Mental Stimulation for Pets

Dec 10, 2018   Tracey Aston   Health & Wellness

Mental stimulation, or mental exercise, is getting pets to think and solve problems, and is just as important to our pets as physical exercise in keeping them happy and healthy. Our pets are very intelligent and, like us, can get bored sitting around all the time. We have our work and friends and daily activities, our pets just have us.  As pet parents, it's our responsibility to keep our pets exercised both physically and mentally. Thankfully, there are many fun activities we can do with our pets to keep them mentally alert and aware.  This mental fun also has its own benefits and a half hour of mental stimulation is the same as an hour of physical exercise. 

The easiest way to keep our dogs both physically and mentally exercised is switching up the route you take when walking your pet.  If you normally walk through the same park, try going on a nature trail or walking by the lake. New scenery provides new sights, smells and terrain, all of which will mentally stimulate your pet. 

Use treats or kibble as a prize and make your pet work for them. This can be done in an unlimited number of ways including playing games such as Choose Which Hand or the Cup Game, to learning new tricks, puzzle games and even learning new tricks! Puzzle games have come a long way and are made in many different types and activity levels. There is a large variety of these puzzle games to pick from including: Hide-and-Slide Puzzle, IQ Treat Ball, and classic Kong. These toys can be stuffed with treats, kibble, peanut butter or stuff a Kong with some of the fun recipes listed at Kong.com. 




Along with basic hide and roll treat puzzles, there are puzzles for the more advanced pet, like Outward Hound Dog Brick Interactive Dog Toy that includes sliding discs and mazes, and Dog Twister Interactive Dog Toy which challenges pets to “look for treats by moving one block after another in different circles.”  If you're looking for an at home alternative to puzzle games, toilet paper rolls can even be used to make fun toys for your pet. Fold over one end of a toilet paper roll, fill the roll with treats or kibble and then fold over the opposite end, to close and give to your pet so see how they get the treats out. 


If you are using treats or kibble for mental stimulation, remember to lower the amount of calories during meals, as too many extra treats will pack on the pounds. 

Cats are inquisitive and love to stalk and hunt prey, and there are many fun mental stimulation games made just for them, too! Bunk Bed and Playroom for cats is a box with many different holes and kitty toys attached. Similar to dogs, there are also treat games for cats, like the multi-tier Catit Senses Food Maze.  Cat puzzle boxes where the cat must attempt to remove toys from the box through different holes can be hours of fun for your pet. Puzzle boxes can even be made by cutting holes into the top of a cardboard box, putting your cats' favorite toys inside and taping the sides shut. Make the holes large enough for your cat to fit their paw and toy through, but not large enough to get their head inside to get stuck.



Our pets love toys and toys are a great way to learn new tricks! Some pets love tennis balls, while others are fans of a Frisbee! All toys can be turned into a game that will mentally stimulate your pet. I don't have to tell you that our pets are smart! Your pet most likely already knows certain words and phrases, such as “ball” or “walk” but you can make a game out of building their vocabulary.  Show your pet the toy or object, repeat its name several times, such as “duckie” or “squeaky,” while showing the item to your pet. After a few times, your pet will start to associate the name with the item.  After your pet starts remembering all the names, the game can be played by hiding the object in a fun game of hide and seek or by having your pet pick out the item in a bunch of other items, or even fetch the item! 

Some stuffed toys are games in themselves! There are numerous plush puzzle toys for both dogs and cats. Some feature figuring out how to get the squirrels out of the log, the dogs out of the dog house or the mice out of the cheese! 


Many games can be set up using things you already have around your home! The Muffin Tin Game is played by hiding good smelling treats in a few holes of a muffin tin and then covering every hole with a toy, such as a tennis ball, and letting your pet sniff out which hole has the treat and how to remove the toy to get to the treat. 

The Shell Game is a great for lower energy pets, pets with mobility issues or senior pets. It still provides plenty of mental stimulation and fun without all the physical effort. Gather three cups, a handful of treats or kibble and sit on the floor with your pet. Allow the pet to see you placing the treat under one of the cups and then shuffle the cups around and ask them to find the treat.  

Pet parents can choose one or all of these fun activities to actively engage their pets mentally and provide hours of fun and bonding time. Your imagination and your pet's comfort levels are the only limits!

 
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