The winter holidays provide the perfect time to not only dine on delicious dinner foods and indulge in decadent treats, but it’s also an occasion to be with family. For pet owners how to include your animal family members in the holiday celebrations is equally important!

Engage Your Pets in Fun Activities

The most common of family celebrations is the Holiday dinner with an exchanging of gifts. Besides presenting a wrapped present to your pet, another great way to make them a part of the holidays is to engage them in fun activities. Like humans, animals also need physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis. While it is very necessary to play with and exercise your pets year round, during the busy Holiday season, it can be an even more important time because animals can pick up on your holiday stress. With that in mind, here are some fun things to do with your pets during the holidays:

  • Animals enjoy pretty and bright decorations as we do. Take a walk to look at the neighborhood Holiday lights with your dog. Many fall or winter days will be too cold for long walks, especially if you are going out in the evening to see the colorful lights, so step outside to feel out the weather before your walk. Smaller doggie? Dress them in a warm dog sweater or coat and be aware of his little-exposed feet.
  • If we have snow, take a fun run through it with your pet or toss around a toy for fetching to burn off their excess energy. Promptly dry them off to prevent illness.
  • Find local community activities for pets. Many local animal shelters host special holiday activities specifically for animals complete with games, obstacles courses, playrooms for smaller animals like cats and rabbits, Christmas animal treats, and shelter fundraising fun walks. Go online to your city or county’s event pages, check the paper, and even scan social media for local holiday pet events.
  • You can include the whole family in making fun toys /games to keep your pets busy while you spend time together or are away during the holidays:

 °For Dogs — You can put some dry food or small treat pieces with a tiny pinch of fresh cinnamon into clean cardboard containers like empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls and plug each end tightly with a piece of firm fruit wedges, i.e. apples or pear. When your dog plays with the roll, they will smell the cinnamon, hear the dry food rattling inside and eat their way through the fruit to get inside. Similarly, you can use a piece of PVC pipe cut to a length of 8-10 inches that you have drilled several holes along the length just large enough for dry dog food, or small treats can fall out. Place the food in the inside of the tube and cap the ends with PVC caps. Your dog will push, carry and shake till it gets its reward. Alternatively, try placing an empty water bottle (no cap) into an old sock (washed please!), then tie a knot right up next to the bottle on both ends. You can do similarly with a tennis ball. Be sure to cut the excess sock away leaving only an inch or 2 of excess material on the ends. This is one good way to get rid of those crazy holiday-themed socks and amuse your best friend!

°For Cats — Cats are independent animals which can make it a little more difficult to get some kitties to play with a toy for an extended period of time. Instead, try a simple DIY holiday cat scratch toy. Take an old Christmas stocking made of a heavy-duty stretchable material, cut it to open and lay it flat. Then wrap it around a piece of wood securing it tightly with twine or using a staple gun. You could also substitute and use a round piece of wood to create a rolling toy that your kitty will have to push and chase after. Discarded pizza boxes are great fun for cats, and you can decorate them to your liking. The best boxes are those that come with the pre-made refrigerated pizzas. These boxes generally have a nice perfectly cat-sized hole already cut in their top. Cats love to spend time lounging in them, or you can toss small toys into the opening for games of “go fish.”

°For Pet Birds — Wooden spools (with the thread removed, of course) make safe and fun playthings for birds of all sizes. The spools can be used as foot toys to play with when the birds are out of their cage or can be strung together with cotton twine, string or vegetable tanned leather to hang inside the cage. Since this is the holidays, the spools can be colored using food-safe dyes. Birds also have “a ball” playing with poker chips. They too, can be used simply as foot toys or can be strung up to create hanging toys, let your imagination go. (You do need to use some caution with these and some of the larger birds – they can bite off pieces; be sure to check them for chips and to remove them if they become damaged or worn.) Paper may seem like a dull choice for a bird toy, but many birds are happy to “shred” the day away. Using plain paper or vegetable dyed paper only, you can cut shapes or strips for your bird to shred. You can weave them in and out of the bars of your bird’s cage or simply crumple them in a ball and let your bird play away. Lastly, one of your bird’s best play toys could come from your bird itself – molted feathers! Birds in the wild spend a lot of time preening and grooming other flock members. Save some of your bird’s molted feathers and bind them together at the end with a piece of cotton twine. Hang the new feather “toy” in your bird’s cage to provide a “friend “to preen and groom.

°For Guinea Pigs— The simpler, the better is key with these “guys”. Give your guinea pig a few places to hide out, and they will be delighted to explore and take cover, over and over again. Empty shoe/gift boxes, tissue boxes, small snack boxes from granola bars or Pop-Tarts, paper bags and oatmeal containers male ideal havens for guinea pigs. Cut a hole big enough for your guinea pig to fit through, and that’s it; your guinea pig will be thrilled with its new “play house.” Cavy’s aren’t known for their “athletic prowess or gymnastic ability, but they will enjoy the challenge of an obstacle course or maze. You can easily put one together for your cavy friend using boxes, sofa cushions/pillows, and cardboard tubes. Arrange them to allow your guinea pig to wander its way through a course, but does not allow them to climb up and out. Using a favorite treat to entice your pet at the start and placing these treats “along“ the way your furry friend should be able to make its way around the course. Don’t forget a reward for a job well done, when it “reaches the finish line!”

°For Rabbits— Rabbits like to burrow, so tunnels can make a popular toy. The best tunnels are made from recycled round cardboard objects, i.e. an empty oatmeal container with the bottom cut out, or you can purchase cardboard tubes at hobby stores or use cement mold cardboard tubes from a “big box” home improvement store. These make the sturdiest and best tunnels and will hold up to lots of bunny playtime. Don’t toss out those used holiday gift boxes! Rabbits also like to play “hide-and-seek,” and an empty cardboard box makes a perfect play “castle.” You can simply place the box on the floor for their enjoyment, but with a few modifications, they’ll have even more fun. Cut holes in the sides of the box, some just big enough for the rabbit to fit through and a few smaller “peek” holes. Additionally, you can connect a few of these boxes by lining them up and matching holes with neighboring boxes or placing them on top of each other.

  • Try having a Pet Christmas Party! Invite pet–loving family or friends over with their furry friends to spread some Holiday cheer.

°Have your “human” guests bring homemade holiday/animal-themed treats and have a pet treat “cookie” exchange.

 °A fun activity for both dogs and cats is to use a laser pointer to encourage chasing, stalking behaviors. Best to play with each species separately.

°For an all dog party – try going out on a group walk to a nearby dog park.

  • Have a picture(s) taken of you and your pet and make Holiday cards or involve the whole family in making a fun collage.

Whether you’re hosting a Holiday party or going out to a Holiday social, you should make sure to spend time with your furry friends. For those with dogs, it is a good idea to have a fun and rigorous play session or go on a long walk, before guests arrive or before you leave for the evening. This will allow them to expend some of that energy so they won’t be bored while you socialize. Additionally, have some safe toys and distractions to help keep them occupied while you host your party.

If you follow some of these suggestions, you are sure to have a Happy Holiday season – one and all.

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