February Project: How to Help Your Pet Beat the Winter Blues

You're sleepy, sluggish and cold. The days are short and the sun rarely shines. You're eating more than you should and you don't feel like doing much. What's the matter? Could it be a case of the winter blues?

Just like you, your cat is probably longing for sunshine, warmth, green grass and singing birds. In fact, some cats get so bored that they try to sleep and eat the winter away.

Sun Worshipers
To an indoor cat, a patch of sunshine is a little bit of heaven. Cats love to stretch out and bask in the sun. Research suggests that sunlight does a lot more for your cat than warm her up. Vitamin D, which cats get in part from the sun, is the key element in the production of calcium and phosphorus, which stimulate a cat's metabolism. Most animals and people get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight, which sets off a chain of chemical reactions in the skin.

Sunlight also stimulates estrus, the breeding cycle, in cats. When the daylight hours lengthen in early spring, the breeding cycle begins and cats typically have more energy. This cycle continues throughout the summer and stops in November, when the days shorten and the sky turns gray.

What happens to your cat in the winter when, in the North, there is little, if any, sunlight? Your cat's metabolism probably slows down and she probably sleeps a lot more. Jacquie Neilson, a veterinarian and at the University of California at Davis, says some cats do tend to become inactive in the winter. This reduction in activity causes them to gain weight, which, as you probably know, is unhealthy. What can you do to keep this from happening to your cat?

Play, Play and More Play
Schedule some time each day during the winter to play with your cat. Try introducing kitty to new and different toys. Most cats love the fishing pole-type toys that you swing in the air. This type of toy resembles a wand with a string attached to it. Feathers, streamers or stuffed toys are tied to the end of the string. One of our cats, Freeway, twists and jumps several feet into the air trying to catch the feathers. Aerobics, feline style!

Some cats would rather chase than jump, however. For these cats, try a box of ping-pong balls or balls with bells inside. Throw the balls across the floor, down the stairs, into the bathtub ... anywhere that makes kitty get up and run a bit.

The important thing is to keep the toys moving. "Sometimes people buy their cats toys and leave them sitting around the house. Usually, you need to pull the end of the string to get the cat interested," explains Neilson. Pam Johnson, a feline behavior consultant and author of Twisted Whiskers agrees. "Cats are attracted to movement," she says. If a toy isn't moving, it becomes "dead prey" after a few paw swipes.

Your cat will play longer if you keep your play sessions interactive, which means the two of you play together. Johnson calls this type of human-feline interaction "play therapy." Johnson says play therapy helps "depressed cats build self-confidence and find that forgotten spark for life again. It also eliminates boredom, increases health and reduces stress.

While it's okay to leave some toys out for your cat the entire day, put the special, interactive toys away at the end of each play session. Doing this will prevent your cat from becoming bored with her toys, and will make your play sessions more exciting. Never leave toys out for your cat that might be unsafe or that are small enough for your cat to swallow.

Double the Fun
If you have one cat, consider adopting a second. After a period of initial adjustment, your cats will probably be the best of friends. Most feline companions sleep and eat together, and even take turns grooming each other. Most cats play together too, sometimes for hours at a time. If you do decide to adopt a second cat, expect to see lots of frolicking and rough play. Two cats will often run and tumble together, swat, kick and pounce on each other. Owners sometimes confuse rough playing with fighting. As long as the cats aren't hissing, and one cat isn't dominating the other, they're probably enjoying themselves -- and burning off some calories in the process.

Open the Drapes
Fresh air does wonders for a lazy, depressed cat. Even though it's cold in the winter, try to open the windows a bit whenever you can. (Always check to make sure screens are secured first!) Even though the sky is gray, open the drapes or pull up the shades during the day so your cat gets some light.

A bird feeder next to an open window can be a great source of amusement for your cat when it's cold. A cat tree or jungle gym near a window is great for cats who like to climb.

A Nibble Here and There
While you don't want to cure your cat's boredom by feeding her table scraps, you can let your cat nibble on some catnip. Catnip is a plant that intoxicates cats when they eat or sniff it. This trance-like "high" usually lasts about 10 or 15 minutes, and is more noticeable in adult cats than it is in kittens. For some reason, not all cats respond to catnip. You can buy dried catnip or you can grow your own with catnip seeds and some potting soil. Make sure the pot is stable, though, or your cats will knock it over trying to get to the plant. You can buy good-quality catnip or catnip seeds at most pet supply stores.

How about growing some grass for your cat? Neilson recommends growing a little garden for your cat in the winter. Some cats love to nibble on grass, which is a little bit like a vegetable. You can buy commercially prepared grass that is already planted at any pet supply store -- all you have to do is water it. Or you can plant your own grass seed for your cat. Simply plant some good-quality grass seed in a container with potting soil. Make sure the container isn't too big, though, or you cat may think it's a litter box. Place it in the light and keep it moist. In a week or so, your cat can graze as if it's springtime in February.

A Final Tip
If you and your cat are lucky enough to have a fireplace, spend some winter days snuggled in its warmth. If you don't, hang in there, spring is just a few short months away!

Source: Petsmart

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