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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

cabin fever crazy!

Winter is here and my dog and cat are going nuts!  

It's even too cold for the birds!

  When the weather gets horribly cold, it is really difficult to give our pets as much exercise and  play outside. Both dogs and cats will  act up due to boredom.  Feet freeze, making it painful to walk  or run much.  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.

Bella likes her Buster cube food puzzle
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 website
 To avoid accidents in the house,  take your dog out for short but  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. 
Tom and Yodler enjoy Meadowbrook
Increasing exercise cuts down on boredom and can help pets get along.   Walking, even limited, is still good in the cold.  3 -5 minute walks are as good as one 15 minute walk, and more tolerable when it is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.   Head halters and front attaching harnesses can make walking easier and safer for the humans as well.  Booties and coats do help and are not going to affect how your dog is used to the weather.   
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.

Ranger with a modified window sill bed
  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. 
So I hope everyone is warm, happy and not going too crazy this January.  Let me know what helps your pets avoid cabin fever crazy!  You can see videos featuring Bella and Ranger  at my website or our face book page.  Thanks!

Dr. Sally J. Foote DVM

Dr. Sally J. Foote

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