Play improves motor skills, stimulates cognitive growth and is a huge part of cat and dog development, says Alex Johnson, senior designer and animal enrichment specialist with Purina. Learn why playing with your pet is important—and what you can do to help them. Plus, playing with your pet has benefits for humans, too! Research shows that dog owners walk an average of 22 more minutes a day.
Set aside time to play to improve behavior.
Aim for 30 minutes of activity twice a day for your pet. The close interaction between humans and pets during play has been shown to improve overall behavior, especially in dogs. With cats, most people underestimate how playful they actually are. One toy Johnson loves using with cats is a feather wand. Engaging with pets when they initiate play is also important, so try not to turn them away when they bring a toy your way.
Rotate their toys to increase stimulation.
Rather than having all their toys available all the time, rotate out a few each week to increase the stimulation pets get from them. Or hide a few favorite toys in a room you can close off for a few days, then open it and let your pet rediscover them. Also squeeze in more play by stashing a few “couch potato” toys that you can use while watching TV.
Use food puzzles for mental exercise.
Thanks to their natural hunting instincts, dogs and cats actually like working for their food. It’s also great mental exercise. “When offered a choice between food that’s provided or that requires effort to eat, animals prefer the latter,” says Kristen Levine, a pet lifestyle expert in Tarpon Spring, Florida. Try using a food puzzle or treat feeder for dry kibble. They’re designed so pets can only get the food by moving objects around or using their problem-solving skills. Even a simple muffin tin can work: put the kibble in the cups, then cover it with tennis balls so your dog has to remove the balls to eat.
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