19 Toys to Keep Your Pet Active This Winter

beagle dog runs through snow while holding purple dog toy in mouth

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How can you help pets battle boredom and the bulge at the same time? Let them play. Dr. Kat Miller of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) shares some of her favorite pet products that keep pets moving. Perhaps one of these suggestions will help whittle away your pet's unintended extra pounds.

Puzzle feeders

Puzzle feeders encourage pets to work for their meals. Simply insert dry kibble and adjust the opening. If pets want the kibble, they must move puzzle feeders around the room to release the food. To get your pet used to the concept, start by placing dry kibble on the floor around the puzzle toy, Miller says. As pets start eating, their heads will brush against the toy, releasing more kibble. Repeat this approach for several days, then place less kibble on the floor and more kibble inside the kibble ball. If your pet has trouble getting motivated, start by added a few treats to the mix. Treats usually have a stronger odor, so pets will have more incentive to follow the scent.

“My dog has been fed in one of those since Day One; she loves it,” Miller says of Stella, her 5-year-old Lab-pointer mix. “It takes her about 20 minutes to eat rather than two minutes.”

Several of these interactive puzzle feeders also have difficulty settings. As your pet becomes an expert, change the setting so that less kibble is released. To keep Stella motivated, Miller also rotates the toys and even uses paper towels to fill holes, creating a bigger challenge. Here are a few puzzle feeders to try:

For cats, the Egg-Cersizer meal dispenser ($4.99) by PetSafe has a wobbly shape that keeps kitties occupied.

The Cat Scratch Feeder ($23.15) distributes food when cats scratch it, encouraging frisky kittens to avoid tearing up the furniture.

For dogs, the Kibble Nibble ($10.84) is another egg-shaped puzzle feeder built to roll around and withstand paw action from larger dogs.

A Bouncy Bone treat dispenser from Busy Buddy ($6.99 to $12.99) makes dogs works for their treats. “Imagine an African wild dog gnawing on bones for marrow as after-dinner treat,” Miller says. Bouncy Bones replicate that feeling.

Twist 'n Treat makes cats and dogs work to access goodies from a flying-saucer shaped toy.

For an even greater challenge, Miller recommends Ottosson treat mazes, which keep pets mentally stimulated as they work to reveal treats hidden under doors and levers. See one in action in the video below:

Outdoor gear designed to burn calories

Miller prefers to let dogs carry their own gear on walks with dog backpacks. Your veterinarian can help determine how much weight to add in the form of canned goods or water bottles.


Dogs with long backs, such as dachshunds, should not carry backpacks as the extra weight can strain the spine and damage discs.

Miller also recommends hands-free leashes for long walks. “If you are holding the leash and the dog moves forward, it tends to keep you off balance,” she says, noting that the hands-free version is more stable. “But it’s not for dogs that are huge pullers.”

Cats enjoy a little time outdoors, too, and Miller says despite what you have heard, it is possible to walk a cat. Harnesses made specifically for cats promote safe outdoor playtime. Of course, walking a cat is different from walking a dog, says Miller. “With dogs, you walk, and the dog follows,” she says. “With cats, you follow them. They will put the brakes on and say, ‘No,’ if you try to lead.” Here is some gear to try:

Ruffwear offers a rugged hands-free leash for dogs called the Roamer ($34.95) that’s available in various sizes.

The Kurgo Wander dog backpack ($34) is designed for dogs 30 to 85 pounds.

Outdoor cat containment systems, such as the Kittywalk Cat Penthouse ($299.99), help feline friends enjoy the great outdoors in a safe space. Modular construction means you can expand the play area over time.

Ready to walk the cat? Look for harnesses designed specifically for these super wriggly creatures and avoid options made for dogs.

Interactive toys

The best part of these interactive toys is that you can keep your pet entertained while you catch up on episodes of "Ted Lasso." Wand toys, lasers and other low-maintenance tools will keep pets moving.


Always monitor your pets during playtime. Remove any loose or broken toy parts that could present a choking hazard.

The Chase-It Wand from Kong for dogs ($12.99) borrows its concept from similar feather toys for cats. It’s basically a stick with a plush toy skunk, fox or squirrel attached to the end. Dangle it in front of your frisky pooch for a few rounds of keep-away.

Tug ropes teach pets to tug and burn a little energy. The Twin Tug ($16.99) cotton rope toy from Petco offers two knotted ends for your your pooch to pull. As a confirmed germophobe, I also like that there's a handle. Nothing kills playtime like touching a drool-drenched toy.

Chuck It toys make dogs work a little harder during fetch. Rounded “launchers” are designed to scoop up tennis balls and send them sailing. “My dog has it and I love it,” Miller says. “It’s a way to throw a ball really far, and it makes me look like a pro.” If your dog tends to drool heavily, the Chuck It also keeps your hands free of the goo.

For cat owners who prefer the DIY approach, stock up on plastic Easter eggs when the holiday approaches. Punch a hole in the egg and fill it with catnip. This should entice sluggish felines to get moving.

Attach the Fling-ama-String ($24.49) to any doorknob, turn it on and watch as cats are driven to distraction chasing a dangling string.

The Bolt Robotic laser toy ($17.72) entices cats to chase laser patterns around the room. “It’s similar to that fly flying around the house,” Miller says. “Cats seem to go bonkers for it, too.”

Ready for Cat TV? Simply place a bird feeder outside the window, and make sure cats have a comfy viewing area. Apartment dwellers can invest in feeders with suction cups that attach to windows. A classic bluebird feeder from Duncraft ($34.95) is made with recycled plastic and has space for mealworms.

Hang prisms in the window. When the sun comes through, cats love to chase those colorful reflections. “Keep them moving,” says Miller, who shares her home with a 19-year-old cat named Ivy. “Keep older pets limber; that’s a good preventative.”

The Cat Dancer original action toy ($2.99) has built a loyal following among frisky felines. Its simple design features a spring steel wire with cardboard strips at the end that resemble a flying insect. Evidently, cats cannot resist chasing their prey. See the toy in action in the video below: