dig out or climb on top of. So, to help cure cabin fever, make the indoors more interesting. First be sure to keep the routines regular such as feeding and going outside. When you do feed make feeding time more interesting by using food puzzles rather than just feeding out of a bowl. Both dogs and cats get a lot of mental stimulation figuring out how the heck to get the food out of the toy. Meals in the puzzle, not just treats. You can see some videos starring Bella and Ranger using food puzzles on my youtube channel.
To avoid accidents in the house, keep your dog on a feeding schedule. They will typically need to toilet about a half an hour after eating. You can now predict when they will need to go and not have to spend so much time outside. Take your pet out for short but more frequent breaks and praise praise praise when they get it right. You may give them the first chance to eliminate, come in for 5 minutes (keeping them confined) then go on out again to finish up. Outside cats may still demand to toilet outside. If you let them out, give them some super yummy canned food just inside the house door to reward them for coming home.
Offering a potty pad in the home may be another way to help out the toy breeds. Reward the dog when they use the pad. Shoveling off some snow or making a path can also help the small dog go outside. For the housebound cat, reward them after using the box and keep the box absolutely clean. As soon as it is used, scoop it.
Increasing exercise cuts down on boredom and can help pets get along. Walking, even limited, is still good in the cold. Booties and coats help and there are sizes for the large to small pets. More frequent short walks going in different areas can help to minimize the frozen paws and still provide variety and some outside time. Head halters and front attaching harnesses can make walking easier and safer for the humans as well. Petsafe and other makers have various halter models that are easy to use.
Lastly, find ways to play and get exercise in the house. Games of chase up and down the stairs, review obedience commands or teach them a new trick. This will decrease naughty behaviors that come from boredom.
For cats use laser pointers they can chase, stuffed toys they can pounce on or boxes they can investigate. Cats really need to have their toys rotated every day to keep it interesting. You don't need many; just keep most up taking one or 2 down a day. Be sure you have enough places for the cats to lay and perch on. A step ladder set up with towels on the tread can increase the space to the cats. Placing this near a window can relieve much boredom.
Make the home mischief proof at this time. Remember that both cats and dogs can smell much better than us. So even though you put the chocolate brownies way back on the counter, your dog or cat will be very interested in getting to them. Be sure your garbage has a closing lid as well.
To learn more about pet behavior, contact me or read my blog.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote