Short, cold winter days means a lot of pets don’t get as much activity as in spring, summer, and fall. Some pets love the extra rest while others start to display questionable behavior. We’ve put together a list of indoor enrichment activities to keep your pets happy and healthy. Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise!
Enrichment activities provide opportunities for your pet to engage in species-specific behaviors with the goal of improving their well-being. Who doesn’t want their pet to be happy and healthy? While physical activity like going for walks, playing with other dogs, and chasing a tennis ball can be considered enriching for many dogs, there are a lot of other species-typical behaviors that dogs find enjoyable, stress reducing, and satisfying such as licking, chewing, sniffing, and shredding. The same goes for cats. Cats love to hunt, hide, play, and scratch. Used well and often, enrichment increases the quality of life of your pet, and it builds emotional resilience by preventing boredom and providing mental stimulation.
Remember, just like humans, not all pets are alike. You may love running and your best friend prefers mountain biking. You may love downhill skiing and your brother prefers video games. Enrichment only works if your pet is interested in the activity. Try a few of these enrichment activities and see which one your pet enjoys.
- Hide and Seek: it’s as simple as it sounds. You hide and your dog seeks. Tell your dog to stay. (If you’re dog doesn’t know ‘stay,’ you could ask a roommate or friend to hold onto the dog until you’ve found your hiding spot.) Once you’ve found your hiding spot, say ‘release’ or ‘okay,’ or whatever word you use to release your dog. Your dog will sniff through the room or the house until they find you. When your dog finds you, give them a high reward treat to reinforce the ‘find me’ behavior.
- Hide and Seek Toys: hide your dog’s toys around the house. Tell your dog to ‘stay’ and then perhaps put a tennis ball under the couch, a stuffed animal behind a pillow, or a bone on a low bookshelf. ‘Release’ your dog, instructing them to find the hidden toys. Over time, you can make this more challenging by hiding toys in a basket of blankets, under blankets on the couch or even inside cabinets. When your dog finds the toy, give them a high reward treat to reinforce the rules of the game.
- Lick Mats or Kongs: lick mats and kongs serve more than 1 purpose. Not only do they provide your pet with a tasty snack, but they also slow down your dog’s eating and they are a stress reliever because licking is calming. Try peanut butter, pumpkin, or yogurt. For a more advanced option, freeze the lick mat or Kong after you’ve applied the tasty treat. If you prefer to make your own, put a schmear of peanut butter, pumpkin, or yogurt inside of an empty cardboard toilet paper or paper towel roll. Shredding is a natural, calming instinct so we suggest you supervise this activity to make sure your dog doesn’t ingest any cardboard.
- If you want to purchase a reusable lick mat or Kong, we suggest this lick mat (https://www.chewy.com/frisco-silicone-treat-lick-mat-2/dp/258606) and this Kong (https://www.chewy.com/kong-classic-dog-toy/dp/38485).
- Puzzle Toys: dogs love to have a job and puzzle toys give your dog something to do. Yummy treats become an incentive to solve a problem. If you want to make your own puzzle, put kibble in a muffin tin and then cover it with tennis balls.
- If you want to buy one, we suggest this slide puzzle (https://www.chewy.com/nina-ottosson-by-outward-hound-brick/dp/175427) or this plush puzzle (https://www.chewy.com/frisco-monkeys-in-tree-hide-seek/dp/201450).
- Doggy Ball Pit: if you want to take dog entertainment to the next level, try a doggy ball pit. Fill a plastic kiddie pool or your bathtub with tennis balls and then sprinkle kibble or high reward treats on top. As your dog searches for the kibble, the balls will get in the way providing lots of fun. If you have a nervous dog, start with a few balls, and gradually add more balls as they become more comfortable.
- Slow Feeder: cats love to hunt and play with food so a slow feeder will entertain by activating your cat’s natural instincts. For a DIY option, use a toilet paper roll. Fold and tape the ends closed. Cut a hole in the middle and put kibble or high reward treats inside. Your cat will have so much fun trying to get the kibble out.
- If you prefer to buy a reusable slow feeder, try this tunnel slow feeder https://www.chewy.com/trixie-activity-strategy-game-tunnel/dp/134682
- Bird TV for Cats: yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Make your cat a comfy place to rest and then on your TV or on an iPad, log into YouTube and search ‘bird tv for cats.’ These cat friendly videos will provide hours of mental stimulation. Try this 8-hour video and see if your cat likes it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbs7FT7dXYc
- Cat Tunnel: cats love to hide, pounce, and play. You can make your own tunnel by laying cardboard boxes on the floor or order this 3-way reusable tunnel https://www.chewy.com/etna-3-way-cat-tunnel/dp/218067
- Cat Scratcher: whether or not they have claws, cats love to scratch. Scratching allows cats to flex their toes, activate scent glands to leave a scent trail, and if they do have claws, shed the outer layer of their nails. A great cat scratcher you may already have on hand is a classic door mat made with coconut coir like this https://www.target.com/p/1-6-x2-6-solid-doormat-beige-room-essentials-8482/-/A-21503540#lnk=sametab . Sprinkle some cat nip on top to attract your cat and reward them with treats to encourage the scratching behavior on a safe, cat-friendly surface. If you prefer to buy a scratcher, we recommend these basic scratchers https://www.chewy.com/frisco-double-wide-cat-scratcher-toy/dp/201489 or this standing scratcher https://www.chewy.com/petlinks-scratchers-choice-pillar/dp/200214
- Cat House: as mentioned above, cats love to hunt, hide, and play. A new interactive cat house could be just the thing to entertain your feline friend this winter. If your inspired to make your own cat house out of cardboard boxes, watch this how to video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq_b-bz6HBI and if you prefer to buy one, we suggest this one https://www.chewy.com/tiger-tough-gingerbread-house/dp/205506
If you discover your pet loves one or all these indoor enrichment activities, take a video, share it on social media and tag us @askasanimals. We love to see what you and your pets are up to!