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How to Keep Your Pet Busy

Check out our top tips to keep your pets busy, mentally healthy, and enjoying life to the fullest.

Two girls with dog and cat

Many animals become destructive if not properly stimulated, so it's important to find ways to keep them active and busy all day long. Pets thrive with daily activities that keep them mentally engaged and physically active.

Some animals and breeds are more active than others, so it's crucial that you give your pet the right amount of stimulation for their personality and pick activities that fit their preferences.

Check out our top tips to keep your pets busy, mentally healthy, and enjoying life to the fullest.

1. Give them a good view

One of the easiest ways to keep your pets busy is to give them something to look at. It doesn’t matter if you live on a busy street or your window looks directly at a brick wall; many pets love to watch the world go by with their nose pressed against a window.

They can be excited by the people and animals outside but feel safe and secure inside their homes. This gives them some of the mental stimulation of going outside without any stress from dealing with outside stimuli.

Give them a space with a seat or bed next to the window so they can be comfortable while they look out and the sunniest window in your home so they can relax in the sunshine.

Note: this may not be the best option for pets suffering from reactivity. In that case, there are other ways to keep them busy. Also, this is not a substitution for daily walks!

2. Try treat-dispensing toys

A treat or puzzle toy can be a great way to keep your pet busy for hours. While there are several types of puzzle and treat toys on the market, they all function similarly: you place treats inside that your pet can only get if they figure out the puzzle.

There are different difficulty levels for the smarter animals and breeds and special toys for younger animals. The enticement of the tasty morsels inside will keep them occupied for hours. Plus, studies have shown that these toys reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, in kenneled dogs and cats.

Fill a hollow rubber enrichment toy like a Kong with their favorite cooked dog food and freeze it; this allows them to stay engaged for longer while the food thaws. Or fill a puzzle ball with cat treats to stimulate their mind for hours, stimulating their problem-solving skills while keeping them occupied.

3. Short training sessions

If you find your pet is getting bored or needs stimulation, turn these moments into an opportunity to learn. Some pets resist training under normal circumstances or when they feel they have a better, more stimulating activity available. If they are bored, your training will be more exciting and potentially more effective.

These training opportunities can be more than simple tricks. You can teach your pet agility skills, socialization, or teach them a specific behavior like sit, heel, or shake, using a clicker.

Be sure to use positive reinforcement with plenty of treats and encouraging praise.

4. Build an obstacle course

Whether your pet is an indoor or outdoor animal, you can build them an obstacle course to navigate. Use whatever you have around your house to construct a complicated and fun path for your pet. Use boxes as tunnels for them to navigate, chairs as obstacles they have to climb or leap over, and hula-hoops as rings to jump through. You can modify your course easily by moving a few pieces, giving your pet a brand-new course to navigate.

Cats are less likely to engage with a homemade obstacle course. However, you can protect your furniture and entertain active indoor cats with a cat tree. Cat trees should feature multiple levels and tunnels to stimulate your cat’s natural instinct to climb. They should also have scratch posts for nail care, hammocks for lounging, and a condo for your cat to hide.

Reward them with a good meal at the end as an incentive and a way to keep their body in good shape after physical exertion. Give them food rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements like high-protein dog food and cat food.

5. Teach them new words

Our pets are smarter than we give them credit for, but teaching them new words can be time-consuming. Scientists estimate that most common household pets understand at least a few words, with cats understanding between 20-50 words, dogs between 80-200 words, and some species of birds up to 1,000. Further research has also shown that most animals genuinely enjoy it when we speak to them, even if they don’t understand what we are saying.

Teaching your pet a new word involves time, repetition, and treats. Say the word, demonstrate the meaning as simply as possible, then try to get the pet to respond to the word. If they make any progress, reward them with a treat.

6. Try battery-operated toys

If you leave your pet home alone for any stretch of time, a battery-operated toy can replace some human interaction and keep your pet busy. These high-tech toys can move and make noises to stimulate your pet in various ways. Some toys might scare some pets, so get a toy your pet enjoys playing with.

The latest toys can be remotely activated. If you have cameras in your home, you can activate the toy remotely and watch your pet play with it via an app on your phone, tablet, or computer.

For active dogs, try an automatic ball launcher. These devices play fetch with your dog and typically feature motion sensor activation for safe play and an automatic rest time so your dog doesn’t get worn out.

7. Switch out their toys

Although your pet may have a favorite toy they carry around, you should also switch out their toys regularly to give them a new and exciting object to investigate and keep them busy. Instead of keeping all your pet’s toys available, just keep two or three toys available. Then, swap them for two or three different toys after a week.

Choose toys that activate your pets’ senses. Remember that pets use their senses differently than humans; dogs prefer to sniff things and cats like tactile items.

Don't forget...

All pets need love, routine, a healthy diet, and mental stimulation. By keeping them occupied, keeping up with vet visits and preventative care, and (ideally) feeding them slow-cooked, high-quality pet food and treats, you'll be giving them what they need to live well at all stages of their life.

Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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