8 Ways to Beat Your Pet's Winter Blues
An estimated half a million Americans suffer from the wintertime blues, more clinically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is brought about by lack of sunlight.
But humans aren’t the only ones affected. Our animal friends suffer some similar symptoms such as depression, lethargy, and sleep problems. There are ways to help your pet—and cheer yourself up, too:
Get out! “Get your pets outside, where they can experience different smells and be visually stimulated,” says Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA’s Adoption Center. They’re also likely to meet other animal outdoors, which is especially beneficial to dogs, who are very social.
Exercise “There’s so much to be said for exercise and feel-good endorphins,” Wells says, “and without it, animals are going to feel a little more depressed.”
If it’s really too frigid, bring playtime inside. Wells suggests playing hide-and-seek with your dog. “It’s a stimulating game and a teaching game,” she says. “Hide and then call your dog to come to you and then reward him with toys and treats. Don’t make it too complicated—you can just tuck yourself behind a corner.”
For cats, consider cat dancer toys, which mimic prey and are like feathers at the end of a wand. You can also make the same thing for a dog with a plush toy at the end.
“An easy way to provide your dog with some exercise is to get him on a treadmill,” says Tyson Kilmer, dog training guru and host of “Natural Companions” on Veria Living.
Stimulate the mind “There’s a whole bevy of interactive puzzle games to keep dogs mentally stimulated,” Wells says, such as toys with interlocking pieces or hollow toys that can be stuffed with treats. Solving puzzles like these satisfies hard-wired instincts and drives in dogs also works.
“Cats can also benefit from mental stimulation, especially those with a strong predatory instinct and mischievous kittens,” Wells adds. You can use battery-operated motion-detected toys like Panic Mouse.
Daytime blues If you’re gone all day, make sure your dog or cat isn’t just vegging out on the rug.
“You can create a scent-related game,” Wells suggests. Take some inexpensive dog toys and impart scents (such as cinnamon, peppermint, or herbal extracts—anything from your baking cupboard) onto them and hide them. “Scent-related dogs like bloodhounds or basset hounds will love sniffing them out,” she says.
Hide the food Buy interactive toys such as Kong toys or a tricky treat ball and hide your pet’s food in them. But be aware, advises Wells: “This can be frustrating for a dog so gauge if she is getting all that food in a reasonable period of time.”
You can also make ice pops for your dog. Place her treats, kibble or any food in the bottom of an old container then fill the container with water (or low sodium stock or bouillon cubes) and freeze. The next day you’ll have a block of ice for your dog. “He’ll lick the ice until he gets to the treat filling the center,” Wells says. “It’s entertaining and will keep him go going for a long time.”
You can also hide cats’ treats. Cut up a paper towel roll and stuff it with cat treats then close up the ends so only a few cat treats come out when your cats bats it around.
Connect and cuddle “In the winter months it’s all about interaction,” Kilmer says. When your pet can’t get outside, stimulate him with cuddles, playtime, grooming, massage, and training, he advises. “Training especially is amazing. It uses animals’ brains and their memory and leaves them quite physically tired.”
Turn up the lights Turn on your lights or use brighter light bulbs. You can even buy special lights that replicate outdoor lighting. But don’t forget that you can also simply open drapes and blinds to let in natural light.
And don’t ignore the power of skylights. You can set up your pet’s dog underneath one. “Pets bask in the light, even if it’s not sunny out,” Kilmer says.
Bring the outside inside Some plants are pet safe and give your animals something to sniff and chew on. Or simply open the window in a room and let some different smells come in. “Even being able to smell outside is going to be entertaining for dogs,” Wells explains.
Or bring the outside closer Place your pet’s bed or pillow by a window so she can look outside, Make sure the window’s secure, says Wells, and “make sure there’s not something that might upset your pet on the other side of the window.” For cats you can place a bird feeder outside the window so he has something to watch.
Some human pleasures Television and music can also be stimulating for your pet. You can simply leave the TV on, or buy a DVD that’s geared towards your cat (showing prey animals) or dog (showing animals, especially other dogs).
‘Animals also respond to sound,’ says Wells, “they like classical music, which can elevate their mood or calm them down, especially if you’re away.”