January 16th, 2024

By: Sarah A. Neikam, CAWA

Dog looking out rainy window.January typically brings shorter and colder days, but this year it’s also brought plenty of rain. This means that pets who are accustomed to playtime outdoors may find themselves cooped up indoors more often than not; and pet owners facing the same challenge as those with indoor-only pets, particularly cats: keeping our pets mentally stimulated and engaged while keeping them safe, warm and dry indoors.

Indoor pets, while safe from outdoor hazards, often miss out on the natural stimuli that the outdoors provides. Regular mental stimulation is crucial for their well-being, helping to prevent issues like boredom, depression, and destructive behavior. This is especially important in winter, when their usual outdoor explorations are limited.

Cats, with their natural hunting instincts and curiosity, particularly benefit from environmental enrichment. Here are some ideas to keep your indoor cats engaged:

Cat watching birds through windowWindow watching stations: Set up cozy perches near windows where your cat can watch the world go by. Bird feeders placed outside these windows can provide hours of entertainment.

Interactive Toys: Puzzle feeders and interactive toys that mimic prey movements can keep your cat’s hunting instincts sharp. Regularly rotating these toys can keep things fresh and interesting.

Indoor Gardens: Create a small indoor garden with cat-friendly plants like catnip or wheatgrass. This not only brings a piece of nature indoors but also provides a safe nibbling option.

Playtime and Training: Regular play sessions with toys like laser pointers or feather wands can mimic the chase of outdoor play. Training sessions with positive reinforcement can also be mentally stimulating.

Cat watching TVCat TV: Some cats actually enjoy watching television! If you have streaming options on your tv, search for “cat tv” or just “birds” to find hours long videos that might hold their interest.

Dogs also need mental exercise to stay content. Here are ways to engage them indoors:

Hide and Seek Games: Use treats or their favorite toys to create a hide and seek game. This not only stimulates their mind but also provides physical activity.

Indoor Obstacle Course: Set up a simple obstacle course using household items. This can help with their agility and keep them active.

Scent Work: Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Create scent trails with treats or their favorite toys for them to follow.

Puppy chewing toyChew Toys and Puzzle Feeders: These can keep them occupied for hours, working on getting their treats while engaging their minds.

Training: Short training sessions for commands like sit, stay, or roll-over not only exercise their minds, but help them learn positive behaviors as well.

The cold and wet days of January needn’t be a downer for our indoor pets. By bringing elements of the outdoors inside and providing ample opportunities for mental stimulation, we ensure our pets are not only physically safe but also mentally thriving.

Use this season as an opportunity to strengthen your bond with your pets through engaging indoor activities. And after a day of fun, indoor enrichment, you’ll both be ready for some cozy snuggle time on the couch.

Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center in Aiken, SC. She has been with the organization since 2012, holding various roles including Volunteer Coordinator and Director of Operations & HR. A Certified Animal Welfare Administrator as of 2022, Sarah is a passionate advocate for animal welfare. She resides in Aiken with her husband, Tom, and their six cats.