Activity and exercise are important for humans’ and pets’ physical and mental fitness. Exercise boosts feel-good, pain-dulling compounds, helps maintain a healthy weight, and can prevent or treat behavior problems, but getting enough—especially in bad weather—can be a challenge. The Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team offers a few ideas to help you keep your pet active-year round.
#1: Go for a walk or run
Walking and running outside with your pet are the most fundamental and easiest-to-perform exercises on our list. No equipment or skill required! Walking outside provides your pet with not only physical exercise, but also excellent mental stimulation as they experience sights, sounds, and smells that vary with each trip. Avoid walking in below-freezing temperatures, however, or if snow and ice prevent adequate traction.
#2: Play ball or frisbee in the yard
Playing fetch with a ball or frisbee is another classic dog activity, and some dogs will ask for throw after throw. If your pet is persistent about the game, try a ball launcher or thrower to reduce your shoulder strain. Also, ensure your pet takes adequate water and rest breaks.
#3: Conduct a training session
Training can take place indoors or outdoors and can involve your dog, cat, or any other pet. Training sessions keep your pet’s brain active, and can take place in a small or large area, depending on the commands or tricks. The beauty of training is that it never gets old—you can use clicker training to shape new, fun behaviors, and work on something different each day. Check out the Karen Pryor clicker training website for more information on this popular training method.
#4: Set up a scavenger hunt
Pets love to eat, so hiding food around your home can be a fun, engaging activity that gets their body and brain moving. Hide treats or kibbles all over the house, using snuffle mats or rugs for extra difficulty. For cats, consider using a specially designed feeder toy that encourages them to chase and interact to get the food inside.
#5: Meet up with a friend
If you have a dog-owning friend with a large, secured yard, or indoor space such as a garage, barn, or unfinished basement, consider setting up a play date. This is safer than the dog park, where dogs may not be vaccinated or have parasites or other illnesses, and interactions between dogs are not supervised adequately. Choose a dog your dog already knows and likes playing with to set up both dogs for success.
#6: Make an obstacle course
If you’ve done some training with your dog, go one step further and set up a mini agility course in your home. Create jumps, steps, and tunnels from household items, and provide days or weeks of training activity. If your dog shows promise, consider joining an agility club for more serious training.
#7: Tempt cats with food puzzles and interactive toys
Getting cats to stay active—especially older adult and senior cats who prefer to sleep most of the day—can be challenging. Interactive or motorized toys can entertain your cat and encourage activity, whether or not you are home. You should also set aside one-on-one play sessions. Try purchasing a toy variety to see what most appeals to your cat, and rotate toys to prevent boredom. Catnip is another great option for some cats.
#8: Go for a swim
Swimming can be done indoors or outdoors, so is a great year-round activity for dogs. Many veterinary rehabilitation or stand-alone swim facilities offer assisted swim programs to help pets with mobility or weight issues, or those who need to burn excess energy.
#9: Enroll in a dog sport
The wide variety of dog sports ensures that you will find something that works for you and your pet. Agility is the most well-known dog sport, but many other activities, such as nosework, field trials, obedience, or herding, are geared toward individual breed strengths. Use Google to find nearby organizations and get your dog involved.
Staying active is important, and your pet still needs exercise when the weather takes a turn, but these indoor and outdoor activities can keep you and your pets active year-round. Schedule a visit with the Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital team if you need advice on modifying activity for your pet, or you have questions regarding your pet’s exercise needs.
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