According to a recent study, 94% of pet owners rely on their pet for emotional support. That’s why our Fluffies and Fidos are the perfect at-home companions while we adapt to staying home during these difficult times. And as members of our family, it is important to remember that pets, like people, need routine, exercise and enrichment in their day-to-day. It’s very easy for our pets to get bored, lazy and possibly stressed while we adapt to being home more with them.
With this in mind, Alex Johnson, Purina senior designer and pet enrichment specialist, has developed some tips to keep our pets engaged, happy and healthy while indoors with them each day.
- Routine: Mealtime, walk time, playtime and treat time are all-important parts of your pet’s day. Just like people, pets thrive on having a routine as it provides a sense of normalcy. With the family at home, it may seem like these routines can get more flexible, but too much flexibility may be unsettling to your pet and may make it much harder on him or her when the family resumes activities outside of the home.
- Exercise: Just like people, aside from walking or running, it may be difficult finding spaces to exercise your dog outside. Therefore, it is important to find indoor activities to help them burn some energy. Try tug toys, lasers, throwing stuffed toys and tag. If you live in an apartment building, try throwing toys up or down steps in the stairwells or down hallways (if the landlord permits and no one is using these areas). You could even set up a schedule with neighbors to alternate times for pets to play in the hallways or in the basement/garage.
- Treating: Since we are at home all day, it can become difficult to track when your pet gets a snack or how many he’s getting. Pets should get no more than 10% of their daily calories from treats. To help ensure your family isn’t over-treating, try adding a treating time to your schedule. If you have kids, have them do “art competitions,” “who finishes their homework first” or “cleaning your room” competitions to see who wins the reward of treating the pet that day.
- “Welcome Home” Moment: Now that we are home every day, there is something big missing that perhaps we don’t realize as much as our pets… the “welcome home” moment with you. This is that time in the day when we are most excited to spend time with our pets after a long day at work or school. It’s their big moment! And now it’s gone. Having everyone home together, all day, every day can be stressful for pets. Remember to provide opportunities for pets to have time on their own but also time alone with you away from the family. It wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few moments of sheer joy in seeing them enter a room, too.
- Couch Potato Play: TV binging isn’t a new concept, but it’s definitely intensifying in our present-day situation. Keep a drawer or basket close by with some of your pet’s favorite toys, feather wands, tug toys, ball, lasers, cat dancers, mechanical toys or stuffed animals. Toys that you can interact with from the comfort of your couch.
- Box of Invisibility: If you have kids at home, providing pets with off-limit safe spaces within family areas is a great way to give them some downtime on their own but still be close to everyone. Try engaging kids of all ages in decorating a “Box of Invisibility” or a sign titled “Invisibility Zone” and when the cat is in the box or the dog is in the designated area, pretend you can’t see them. Eventually, if the rule is followed, the dog or cat will know they will be left alone when in these zones. Elevating cat areas and positioning dog areas out of the way of household traffic will help add a sense of safety and reduce stress.
- Making It New: Pets are reliant on us for new experiences, activities, toys, places and spaces. It is important to keep things interesting and expand your pet’s world by providing opportunities for exploration. Try creating temporary indoor spaces to explore with boxes and paper bags or closing off a bedroom for a week to give your pet a space to re-explore. Hide some treats or favorite toys in the room before reopening it. Remember to always keep toys in rotation to help create newness. Pets can get bored, but when a toy disappears for a while and comes back, most will re-engage with an elevated level of enthusiasm.
- Treasure Hunt: Hide treats or toys around the house on in a variety of boxes, and encourage your dog to hunt for them. Start off with hiding your pet’s favorite treats around the room while a family member holds them back but allowing them to watch. After they successfully find the treats this way a few times, have the family member take them out of the room and hide the treats again. The goal is taking baby steps so that they understand the game, and then you can escalate the difficulty level appropriately.
- Movement: All pets enjoy movement, of objects, lights and sounds. Bird or bee feeders, light catchers, Hexbugs (always under supervision), lasers, feather wands, Cat Dancer toys or Cat TV are great ways to stimulate and entertain pets while indoors. You can even try creating your own moving devices as a family activity. Light catchers or wind catchers (bits of shiny paper attached to string hanging in a window with a breeze) are easy for beginners. Pinterest has loads of ideas for things you can make at home “DIY Enrichment.”
- Sensory Spot: It’s no secret that cats love sitting on weird things – computer keyboards, plastic bags, clothes and empty boxes – basically anything that might be big enough for a nap. They love exploring textures and smells. Instead of chasing them from these inconvenient spots, it’s important to provide pre-approved areas for exploration. Try getting a box or basket just as big as your cat loosely curled up and place it in an out-of-way area, preferably near a safe heat source, vent or sunny window. Each week try putting in a new material such as a worn T-shirt, packaging paper or bits of different textured materials you have around the house. Remember, it doesn’t have to be soft or squishy. If your cat doesn’t like it, she just won’t sleep on it.