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Beating Back Boredom: Helping Your Pets Stay Happy and Healthy

Yes, your cat is lazy. And your dog loves to sunbathe for hours at a time. After all, cats sleep upwards of 16 hours a day while dogs clock in between 12 and 14 hours.


Look, we get it. It’s exhausting being that adorable all the time.


But here’s the thing: cats and dogs will sleep more if they’re bored. And being bored isn’t just bad for their brains, which need stimulation, it can lead to behavior problems. That can include digging, barking, being restless, being withdrawn, excessive grooming, chewing inappropriate items around the house … they might become aggressive or even self mutilate.



The answer is enrichment, which will help engage your pet’s brain, give them a bit of exercise, and will likely be great entertainment for you, too.


Enrichment for Dogs


  • Hide some treats around the house and then let your dog find them. I’ve taught my own dog the command of “find it,” which lets her know there is something for her to look for. Granted, some dogs won’t get that even after you try your best to teach them the command. But if they can begin working that nose, it’s really, really good for their brain. An alternative is hide and seek with family members. Distract your dog while someone else hides. Then whistle or bark or make a noise to get the dog into trying to find the person hiding. At my house, when our dogs take off searching, another person hides. This also uses sniffing and it consumes a massive amount of mental and physical energy.



  • Bring out the toys. At our house the toys stay locked away so when they do come out the dogs get very excited. Also, it’s just safer that way. Chew toys are good but stay clear of rawhides. Dogs love them but they can get lodged in the stomach which, as you can imagine, is never good. At our house we love to take the KONG Classic, put some peanut butter in it and then freeze it. When we bring that out, it’s an hour of chewing and gnawing and licking. Other activities if your dog will do them: tug-o-war, fetch, or you can even take a handful of your dog’s kibble and toss it into the yard so it turns into a sniffest/hunt. Interactive toys are also great. Those that have treats hidden inside or have puzzles that must be solved will take a lot of brain power and then reward your dog for sticking with it.



  • Training is a good option, too, and who doesn’t need to refresh their pooch on proper behavior from time to time? A dog in training has to concentrate, which for most dogs - SQUIRREL - is really hard. All that focus does one thing. Stimulates the brain and brings on the nap. Some people will go so far as to build obstacles in the back yard and begin teaching their dog how to do agility. That’s a super way to provide enrichment, training, bonding and exercise.

  • Take a walk and maybe go somewhere new. This will give your dog a chance to try out new smells and explore a bit. It’s also good for you both. Of course, you don’t have to go to someplace new because your dog will love the smells in your own neighborhood. Just make sure to take your time and let your dog sniff until they’re done. It might not seem like that big of a deal but smells are data to a dog, meant to be analyzed in the brain and provide information. It’s a great way to provide enrichment for your dog.


Enrichment for Cats


  • Interactive toys are great for cats because they engage those problem solving skills, which cats are, by and large, designed for doing. The hidden treat/puzzle/food dispensing toys that require solving challenges are particularly good for cats.



  • Vertical places are great for climbing and perching. This gives cats a birdseye view of the world, which they love. And though they might get on top of something and just hang out, it still provides enrichment because cats love to watch the world go by.



  • Wands or laser pointers are great because they engage that stalking and hunting drive that is central to who cats are. It provides great mental stimulation but will also get a lazy cat moving, which is good. Just be careful with these. Cats can get tangled in toys with strings. Too, lasers should never be pointed in the eyes.

  • Window watching is its own kind of stimulation, especially if you can find a window that looks out on a place where squirrels and birds are active. Your cat will spend hours watching (and likely dreaming of stalking those creatures), which will activate their brains in ways that make life better for them.

  • Change it all around and see how your cat does. At our house, we change the cat’s room around or add/remove toys regularly and it gives everything a new twist, which always provides plenty of sniffing and exploring. Though, and this is important, it’s never a good idea to move the litter box. While adding a cardboard box or moving a chair will be cause for exploration, moving a litter box can cause anxiety in some cats.


For cats, in particular, observe how your cat reacts to your efforts at engagement and adjust accordingly. Both dogs and cats are creatures of habit but cats are definitely more so and some changes or efforts at play can cause anxiety.



By providing opportunities for your pet to engage their brains and their bodies, they’ll be happier and healthier overall. That’s the best way to pay them back for all they give us in return.


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