Dr. Colleen Fisher
Veterinary Medical Director, Petsecure
With the approach of the holidays and winter, and with more COVID-19 restrictions, how do we keep our pets happy, healthy, and active?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us, including our pets. With people spending more time at home, disruptions in routine, and now the bustle of the holidays, our four-legged companions may feel stressed, anxious, or even neglected. By including pets in our day-to-day activities, we can keep them happy and healthy, and prevent troublesome behaviours like chewing, eating garbage, and house-training accidents.
Activities should include physical and mental stimulation
Though we tend to spend more time indoors in winter, dogs still need to get outside daily for fresh air and exercise. “Even a short 5- or 10-minute morning walk can help start their day in a positive manner,” says Dr. Colleen Fisher, Veterinary Medical Director at Petsecure, a Canadian pet insurance company. Certain short-haired breeds from chihuahuas to Great Danes may need a coat and shouldn’t be out in the cold for long.
“Where we can’t provide them with physical activity, we should at least try to provide mental stimulation to keep their brains active,” says Dr. Fisher. Indoor activities for dogs can include training games or offering food puzzles, such as treats inside a toy, old towel, or Kong. “This helps keep them busy so they’re more likely to show happy behaviours,” says Dr. Fisher.
Indoor games that involve building independence can instill confidence in dogs and relieve anxiety. “A great way is by putting treat toys in different rooms or areas of the home and letting the dog find them at their own pace, so they get some separation and quiet time for themselves,” says Dr. Fisher.
Activities should also consider the dog’s breed and natural tendencies. Hunting-type breeds such as beagles, terriers, and dachshunds do well with games that incorporate “nosework” by having to search for things. “We want to find games that play to the dog’s individual strengths,” says Dr. Fisher.
Cats, comfort, and curiosity
For cats, it’s all about the environment. Along with nice comfy chairs, couches, and beds for lounging and sleeping, cats need vertical spaces where they can observe from up high, especially if there are children or dogs around. Having perches, boxes, or hiding holes — preferably away from their feeding station and litter box — gives them much-needed quiet time.
Cats tend to have individual preferences with toys. “Some like furry, others feathery, and others still prefer rubbery toys,” says Dr. Fisher. Cats also get bored quickly, so using one or two toys at a time for short periods, putting them away, and then bringing them out 20 minutes later or so can keep them amused for longer. Again, treat balls and puzzles work well, as do toilet paper and paper towel rolls, and even a simple piece of crumpled paper. Whatever toy you use, take precautions to ensure your cat doesn’t eat it.
Less food, more attention and play
With people spending more time at home, it’s easy to get into the habit of leaving food out all day for your pet to graze or give into your pet’s constant food requests. However, this can lead to overfeeding and ultimately obesity. Obese animals are more prone to illnesses like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer. “To avoid these problems, it’s best to limit their feedings to mealtimes and show your love through more attention and play,” says Dr. Fisher.