Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Around this time every year, the side effects of winter start to take their toll on my household. My three cats and I all become irritable, depressed, bored, restless, frustrated, and just plain ticked off at the world. The bitter cold and knee-deep snow make the outdoors inhospitable, so we hole up indoors. On good days we are able to stay out of mischief; on the darkest days of winter we go stir crazy, which generally results in some sort of bad behavior. What that behavior is varies with the day (and the species), but yes – just like humans, pets can and do get Cabin Fever.
While not an actual disease as the name suggests, Cabin Fever is a state of mind. It’s a claustrophobic reaction brought on by an extended stay in a confined space or a remote, isolated area. Although Cabin Fever is more prevalent in winter, it can occur any time of the year.
Normally well-behaved dogs and cats suffering from Cabin Fever may begin to pick fights with other family pets. They might stare vacantly out the window all day, chew on things they’re not supposed to, or race around the house like something possessed. So what’s a responsible pet owner to do when the weather outside is frightful? Find ways to make being indoors more enjoyable!
All dogs need regular exercise and active play. Even though the harsh winter weather might prevent you from taking them out for long walks, runs or playtime at the dog park, they still need to get sufficient exercise for their breed. An indoor tug-of-war session is a great way burn off excess canine energy – and you’ll burn calories too!
Playing hide-and-seek not only keeps your dog moving, but gives him mental stimulation as well. Most dogs quickly learn how to play this game. “Tell your dog to stay (or have someone hold him) and then go hide,” suggests certified dog trainer Robin Bennett. “Once you're hidden, call your dog and let him use his nose to find you.” Other active ways to play with dogs are to create a mini agility course in your basement or playroom, or lay broomsticks over chairs and teach your dog to jump over them.
Cats need exercise and active play too. Keep them fit and stave off Cabin Fever with interactive toys that stimulate their hunting instincts – such as feather wands, kitty “fishing poles” and remote controlled mice. Cats love to climb and scratch, so satisfy both of these natural feline urges by giving them their own cat tree/tower with multiple perches and scratching surfaces. Lastly, you can set up a Feline Agility course in any room with a little extra space.
Winter is a great time to teach your pet some fun tricks. You can invest in a dog training book that gives step-by-step directions for all the basic tricks, but there’s plenty of info online too. We’ve written several “how to” articles about teaching tricks on this blog, including Teach Your Dog to Roll Over, Train Your Dog to Ring a Bell, and Teach Your Cat the High Five Trick.”
Hiding your dog’s favorite toy or some CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ treats around the house will work his mind, which can be just as helpful as physical exercise for combating Cabin Fever. Refresher obedience exercises can also help stimulate his mind. For cats, a window perch with several bird feeders outside will provide lots of stimulating action. Some dogs and cats even enjoy watching Pet Sitter DVDs on your TV.
High Quality Food
Feeding a premium pet food like CANIDAE or FELIDAE won’t “cure” Cabin Fever, but it can certainly help, because good food is the foundation for good health, and a healthy pet is a happier pet. When their nutritional needs are met, our dogs and cats have better digestion, and more vitality and energy.
One of the simplest things you can do for a dog or cat with Cabin Fever is to spend more time with them. Plenty of grooming, petting, hugging, playtime and just hanging out can help keep the winter doldrums at bay – for both of you!
Get Outside on “Nice” Days
I put “nice” in parentheses because I think the only pleasant thing about winter is that it eventually leads to spring. (Yes, I hate winter!). Nevertheless, on those winter days when the skies are calm and the sun provides a welcome respite to the bitter cold, get your dog outside. You can take a winter hike, go snowshoeing or try skijoring, a fun sport that involves getting pulled along on cross-country skis by an intrepid canine “driver.”
For more great suggestions on how to keep your pets from going stir crazy in winter, check out these articles: How to Deal With Canine Cabin Fever, and Games to Play with Pets on a Cold Winter Day.
Read more articles by Julia Williams