There are many reasons why we should play with our pets. Not only is it a form of physical exercise for our pets but it also supports their mental health – and it’s lots of fun too! Here we outline the key benefits and also give tips on how to incorporate more play into your pet’s daily routine.
Active play can help keep your pet’s heart and lungs healthy, keep the joints lubricated, and improve overall balance and coordination. This is true for all pets big and small from dogs and cats to rabbits and hamsters.
Exercise is also vital in helping your pet maintain a healthy weight – or lose weight. Unfortunately, obesity is a big problem for pets with vets saying that 51% of dogs, 44% of cats and 29% of small mammals are overweight or obese. Sadly, excess fat contributes to many other diseases and obesity can reduce an animal’s life expectancy. Understandably, vets are concerned and 80% of vets think exercise has a role to play in fighting this big problem.
Mental Health and Training
Although the role of play and exercise is critical for a pet’s physical health, there are benefits for a pet’s mental health too. Games force your pet to use their brain, not just their body and this helps keep it sharp and focused. For this reason, play can be incorporated into the training plan for any pet as animals can feel rewarded by play. The throwing of a ball – or playing with a toy – can help teach a pet many new tricks!
Reinforcing the bond
Play can also show your pet that you care and the attention helps them feel like a special part of your life – ultimately reinforcing the pet and owner bond.
Tips on how to play!
Now that you know the many benefits, you may need some top tips on incorporating play into your pet’s life?!
If you have a dog, it is relatively easy to incorporate play in the park – or garden – by playing fetch with a bag of balls and toys. If your dog is a little less keen on traditional games, you will need to be more inventive:
- Build an agility course in your garden or park.
- Use toys or balls that make a noise or squeak randomly.
- Feed your dog in a treat ball or puzzle feeder or hide treats in a box or wrap up in a blanket
- Move the food bowl to a new location so that the dog has to walk and hunt for food.
If you have a cat, it’s harder to make sure they get enough exercise and play is really important. Cats like short bursts of activity and there are lots of ideas for different games that encourage running, jumping and hunting behaviour:
- Get a toy that has feathers (like a shuttlecock from badminton) and make it move like a bird.
- Wiggle a shoelace across the floor like a worm or use a fishing rod type toy.
- Hide dried food around the house or in a box, to encourage hunting.
Rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters can all enjoy playing but it will depend on their personality and you need to take care to play gently. Some ideas for play are:
- Hide food or a toy in your hands or under a small pile of hay.
- Create a safe space and let your pet play in a new environment.
- Pull toy on a cord to encourage a chase.
- Roll a small ball.