For many pet owners, or at least dog and adventurous cat owners, uttering the words ‘outside’ or ‘walk’ can set their furred friends into a frenzy of excitement. Unfortunately, going outside isn’t always an option. Whether it’s the weather, a natural disaster, or maybe an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you’ll need to find a good inside alternative to keep those pets in check.
Pets need regular exercise for a number of reasons, but to keep it simple, the main two things they need are physical activity and mental stimulation. That’s right, even your pets can get bored! For many, a walk or a trip to the dog park is ideal because it provides a change of environment, an opportunity and space for exercise, and sometimes a bit more socialization
What’s Off the Table?
Before getting into all the activities you can do, it’s a good idea to take a look at what’s not available. With the coronavirus pandemic currently impacting the nation, social distancing rules have put a lot of restrictions on when, where, and how people are allowed to gather. Or more specifically, how they’re not allowed to gather.
While it’s been shown that pets can’t carry the illness and experience symptoms, it’s not impossible for contact transmission. That means that if an infected person were to cough on their hand or sleeve, then pet your dog, you could theoretically catch the virus by petting your dog after that interaction.
The chances are slim, sure, but it’s one of the many reasons that social distancing has extended to include the closures of places like dog parks, public and state or national parks, and even many non-essential pet boarding facilities. Clearly there are allowances for people that need to walk their pets or visit veterinary facilities, but people will be spending a lot of time inside outside of these few instances.
Indoor Exercise and Activities
Just because you’re stuck inside or at home doesn’t mean you and your pets have to go without any activity to clear out that pent up energy. Here’s a list of solid alternatives to keep your pets healthy until the parks and trails reopen:
Take It To the Yard
If you’ve got a backyard, now’s the time to use it! Get out back and toss a ball, run around, or just act up altogether. Even if your animals are used to a larger park or running on trails, a few laps around the backyard or a good game of fetch for 30 minutes to an hour each day can help maintain their active routines.
If you happen to have a larger dog, living in an apartment or even a smaller house will make things a bit complicated. What you’ll really need is a back yard or hopefully a small dog walking space on your apartment’s premises. Large breeds tend to need more space, and given their higher rates of bone and muscle issues as they age, it’s important that they have the space needed to exercise and stay healthy.
Without a backyard or some kind of outdoor space around your home, you might be a bit more limited. But that’s okay! A perfect way to keep your pets active inside is to keep their routine going. If you’re working from home during the pandemic, consider playing tug of war or having a game of chase around the house. Just be mindful of neighbors above or below if you’re planning to stomp around the apartment.
As a side note: both tug of war and chase are great games for dogs of all ages, but be careful how you play and mind your dog’s behavior.
Tug of war is good for healthy dogs, and it can be an excellent way to train certain commands while playing with your pup. However, if it seems to be instigating attention seeking or aggressive behaviors, it’s best to find another game that better suits your dog’s temperament.
Chase is similar, be sure to let your dog chase you instead of chasing your dog. While more well trained dogs might be fine with being chased, for dogs with less training it could teach them that being chased is a game. If they were to get off leash or run in a less safe area, that ‘game’ reaction could be unsafe for both the dog and owners trying to catch them.
Cats are more inclined to indoor play to begin with, so just remember to show your cat the usual affection and play to keep them engaged throughout your time at home. If you’re home more often due to work or closures, remember that this may alter your pet’s routines a bit. Take that into consideration.
Learn Something New
Another great way to keep your pets engaged is to exercise their mind. Playing with pets can not only help them stay active physically, you can also devise games that simply get them moving around their house and engaging with their environment in new and enriching ways.
If you have a good array of corners and hideaways, playing a game of treat hide-and-seek is a good way to help your cat or dog get up and move around the house. Using their senses and exploration to find treats is a good way to help your pets feel more involved in their activities.
Fun games and tricks to learn inside:
- Hide and Seek
- Tag (see: Chase rules from earlier)
- Learning how to stash toys in their place
- Set up a small obstacle course
For the industrious at home trainer, you can find good books and online tutorials for teaching pets skills and tricks. Even simple training will help you engage your pet’s mind while also building a deeper bond with them. You don’t have to go out of your way to come up with complicated, expensive, or difficult. The main idea is just to keep you and your pet active and involved in each other’s daily routine.
Routine Is Important
More than anything, during the many closures and restrictions during the outbreak, routines will be disrupted. People are working from home, your usual outdoor activities may be cancelled, and you might even find that outside of emergency services, pet clinics and other boarding options are heavily restricted.
Keeping up with a routine, both physical and mental, can be an excellent way for you to maintain your own sanity during quarantine while also providing your pet with a good amount of affection. Don’t neglect their routines, either, of course! Pets can be a great source of comfort in stressful times, so be sure to repay them by keeping them healthy and showing them lots of love!