My pets are very bored. Bone chilling temps have kept my animals indoors. Not that it’s a bad thing. Temperatures this cold and winds this ferocious are dangerous to pets who remain outside for long. Domesticated animals have become acclimated to heating systems and do not have the thick pelage of those whose entire life is spent out of doors. Still, while not life-threatening, boredom is life-sapping. I certainly have devised ways to keep busy through the snowy days (cleaning drawers, polishing furniture, writing articles…), and as a dog and cat mom, I want my pets to pass their days with satisfaction too.
Environmental enrichment for indoor pets is not a new concept. For years, veterinary behavioralists have urged practitioners to inform their clients about strategies to make domestic life harmonious for pet and owner. After all, if a cat is unhappy in his confined space, and shows his disapproval by urinating around the house, then he’s likely to lose his happy home. If a dog is terribly bored due to lack of exercise and chews up the sofa, then he could suffer the same fate.
Enriching the lives of indoor cats entails providing them with opportunities to behave as if they were outdoors. Providing ‘prey’ to hunt-catnip mice-or chasing a laser light, scattering food sources around the house so cats must go find them, gets cats moving. Giving access to windows, perhaps with a bird feeder on the other side, allows interactions with the natural world. Though some adult cats are solitary, many cats are not and benefit from interaction with other cats. Mutual grooming, inter-cat play, and resting together gives comfort to cats confined indoors. Shelters are full of sweet, personable pussies who need homes!
All animals need exercise. Dogs, especially large ones or members of the hunting breeds, need to run. Chestertown’s dog park is a wonderful addition to our community, and allows for much needed play opportunities and social engagement among many dog friends. Naturally, only dogs who play well with others should visit the park! It is a credit to our local government that we have a free, open access, well-maintained place for our dogs. Keeping my new dog Champ occupied when he is not at the dog park, however, has not been easy. He has peanut butter filled Kong toys, Dentastix and the large marrow bones from Acme to work out his frustrations. He also has his good dog friends Phil and Faye next door whom he loves to visit. More noble owners than I spend these cold days doing training lessons, teaching tricks, grooming and preening their pets. Champ just runs away when I get the bottle of ear cleaner out!
However you fill these wintry days, remember that your pets need attention too. The Ohio State University has an excellent website for environmental enrichment. Visit it at indoorpet.osu.edu.
Dr Celeste Conn has a house call practice in Kent County. Visit her website at www.thevisitingvet.net.