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Maintaining pet health: Mental stimulation matters to your family pet

When we think of pet health, we think of dog walks or cat gymnasiums, hamster wheels and the physical equipment that get a body moving. Pet exercise for the body is incredibly important. Like humans, your pets can fall foul of obesity, heart issues and even increase their risk of cancer through a lack of exercise.

We think about diet and preventative action that helps, such as guarding against teeth problems or managing your pet’s weight effectively.

However, the physical exercise your pet receives is not the whole ball game. And maintaining pet health isn’t only about treating ailments, managing weight or dental work. Mental stimulation is a big part of the mix as well.

Let’s look at the benefits of mental stimulation in relation to pet health and what you can do to introduce it into your everyday routine

Why mentally stimulating your pet is important

pet health mental stimulation

Photo by Justin Veenema via Unsplash

Mental stimulation in your family pet is important to pet health for a few reasons. Anyone who has ever had a dog that they walked and walked for hours yet still came home to rubbish strewn across the house or broken and chewed up belongings may understand this better than anyone else. Simply put, physical exercise alone isn’t enough for a lot of pets.

By mentally stimulating and taxing your pet, you can-

  • Offset extra energy your pet may have by exhausting the mind as well as the body
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Help in the treatment of issues such as separation anxiety
  • Putting sharp minds to good use (powers for good instead of evil and all that!)
  • Introduce healthy behaviours and calm emotions in puppies and kittens
  • Improve mental stamina now and in old age

Think of it in human terms. We may love to run, go to the gym and dig out the bicycle. This physically taxes our body and releases endorphins and makes us feel good. Yet, it doesn’t replace our love of reading, the crossword or solving problems at work. We supplement our diet for a moving body with an active mind.

The same applies to your pet on their terms.

Pet training and learning

One of the greatest ways to keep your pet mentally fit and active is continuous training. The adage of you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is far from true. The idea you can’t train cats is false. Even your pet rate or guinea pig is bang up for some interesting activities.

Some pets will continue to increase their vocabulary and skillset throughout their life. Their interest in learning plus your approach to teaching can do a lot to influence this.

Think of puppy class. When your puppy first goes to school to learn basic commands, chances are they will come home and nap quite a lot. While play time and socialisation may have something to do with this, it’s also the learning process. The mind is stretching and expanding and connecting to concepts. That is mentally taxing.

As your puppies understanding and capabilities grow, so too does their stamina. It takes more learning to get the same tired result.

If you spend time with your pet learning things beyond the usual, you help them expend their mental energy through problem-solving. And it will help increase their understanding of the world, what you say to them and their confidence.

Moved beyond what you can teach your family pet at home?

  • Research areas that your pet shows aptitude for and hit the internet for articles and videos
  • Bring a pet personal trainer into the mix and learn along with your pet
  • Try dog agility classes and/or specialist groups for smart doggies
  • Consider learning through puppy raising for support dog organisations and translating the skills you pick up into teaching your pets at home
  • Use those cat hunting instincts in a positive way with interactive play sessions
  • Leash train your cat and walk them as you would a dog
  • Ask our friendly vet nurses for their tips and advice- we often run classes and exercises that help with pet health

Pet puzzles and games

At Fox Valley Animal Hospital, we stock a wide variety of pet toys and treats to help maintain the fun side of your relationship with your pet that also maintain mental stimulation and pet health. We do this because we know that some of the best ways to keep your pets mind nimble, entertained and alert is through puzzles and games.

Pets love challenges. They want to be able to find the treat in a shell cup game or stretch their intellectual muscle in a game scenario.

You can make use of all kinds of special puzzles to bring home the lessons direct from us. You can also stretch your pet’s mind by choosing to leverage every day circumstances.

These pet games scenarios could include:

  • Using a wobbler or puzzle feeder to feed your pet as opposed to a bowl and have them work for their meals
  • Instituting a dinner time routine such as a special command, handshakes, high fives and more and mixing it up each meal
  • Playing nose-work games where your pets hunt out treats, Easter egg style, around the garden, in the house or their enclosure
  • Teaching your pet the name of their toys and asking them to hunt for specific toys around the house or find it in a stuffed toy box
  • Create an obstacle course in the backyard with climbing, jumping and running points to truly flex their mental muscle
  • Clicker train your cat or dog to keep them on the ball and alert

Fillable foodie pet toys

We all know the benefits of food-related toys, especially the fillable variety. Kongs are wonderful to keep anxious pets from fretting if we pop out to the shops. Food toys help strengthen mental muscle and exercise the mind in our pets the same way crosswords help humans.

We have a variety of food related fillable toys you can use. Some of the ways you can use fillable food toys to their best advantage are:

  • Putting them to good use on rainy or busy days as a supplement to a routine
  • Using them to ward off separation anxiety by giving them to your pet as you leave for the day. Not only does it distract your pet, it also lowers their stress levels by creating a positive association with your departure
  • As a reward after a positive walk or training session
  • To keep young kittens and puppies from destructive behaviours and wearing out their curious minds

A change of scenery

Pets love to roam and investigate almost as much as we do. Think about how rejuvenated you feel after holidays in a new place, changing your walk home or checking out a place you’ve never been before. Your pet feels the same way. They want to explore and understand more of the world around them. It also increases their confidence with the world, especially when they are young. The exposure to new sounds, sights and smells help them make sense of the bigger picture. This is why service dogs are exposed to different environments from a super early age. It helps create positive associations instead of a sense of being overwhelmed by new places and people. It improves mood, lowers stress and can help with cognitive function, all of which have great pet health benefits.

Some of the ways you can use scenery to the best affect are:

  • Walk your pet before work when the mind is fresh. It could also help you too!
  • Allowing sniffing, snuffling and exploration on a walk. Your cat or dog wants to explore things and they do a lot of this with their nose. Allow them to do so on your daily walk
  • Cats, dogs, birds and pocket pets also love watching the world go by. Think about access to raised platforms and windows to satiate this desire
  • Consider pet friendly holidays. You love exploring the new sights and so do your pets. Why not combine the two?
  • Change the walking routes. A s simple as it sounds, varying your routine and exploring new local streets can be a wonderful source of mental stimulation for your pet
  • Interacting with other dogs in off-leash areas. Never discount the benefits of meeting a new dog and playing with a new friend at the park or beach
  • Puppy schools and doggy day-care situations can also help with the scenery change and socialisation, another key part of mental stimulation

Pet mental stimulation for the win

Your pet will love you and your ability to keep their mental needs in mind. It’s great for helping them learn, lowering stress, warding off boredom, curbing unwanted behaviour and keeping your pet healthy.

Stuck for ideas on how to get started with pet mental stimulation and improving your pet health with a focus on the mind? Drop in to our Wahroonga vet clinic and chat to our vet nurses today.

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.