We all know the importance of making sure our pet gets enough physical activity, but we often forget about mental activity. Our pets are intelligent creatures who traditionally were bred to do specific jobs, such as hunting and guarding. Today, however, they often live a more laid-back life that doesn't require much day-to-day exercise beyond their walk or playtime. Unfortunately, this can result in increased levels of boredom in our pets – and bored pets can become destructive pets.
We know that it can feel challenging to keep your pet’s mind engaged when you’re spending more time inside than ever before. This is why we’ve put together a list of five fun ways you can exercise your pet’s mental health from home.
Instead of simply placing your pet’s food in a bowl, serve it to them in a way that puts their brain to work. An easy way to do this is through the use of puzzle feeders. You can tap into your cat’s natural hunting ability by using something like Doc & Phoebe's Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder. This award-winning bowl-free feeder will allow your cat to hunt, catch, and play with many small meals throughout the day and night, as they would in the wild. Simply fill the ‘mice’ with your pet’s regular food and hide them around the house for your cat to find throughout the day.
Dog parents can opt for a puzzle feeder that puts their pup’s nose to work to get to the food. The PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat mimics the way dogs would hunt for food in the wild, encouraging their natural foraging skills. Your dog will have fun digging through the layers of fabric to find their food or treats and don’t worry about them making a mess of it – it’s completely machine washable.
If your pets are motivated by treats, use this as a way to keep their mind active during your playtime together. A great way to do this is through simple brain games, like the shell game. In this game, you take three cups and have your pet watch you hide a treat under one of them. You then slowly rotate the placement of the cup and allow your pet to use their problem-solving skills and sense of smell to determine which cup the treat is under. A similar game can be played by hiding a treat in one of your hands and getting your pet to signal which hand it’s in.
If you’re looking for a way to keep your pets mentally stimulated with minimal effort from your end, there are plenty of toys on the market to help including the classic Kong. The Kong is a tried and true favorite among cats and dogs alike and can keep their minds busy for long periods. Simply fill the Kong with their favorite Freshpet recipe or treat and your pet will have a blast trying to fish out every last morsel. You can even freeze it once it’s filled to give your pet an extra challenge. Kong’s come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including a special one made specifically for cats.
Did you know that, on average, dogs can learn 165 different words? This makes any game that involves audible commands a great choice for mental stimulation – especially if they can learn some new words in the process. A popular word-based game for dogs is the ‘name game’. Start by giving your dog’s favorite toy a specific name and using it regularly during playtime. Over time, and with plenty of positive reinforcement, your dog should be able to associate the name with the toy. Test this by putting the toy among their others and asking them to bring it to you. Once they can successfully pick the toy out of a group, you can start the process again with a second toy. The more toys they learn, the closer they are to breaking the record held by Chaser the Border Collie who learned the names of more than 1000 different toys!
While cats don’t have the same knack for language, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to learn other skills. If your cat enjoys playing with balls or other soft toys, you can try and teach them to play fetch with them. The process is similar to teaching a dog: toss the toy a short distance and say fetch. When your cat reaches the toy, lure them back to you with a treat. When they return to you, say “good fetch” and get them to drop the toy by giving them the treat. Over time, your cat will understand that when you toss a toy, if they “fetch” it and bring it back to you they get a tasty treat.
There are a number of interactive toys that are designed to exercise your pet, both mentally and physically. The Blackhole Catch The Tail Toy lets your cat stalk and chase a ‘tail’ as it moves around under a cover. The three speed settings keep the toy's behavior unpredictable, which will keep your cat engaged for ages on end. For dogs, the iFetch automatic ball launcher will let them play catch to their hearts’ content, but also keep their brain active. Not only through the excitement of chasing the ball, but also as they learn how to independently reload the toy.
We hope that this list gives you some inspiration on ways that you can exercise your pet’s mental health from home. Have any other ideas? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!