These days when we think of playing games we usually think of phone apps, video games, and other online options; and while our devices are engaging and convenient, these ways of playing are not how our pets view playtime. Dogs and cats are physical creatures that inhabit their bodies in carefree ways, most of the time, which many of us humans have forgotten about or rarely experienced.
Healthy dogs and cats need and want to move. We have all seen photos of dogs and cats confined in small cages and kennels for years, deprived of healthy exercise, with a look of misery in their eyes – and it is heartbreaking.
Naturally, we know that exercise feels good and provides many benefits, such as:
- Deeper and more refreshing sleep
- Mental stimulation
- Optimal digestion
- Increased muscle tone & agility
- Reduced problematic behaviors (often)
- A sturdy musculoskeletal system
- Increased confidence
- An enhanced life
Creating opportunities for our pets to take advantage of these exercise benefits is essential for their health and longevity, VCA Animal Hospitals and the American Kennel Club expand on this. So how do our four-footed friends attain meaningful results while playing?
How to Play with Your Pet
Planned vs Spontaneous Play
Playtime and games can be spontaneous or planned, but depending on sporadic games won’t contribute as much to the benefits listed above, with how infrequent they can be. Additionally, you don’t want your dog to fall into the health traps that “weekend warriors” face who overexert and suffer from injuries, playing hard just on Saturday and Sunday. Planned activities, on the other hand, typically provide the greatest long-term benefits as most of us tend to stick to a schedule – and let’s face it, in this busy, high-stress world, most of us tend to be over-booked, and tired by the end of the day.
What should Scheduled Playtime Involve?
Having a schedule can help regulate your pet’s exercise, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Planned exercise can be as simple as taking your dog for an after-breakfast and after-dinner 20-minute fast walk – the benefit comes from making it regular and intentional – but if you have more time, don’t stop there. You can make exercise more elaborate and engaging by signing up for dog classes, learning and teaching new skills, and entering competitions. Dogs are highly social animals, and interacting with their families and other group classes or activities is highly pleasurable for them.
Dog games can be very easy to think of for certain breeds, and it’s especially easy for those with retrievers. Retriever exercise can easily be a game of fetch with balls of different sizes, flashing balls, balls that make noise, and balls of different textures. All of these prove delightful for your pet. Alternatively, digging dogs will go crazy over the addition of a sandbox in their backyard or involving them in Barn Hunt Trials. Herding breeds can participate in Herding Trials, and Sight Hounds are a natural at Lure Coursing, but don’t let your dog’s breed limit their options. Step out of your comfort zone and see if your Bullmastiff enjoys obedience work or if your Rat Terrier is a fiend for Dock Diving. All of these games and sports are wonderful opportunities for your pet’s physical and mental stimulation.
Cats on the other hand are more solitary pets, but they were born to move and do so beautifully. In the wild, cats climb trees, leaping and pulling themselves up with their claws. These excellent exercise movements can be duplicated in play by providing scratching post towers and cat furniture of different heights, even shelves on the wall for your feline friend to climb on. Being superb hunters, cats also love to squeeze into small, hidden spaces and dash out to capture prey or, in our case most of the time, a toy. You can make wand toys and small balls, fake mice, or feather toys that mimic a cat’s prey, providing great excitement and exercise.
How to Get Your Cat in the Sun
One often overlooked problem with home-confined city cats is their lack of sunshine exposure. Training your cat to walk comfortably on a leash can solve that, but another solution is to install a screened window extension where your cat can sit or lay and bask in the sun’s rays, or go one step further and build a catio.
Catios (cat patios) are fully screened enclosures attached to and accessible from your home where cats can roam naturally and be safe from predators or other city dangers. Safe outdoor playtime with your cats in a catio is priceless in terms of providing exactly the type of exercise our cats desire.
In nature, cats are considered nocturnal, although most have adjusted to their owner’s diurnal schedules. Still, the nocturnal instinct runs deep. Have you ever considered playing a game of chase or hide and seek with your cat in a darkened room? Some cats find that thrilling. Or have you taken your cat out fishing? Place a shallow pan, like a pie pan, half filled with water, and set it on a towel on the kitchen floor. Get a few freeze-dried minnow treats and float them in the water. Show this to your cat or let her discover it for herself and see what happens. Unfetter your imagination when dreaming up games for your cats; they are wild and playful pets who enjoy new challenges.
Treats & Games
And don’t forget the goodies! Treats can be an important part of our pet’s games. Obviously, we need to factor in a certain number of rewards into their daily caloric intake so they don’t gain weight, but a tasty treat given at an appropriate moment can be a great stimulus during playtime.
Northwest Naturals Raw Rewards are single-ingredient, pure protein freeze-dried treats that are low calorie and can be fed to both cats and dogs since both species are carnivorous. There aren’t any other ingredients in the treats except the sourced protein.
At this time we have:
- Beef Liver
- Bison Liver
- Chicken Breast
- Chicken Liver
- Green Mussels
- Lamb Liver
- Pork Liver
We all need to spend more quality time playing with our pets, letting minds and bodies float into their fun zone. This healthy recreation will do wonders for our pet’s health and happiness and for ours too!
By Carol Kendig