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Do Dogs Get Cabin Fever? Find Out!

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Do you think dogs get cabin fever? This restless, bored feeling sets in after too much time inside, and tends to affect humans the most during the winter. How does cabin fever affect dogs? Learn what pet experts have to say on this interesting subject.

Dogs are intelligent, active animals and they do get bored. This boredom can get much worse when they're cooped up and often they don't know what to do with their energy. This is common in all dogs of any age but seems to affect older dogs more frequently. So yes, I do believe that dogs can experience "cabin fever."

The degree that this affects a dog depends on whether they are used to going outside. Dogs that are indoor-only tend not to get bored by constantly being inside. In fact, when many people get anxious during cold months where travel is difficult, some dogs seem become even more affectionate. They might even appreciate the extra attention and company.

Dogs that go outside on a regular basis, on the other hand, can struggle with staying indoors when circumstances don't allow for outdoor adventures. This is when the stereotypical "cabin fever" behaviors crop up. Some dog owners elect to keep their dogs inside at certain times (such as when they are going out of town for the day or during weather extremes). Other dogs go to the door, sense the cold and decide to stay in--but then become frustrated that they are stuck inside.

When writing this article I contacted several veterinarians to get their opinion on the subject. Their answers were all a unanimous yes: dogs can get cabin fever!

One veterinarian, Dr. Emily (a doctor at the local emergency vet clinic) introduced me to Barnie, a 10-year-old Beagle who ate a sock which had to be surgically removed earlier that day. She told me that the day before, a different dog named Yogi – a 14-year-old mixed breed dog-- had carpet fibers and part of a belt removed from his stomach. She also showed me records of 6 different dogs in the past 3 weeks (all over 10 years old) who ate household items and required surgery to remove them.

The ingestion of foreign objects (commonly called Gastric (Stomach) Foreign Body in Dogs can occur in all dogs and is by far most common in older dogs, especially seniors. However, as evidenced by Dr. Emily's stories, winter can make this more likely.

What can you do to help your dog deal with cabin fever?

  • Get your dog plenty of intellectual puzzle-type toys that keep them busy. One good choice is a round toy that dispenses treats as dogs play. The idea is that in nature dogs hunt for their food, and "hunting" in this way is a good way to eliminate boredom.

  • Create an area in the house for a mini-game of fetch if possible. If you're worried about breaking something inside, use an indoor "safe fetch" ball such as the ones made by Chuck-It. These games are designed for use inside and will not break delicate household objects.

  • Spend extra time taking your dog for walks and exercise to prevent boredom. During the summer you may have to walk your dog early in the morning or late in the evening when the heat and humidity is lower. In the winter, you might need to walk in neighborhoods with shoveled sidewalks or big parking lots free of snow banks or ice.

    In summary, I do think that dogs get cabin fever. Many times when this happens a dog's energy is channeled into unhealthy outlets such as inappropriate scratching, vocalization, or urination. Be aware that bored dogs are often driven to wander and explore and may encounter hazards such as accidental exposure to toxins or ingestion of foreign bodies.

    A happy dog is a busy dog-and I love seeing happy dogs! I hope this gives you more information about canine "cabin fever" and how to resolve it.


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