Entertaining your dog
Just like us, our dogs can get bored being cooped up indoors and stuck at home because of the weather. And just because they can’t get outside doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do anything. It’s important to keep your pets engaged with family members and mentally stimulated. This can be a really fun way to bond with your pet while keeping them active and healthy.
Foraging for food
A good place to start is introducing your dog to a puzzle toy. These are washable, plastic toys that have slots where you can place treats or kibble inside for your dog to work at and open to get the food. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes for all dogs.
A snuffle mat acts on the same idea, but it’s a cloth mat with strips of cloth that you can hide food under and your dog uses his sense of smell to find the treats. What might seem silly to humans can be a fun game for your pet to play.
An even more low-tech puzzle is putting treats inside a sealed up cardboard box, old tissue box or paper towel roll and allow your dog to destroy it to access the treat. Make sure you’re watching to ensure your dog doesn’t ingest any of the cardboard. If your pet isn’t food motivated but is excited by a ball or it’s favourite toy, try using that instead for motivation inside the puzzle box.
Ball Pit Fun for Your pet
Instinctively, pets are built to hunt and forage. You can use this to your advantage when trying to entertain your dog inside. You can hide toys or treats in different spots in your home, encouraging your pet to “hunt” for them. There are particular toys made specifically for this purpose but you can hide your own toys or kibble in any container. This not only gets your pet moving but also helps with mental activity. Do you remember playing in a ball pit as a child? You can set up your own version of one at home using inexpensive plastic balls and a nylon child’s tent. By placing treats or kibble inside the tent under the balls, your dog will have to hunt for the treats using his sense of smell and dig them out with his muzzle and paws.
All of these puzzles can help to keep your dog entertained and mentally stimulated. Environmental enrichment doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive toy or a long hike in the forest. It can be as simple as hide and seek with a toy, creating a new game or playing fetch.
Enriching Senior Dogs
Your senior dog may not be as interested in a puzzle toy as a younger pet would, but they still receive stimulation and a little bit of exercise while eating. A treat dispenser ball can act as exercise, enrichment and a meal all at the same time. Most treat balls have customizable sized holes that you can adjust so when your dog pushes the ball with its paw or nose, kibble or treats will fall out. It may take some time for your dog to understand what he needs to do, but with your help, once he gets the hang of it, this will make mealtime more interesting for him and he won’t realize he’s exercising at the same time.
Having access to different types of toys is great fun for your dog, but just like us, they can get bored of the same thing over and over again. Have several toys available to rotate every few days. This will keep your pet happy and playful. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but rotating the toys will keep the suspense up for your dog and their interest peaked.
What about cats?
Sleep, eat, use the litter box. Sleep, eat, repeat. Cats sure seem to have an easy life, but all that sleeping could be a sign of boredom. Originally wild hunters, domesticated indoor cats haven’t had to hunt and scavenge for their food for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t possess the urge to do so. Indoor cats don’t have the same level of stimulation as those that go outside, so why not bring the hunt indoors and keep your cat entertained?
Laser pointers and toys that automatically rock and shoot a laser are a great way to encourage that hunting instinct. You can start slow by getting your cat to paw at the dot in their close surrounding and advance to having your cat chase it up and down stairs. This is a great way to tire out that kitten that gets into everything but can also get your overweight cat moving.
Toys to hide treats or kibble in are also great for cats. Balls can be batted and rolled to dispense one or two treats at a time and some toys are meant to place kibble in and hide around the house. Ask us for recommendations.
Prior to engaging in any extensive exercise with an overweight or older cat, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about an exercise plan for your cat to ensure that any aches, pains or underlying conditions are addressed so that your cat is getting exercise in a manner that’s safe for him. Contact Caledon Vaughan Veterinary House Call Services and let us help tailor an exercise plan that works for your cat.
How to Access Enrichment Products
Pet supply stores offer a variety of fun toys for cats to play with from traditional catnip toys to puzzles similar to those previously mentioned for dogs, treat balls, as well as remote controlled mice and hanging toys. Be careful with whatever method of entertainment that you choose that your cat will be safe. For any hanging toys, especially those that can be suspended from doorways, make sure that you’re close by while they’re playing to watch out in case they get caught in the string.
You don’t have to break the bank to help with your cat’s enrichment. A simple toilet paper roll or paper towel roll cut in half and filled with treats and poked with holes for your cats to push around to get the treats is a low-tech method of entertainment. They’ll enjoy getting the treats out, but they’ll also be using their hunting instinct in sniffing out the treats and chewing on the cardboard. Make sure your cat can safely get the treats out of the roll and not ingest any of the cardboard. Even something as simple as playing with a shoestring can activate the
hunting instinct, but make sure you put away the string after playtime is over so your cat doesn’t accidentally get it caught around their neck or a limb.
Targeted Pet Exercises
Many of the exercises used in physical rehabilitation for cats and dogs can be done at home as an indoor exercise program in winter months. Just like before we start exercising at the gym, these exercises should not be done without the advice of your veterinarian to make sure they’re right for your pet. Contact us to help build a specific physical exercise for your pet and learn how to safely train at home.
For further suggestions about keeping your pet happy indoors this winter, contact Caledon Vaughan Veterinary House Call Services. You can also check out our YouTube channel for videos of some of the fun games mentioned above.
Author: Meaghan Michaud, RVT
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