As winter’s chill settles over Ontario, your motivation to get moving with your pet may feel a bit, well, frozen. Before you decide to let your pet hibernate until spring, read our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team’s cold weather exercise tips—and ensure your dog or cat stays fit year-round.

The winter blues can cause serious pet health issues

As with humans’ inactivity, pets’ lack of exercise can diminish overall health. While moderate rest is advantageous for wellbeing and restoration, long sedentary periods cause weakness. In addition to weight gain, other changes caused by inactivity may include:

  • Muscle atrophy or loss
  • Reduced cardiovascular strength
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Decreased immune health

Weight-related health risks for pets

Although you likely assume your pet will lose their winter weight as soon as the temperature rises and the days lengthen, this seasonal yo-yo effect can harm your pet’s health. While a little fat is beneficial for insulation and energy, excess fat creates a proinflammatory environment. Chronic (i.e., long-term) inflammation can result in long-term health issues such as arthritis, orthopedic injuries, respiratory problems, and cancer. Although your pet may slim down when spring arrives, inflammatory damage may persist. 

Warm up with exercise—cold weather activities for pets

Momentum is everything, so keep your pet—and yourself—moving through all seasons. Try  these exercise ideas:

  • Take a walk with your pet — A simple walking routine can do wonders for your and your pet’s health. Brisk walking (i.e., maintaining a steady pace without stopping) improves heart function, burns calories, stimulates digestion, and boosts mental health. While you must bundle up during the cooler months, pets often relish the lower temperatures. However, if you are concerned your pet may get too cold, dress them in a light sweater or fleece jacket. 

General activity guidelines suggest that walking your dog 30 minutes per day can vastly improve their mental and physical health. If your pet is new to daily exercise, alternate between casual and brisk intervals, gradually building intensity and duration. 

Winter’s coldest temperatures may cause you to become a homebody. Treadmill training can provide your pet health benefits similar to walking outdoors, but keep in mind that walking indoors does not offer the same mental health benefits, such as sniffing and socializing. 

  • Enrich your pet’s meals — Replace bowl-based mealtimes with interactive food puzzles that challenge your pet’s mind and stimulate physical activity. Pet puzzles and food-dispensing toys tempt your dog or cat to bat, paw, nudge, manipulate, stalk, chase, and pounce to earn every tasty morsel. This unpredictable reward system engages your pet, and forces them to eat more slowly—thereby improving digestion and satisfaction.

Our favorite interactive toys feature erratic movement, or require pets to use their nose to search for hidden food. Some interactive toys include:

  • Teach your pet new tricks or join a training class — Mastering tricks is a great way to increase your pet’s body awareness, coordination, strength, and confidence. To help your pet avoid weight gain, use only low-calorie treats during training, or set aside a portion of their daily meal to use as the incentive. Try some online dog or cat training tutorials when you and your pet are getting started, or use these pet-trick ideas for inspiration:
    • Paws up on an object
    • Roll over
    • Beg (i.e., sit pretty)
    • Walk backward
    • Spin left and right
    • Shake with left and right paws

In-person training classes are a great way to stretch your pet’s muscles and mind. Most dog training facilities have indoor training spaces in which you and your pet can focus on each other, rather than on the weather. Once your pet has mastered basic obedience, consider something a bit more physically demanding such as agility, flyball, nosework, disc dog, barn hunt, or doga (i.e., yoga with dogs).

  • Play indoor games — Exercising your pet does not have to be complicated, or require professional equipment or rules. Try fun indoor games, such as hallway fetch, tug-of-war, nosework exercises, or hide-and-seek (e.g., leave your pet with someone else or in a sit-stay, then call your pet from your hiding place). In addition, you could construct a one-of-a-kind obstacle course

Cold weather is not a cue to scale back your pet’s exercise—unless you want them to tip our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek scales. Successful weight management and pet health depend on consistent year-round physical activity. So layer up, get creative, and get moving!

If you are concerned about your pet’s weight or body condition, talk with us before beginning a new exercise program. Contact our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team to schedule an appointment, or to discuss your pet’s health needs.