Uh-oh! You came home and found trash all over the kitchen floor or fresh claw marks on your new couch. Maybe your socks (or underwear) keep ending up stuffed in your pet’s bed. Or, perhaps your dog’s acting like a kid that’s eaten three bowls of ice cream and 12 candy bars.
You might think your pet needs more exercise, and sure, physical activity is essential to a healthy, happy pet. But your pet also needs mental stimulation to keep them in tip-top shape. Even if your furry companion isn’t getting into mischief, you might notice other signs, like restless pacing, excessive whining, barking, or meowing.
Is Your Pet Bored?
If you notice your pet is being disruptive, restless, or vocalizing more than usual, it’s likely they require more ways to utilize their brains. Even if your pet gets regular exercise, physical activity alone isn’t enough.
All pets benefit from mental stimulation, and some need more of it than others. For example, highly intelligent dogs and cats often need more ways to challenge their brains. If you have a hectic schedule that keeps you away from home for long periods, providing extra mental stimulation can ease your pet’s loneliness.
It’s also possible for your pet to get a case of cabin fever if you tend to keep them home all of the time. If your dog or cat tends to remain in the house, finding new ways to challenge your pet’s mind is vital.
Ready to Challenge Your Pet’s Mind?
Since your pet isn’t likely to be doing the latest Sudoku puzzle or the morning crossword (and if they are, you need to call someone), you need to give them other ways to challenge their mind. Luckily, it isn’t difficult, and you don’t need to invest in a lot of expensive, fancy equipment to stimulate your dog or cat’s brain. Here are 8 easy ways to exercise your pet’s mind.
1. Let Your Pet Hunt for Their Food
Tap into your cat’s natural hunting instinct and hide their food throughout a designated area. Put a few pieces of kibble under a pillow or tuck them behind a table. Your dog will also benefit from using their senses to find hidden surprises, whether small treats or pieces of dog food.
2. Play Hide-and-Seek
Engage your pet in a rousing game of hide-and-seek. Find a hiding place (preferably with a tasty surprise), then have a friend or family member give your pet the green light to start searching. It’s all about your furry friend using their senses to track down their prize.
Once your pet finds you, reward them with lots of praise, petting, and a treat.
With a bit of imagination, you can come up with all sorts of games you can play with your furry companions. There are lots of exercises for cats and dogs that are fun, challenging, and beneficial for you and your pet.
3. Try More Training
Even if your pet aced basic training, that doesn’t mean you never train them again. Keep teaching your old dog new tricks (and your feline). The extra training sessions help your pet continue to stretch their mental muscles while strengthening the bond between you.
4. Bring Your Pet to New Places
Let your pet explore a new place, full of uncharted sights, smells, sounds, and experiences. Check out a pet-friendly shop or take your dog to lunch at a local eatery with a doggy-approved patio. If you’re up for traveling with your pet, arrange an occasional day trip or weekend getaway and do a few pet-centered activities together.
5. Chat with Your Cat
Studies suggest that your cat recognizes your voice and knows when you’re talking to them. Chatting with your cat directly (or using cat-directed speech) can make a significant impact on your feline friend. The same goes for your doting pup. Get down on their level, not too close, and speak in a soft, high-pitched voice. Make sure to say your pet’s name frequently.
6. Give Your Pet Interactive Toys
Interactive toys are another great way to challenge your pet’s mind. Tuck a few treats and some peanut butter inside a Rolly Cannoli. Your pet will love trying to lick out all of the yummy goodness. Products like the Neater Pets Neat-Lik Mat are another great way to stimulate your pal mentally, and it also helps calm down anxious pets.
Additionally, changing up your pet’s toys is a way to keep them on their toes. Create a rotation system so they can investigate a few new items each week (but keep their absolute favorite in the mix).
7. Let There Be Light
Have you ever seen a cat catch a glimpse of a bit of light reflecting on the wall or floor? They suddenly become laser-focused and can’t wait to catch the elusive bright spot. Cats love to play with reflections, whether it’s sunlight reflecting off a nearby surface or a flashlight beam moving across the wall.
Even dogs get curious about the occasional ray of light, although they typically aren’t as fanatic as their feline counterparts. Laser pointers also offer a fun way to interact with your cat, but use them with caution so you don’t damage your pet's eyes.
8. Give Your Pet Access to the Great Outdoors
If you can’t take your pet to new places, you have a world of new experiences right outside your back door. Let your pup explore the yard and set up an obstacle course or dig site for them to investigate. To allow your cat to safely enjoy being outside, consider creating a catio. If the weather squashes your ideas for outside play, there are always lots of rainy day pet activities you can do, too.
How Can I Stimulate My Pet’s Mind When I’m Not Home?
Unfortunately, life calls, and you likely don’t get to stay home with your pet 24/7 and play. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give your dog or cat a few ways to stay stimulated and engaged while you’re at work. Interactive toys are good to have on hand, but they’re not your only option.
If your dog loves being sociable and gets along with other dogs, doggy daycare could be an excellent option. A pet camera is another way you can watch and interact with your pet remotely. Some of these smart devices even let you dispense treats for your pet.
If you know you’ll be gone for an exceptionally long time during the day, consider hiring a pet sitter to check in on your dog or cat midday. They can take them for a walk, play games, give them a snack, and share some cuddles.
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
It’s true for humans, and it’s true for pets. Using your brain is essential to your overall health and happiness. If you don’t give your pet ample opportunities to stimulate their mental muscles, they get bored, leading to disruptive behaviors and undesirable consequences. But challenge your pet’s mind, and you open the door to all sorts of amazing experiences and benefits for your fur baby.
For more helpful tips on caring for your pet in every way, check out the rest of the Neater Pets blog. You’ll find even more ways to be a fantastic pet parent and lots of ideas about how to have fun with your best friend.