A Lesson With Laura – The importance of mental stimulation for your pet

By Ash Tree Vets | 28th February 2019

Hello and welcome to the latest installment of our monthly article,

“A Lesson with Laura”…

Most pet owners are aware of the importance of providing their pet with regular physical exercise and the benefits that come with it, not just for the pet but for the owner too. However, are you aware that mental exercise (also known as mental stimulation or enrichment) is also vitally important for your pet’s health and wellbeing?

Dogs in particular require regular mental stimulation and can become bored, depressed, stressed or destructive if their need for mental exercise isn’t met. It is not only dog’s that benefit from regular enrichment however as cats, rabbits, rodents and birds can be provided with species specific enrichment exercises.

One of the simplest ways to provide your pet with mental stimulation is through enriched feeding. Enrichment feeding refers to feeding your pet in a way that simulates their natural feeding behaviour such as foraging or hunting.

Dogs particularly benefit from this type of feeding and there are many different feeding toys available which require your dog to work for their food rather than just eating it out of a bowl. One of my particular favourites (or rather my dogs favourite!) is the Kong toy which can be filled with either wet or dry food and chilled or frozen depending on your dog’s requirements.

Ash Tree Vets stock a variety of activity feeders for pets and are happy to advise you about which will suit your animal’s needs, however there are also plenty of homemade feeding toys that your dog might enjoy. Small dogs, especially terriers will enjoy a cardboard box with a hole cut in the side; add some shredded paper and some bits of your dog’s dry kibble and let them find the food. Empty plastic milk bottles can also be re-used as an activity feeder for your dog, remove the lid and fill with your dog’s dry kibble or some treats, fold the top over and watch them have fun. Please note that your dog should be supervised when using these feeders, especially homemade ones, to prevent the ingestion of plastic or cardboard. It is also important to choose a feeding toy that is suitable for your dog’s ability, otherwise frustration issues may arise.

Cats can also enjoy using activity feeders such as the Catmosphere feeding ball or Kong for cats. Feeding toys are a great way to promote activity in lazy cats and also provide an appropriate outlet for natural hunting behaviours. Rabbits and other small pets will also appreciate a feeding challenge such as cardboard tubes filled with hay or grass; this sort of activity can help to prevent boredom.

For those of you worried about your pet’s waistline there are plenty of enrichment activities that don’t involve food. For dogs I recommend trying to provide breed specific exercises, meaning those which allow your dog to express normal breed traits and behaviours in a safe and appropriate way. High energy dogs are likely to enjoy agility or fly ball sessions, Spaniels and Hounds are likely to enjoy scent games or tracking exercises, Terriers might enjoy regular games of tug and Labradors will enjoy the opportunity for a safe swim. Most dogs will enjoy regular trick training sessions and Clicker Training can be a fun way to teach your dog some new tricks, why not read my previous A Lesson with Laura to find out more about Clicker Training.

It is important that cats are provided with appropriate toys to play with. This provides a safe and appropriate outlet for natural behaviours such as pouncing and chasing. Fishing rod type toys are great for cats and not only allow your cat to stalk, chase and pounce on an appropriate item but also reduce the chance of your cat exhibiting those behaviours on you!

Mental exercise is even more crucial in situations when your pet cannot exercise normally or as frequently as needed such as young puppies, senior pets or those recovering from surgery.
Young puppies should not be over exercised as this can cause joint and bone problems in later life. As a general rule we suggest that your puppy is exercised for no longer than 5 minutes per month of age up to twice daily (breed dependant). So for example a 3 month old puppy can have up to 15 minutes of physical exercise twice daily. It is pretty much impossible to tire a puppy out in 15 minutes and this is why mental exercise for young puppies is so important! Providing your young puppy with lots of mental stimulation such as activity feeders and short frequent training sessions is far more important (and safe) than trying to tire them out physically.
Pets that are recovering from surgery will also need to be rested and therefore provided with some extra brain work. Stuffed Kongs are great for pets recovering from surgery as they don’t require much movement to get the food out of and so promote calm, quiet behaviour.

If you’d like to purchase an activity feeder for your pet from the practice, quote “A LESSON WITH LAURA” and you will receive 10% off your purchases until the end of March.

If you’d like to find out more, or discuss any of the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at the practice, either by email to nurses@ashtreevets.com or give me a call on 01638 554477; I’d love to hear from you.