To be happy, healthy pets, our dogs and cats need mental stimulation as well as physical activity. Pets that don’t get enough brainy activities can become bored and will find ways to “entertain” themselves — usually through undesirable behaviors.
A bored dog may bark excessively, chew on things other than dog toys, dig holes in the yard or carpet, and even display anxiety.
Cats may try to alleviate their boredom by chewing on plants or electrical cords, climbing curtains or blinds, and scratching furniture. A bored cat also can become stressed or anxious which, in turn, can lead to feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), a painful urinary tract condition that’s a major cause of litter box issues.
The old saying “use it or lose it” applies as much to our pets’ mental fitness as it does ours. So here are some simple tips to mentally stimulate your pets, most of which don’t require much cash yet still help keep pet boredom at bay.
Activities that can mentally stimulate your dog
- Vary your route when walking your dog. Walking the same route every day can get boring for both you and your dog, even though walking is excellent exercise. Change up your route by walking through new neighborhoods, meandering through a park or forest, or wandering along a lake. New and different smells will help stimulate your dog’s sense of smell and brain.
- Teach your dog some simple commands and/or tricks. Your dog should know several simple obedience commands such as “come,” “sit,” “drop it,” “stay,” “off” and others. Just 5 to 15 minutes of daily training can give your dog a good mental workout.
- Provide plenty of interactive toys. One of the best ways to keep your dog busy while you’re away from home is to have interactive toy options available. Most interactive toys require dogs to solve a puzzle and use their problem-solving abilities. Some interactive dog toys can also provide physical activity and a food treat as a reward.
- Rotate toys or provide new ones. Like us, dogs can become tired of playing with the same toys Every. Single. Day. Try giving your dog a new toy every few weeks or rotating his or her current toys to avoid boredom.
- Try agility training. Agility training stimulates dogs both physically and mentally. You can create an agility or obstacle course in your backyard using sturdy containers, tunnels, ramps and portable stairs. Check out the dog parks in your area, too, since some of them may have an agility course already mapped out. Also, agility classes are a great way to see if your dog would enjoy this sport.
- Enroll your dog in doggie daycare. While doggie daycare isn’t the most affordable option on this list, it is an option that provides mental, physical and social stimulation for your dog — budget permitting, of course.
Ways to mentally stimulate your indoor cat
- Play with your kitty. Playtime is critical for keeping an indoor cat mentally and physically healthy. Many interactive toys — those you use to mimic bird or mouse behavior — are available to entice your cat to play. Other interactive toys can be activated by your cat when you’re not around but kitty still wants to play. Finally, toys your cat can toss, bat or roll are good for solitary play when you’re not home.
- Rotate toys and buy new ones periodically. Like dogs, cats get bored with the same toys. A “toy box” that you keep out of kitty’s reach lets you rotate toys routinely. Also, be sure to put away wand toys after an interactive play session so your cat doesn’t see the toy as “dead prey” and loses interest in the toy. Also, you’ll keep kitty from getting tangled up in any string associated with a wand toy when you’re not able to supervise. Occasional new toys add variety to daily play and can keep your cat interested and engaged.
- Have your cat hunt for food. You can indulge the hunter in your cat by dividing the daily kibble amount into portions that you hide around the house. You may need to encourage your cat initially to “hunt” for the food until he or she understands what to do. Another option is to use a food puzzle toy that your cat can work on while you’re gone for the day. Food puzzles keep your kitty’s brain occupied and can stimulate some physical activity.
- Offer a window seat with a view. Cats love to watch what’s going on outside every bit as much as they enjoy spying on indoor activities. If there’s a tree outside a window that attracts birds, that’s even better. You can put a chest, accent table or cat tree in front of (or near) the window for kitty to perch on and watch the goings-on outside.
- Teach your cat to walk on a leash. Some cats really want to spend time outdoors. These cats can often be trained to wear a harness and walk on a leash. You can then get your cat out into nature for some fresh air and a change of scenery.
- Provide more than one good scratching post. Scratching is a natural cat behavior, one that cats use to mark their territory, stretch and destress. A “good” scratching post is sturdy, tall and made of materials cats prefer such as sisal fabric or heavy corrugated cardboard. Some cats also like carpet and sisal rope for scratching.
Day-to-day life indoors is far safer and more predictable for our dogs and cats, but can also become monotonous. These intelligent creatures benefit as much from mental stimulation as they do physical activity. By adding both physical and mental exercise to your pet’s daily diet, you help keep your pet healthy and happy.
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