Keeping Our Pets Mentally and Physically Healthy | Care First Animal Hospital

We have pets at home because we enjoy their company, exercising with them and cuddling with them. What about when we have a long day at work or want to go out for the evening? For most of us, this is a dilemma which we try to solve with pet sitters, doggie daycamp, or exercising them a lot on one day and not another. It is actually better for pets to be exercised every day to keep them healthy in mind and body. Certain breeds obviously need more physical exercise than others and it is important to know this before we choose our companion. A Chihuahua may do just fine with a walk to the corner and back (though I’m sure some of them could do miles and not complain), while our Labradors need some intense exercise if we expect them to be calm in our home. Our lifestyles should take into account what type of pet we want, whether it is a couch potato or a running companion.

Stock photo dog playing with ballPhysical exercise is important for our pets, both cats and dogs.

It keeps them limber, healthy, and tires them out so that they don’t get into trouble. It can take the shape of daily walks, runs, or playing ball in the yard. Our cats tend to be indoors more than outdoors, and so playing with toys, chasing balls or strings or running maniacally through your house are all great forms of exercise.

Walks are great for our pets because it not only gives them some physical exercise but it also mentally stimulates them. When a dog sniffs the tree or ground, he is picking up scents from multiple organisms, identifying what has been there and when. All of this information is very interesting to our dogs, mentally exercising their skills. Swimming in one of our many area lakes or hiking are enjoyed by many in our area and our dogs would appreciate tagging along too.

My favorite type of exercise for my pets is retrieving a ball. The object they retrieve is not as important as to the fact that they are using energy up to chase the item and run back to me to return it for the thrill of chasing it once again. I include obedience exercises such as: sit, down, get into heel position, and run around me, as well teaching them skills such as “give” (put the ball in my hand), which can then relate to other objects as well. Another fun activity to do with our dogs is agility. This can be done by taking a class or playing around in your own backyard.  Teaching a dog to run through a tunnel or jump low obstacles can be fun for both of you. If you would like to try agility, there are lots of opportunities here in the triangle and many classes offered for beginners, including at Care FirstAnimalHospital.

Physical exercises is good for all of our pets but keep in mind their capabilities and make sure you are aware of their limits. Have a physical exam performed by one of our veterinarians to make sure your pet is healthy enough to enjoy more strenuous activity. Always keep in mind environmental conditions too; running in the heat of the day is dangerous for you and your pet.

Stimulating our dog’s mentally is just as important as exercising them physically.

There are many different ways to encourage dogs to play by themselves while using their mental abilities too.

Kong toy

Kong toys can be purchased at any of the Care First Animal Hospital locations.

Let’s start with puzzle toys and kongs to feed them in. A kong is a hard rubber, hollow ball which you can stuff with all sorts of good treats or food for your dog to then roll around and chew on.  Kongs are great for our dogs that do not destroy tough rubber. I personally recommend stuffing the dog’s food into the kong and then freezing it. This frozen popsicle remains delicious for your pet but takes longer to eat, thus keeping your pup busy for a longer period of time.

Puzzle toys are relatively new but lots of fun for your pet and also for you to watch them figure it out. Puzzle toys come in all sizes and shapes and degree of difficulty. Kibble is usually used in puzzle toys and the dog has to move pieces around in order to access the kibble. Sometimes a paw swipe will do it, other times; they need to use their nose to move the piece to access the food. All of these toys need the dog to think and be creative in order to get their food. It makes meal times much more interesting for them as they work to get their food.

Making your dog use their nose to find objects hidden in your home is always a great game for them as well. Start by making it easy, show them a treat and put it under a mat or across the room while they watch, and then let them get it and eat it.

Puzzle treat toy

Puzzle treat toys are an excellent way to stimulate your pet physically and mentally!

Next time, make it a little more difficult by not letting them watch where you hide it, and then send them to find it.  As I mentioned before, dog’s noses are amazing, you can actually put the treat in a closed container and they will find the container and open it, self-rewarding.

Before you leave for work, hide treats in easily accessible areas where the dog is confined for the day. This will give him something to do while you are gone. Be sure to not put any treats where you pet could get into trouble by scratching to reach it.

Keeping our pets busy and amused while we are gone is only limited by our imagination.  Letting them bark out the window at passing dogs and people is not a healthy option, having them chew on stuffed bones, or find hidden treasures is a much more acceptable way for them to be entertained. A puppy who is mentally and physically stimulated will be a healthier and happier companion.

Happy Training,

Mary Pollard CPDT-KA

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