Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Do you like to give holiday gifts to your pets? You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make them happy—as any cat owner whose cat likes the box better than the toy already knows. Rather than listing the latest and greatest toys you can buy at the last minute on Christmas weekend, I’ll discuss a few things you can do for your pets to keep them healthy and stress-free throughout the year.
Toys are an important part of environmental enrichment for both dogs and cats. Environmental enrichment means giving animals objects and experiences that meet their psychological and physical needs. Providing adequate enrichment reduces animals’ anxiety, which in turn reduces unwanted behavior.
Consider your pets’ natural instincts when choosing toys. Some dogs enjoy playing fetch; others (like all of the dogs I’ve had myself) would rather watch you do the fetching. Cats are natural predators and need toys that simulate stalk-and-pounce hunting.
Behaviorists suggest using toys that provide different types of sensory stimulation (taste, vision, hearing, smell, and touch). For both dogs and cats, rotate toys to prevent boredom. Be mindful of possible choking hazards and monitor your pets while they are playing.
Toy ideas for dogs:
Toy ideas for cats:
Exercise, which can include both walking and interactive play, benefits both you and your pets. Walking your dogs promotes bonding; sending them alone into a fenced yard does not. If you usually play with your pet for only a couple of minutes at a time, consider increasing the interaction time. In one study, owners who played with their cats for bouts of 5 minutes or longer reported fewer cat behavior problems than owners who played with their cats for only 1 minute at a time.
Give your pets indoor hideaways. A safe space can be a crate, a tall cat perch, or a quiet room—anywhere they can get away from visitors, other pets, or loud noises like New Year’s fireworks. Give your pets time to become comfortable with the safe space before a stressful event occurs so they will see it as a retreat, not a punishment.
A veterinary blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the gift of good health! Fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites (like hookworms and roundworms) are all common in the South. Parasite preventives are safer and more effective than they were in past decades, and keeping your pets free of parasites will also protect your own health. A new toothbrush and pet toothpaste are great stocking stuffers for pets. Regular physical examinations, appropriate vaccinations, and good nutrition will also help keep your pets healthy.
Disaster Preparation Plan
Give yourself peace of mind and ensure your pets’ safety by preparing in advance for winter storms and unexpected disasters. Plan how you’ll take your pets with you during an evacuation, and consider giving them microchips as permanent identification in case you get separated. See the disaster plan post for more tips.
Above all, give your pets lots of love and attention, and have a wonderful holiday!
Thanks to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (environmental needs PDF), Clinician’s Brief (environmental enrichment for cats [PDF] and dogs [PDF]), American Veterinary Medical Association, Indoor Pet Initiative, Companion Animal Psychology, and Psychology Today for some of the ideas in this article.
Photo by oliverromero