Just like our kids, our pets love to play. Play provides our pets with physical exercise and mental stimulation, helps them release pent-up energy and satisfies their natural predatory behavior. Playtime can be a great opportunity to bond with us as well. Deprived of opportunities for play, pets can develop behavior problems. They may withdraw, exhibit anxiety, or gain weight. A quick online search or trip to the pet store can present an array of toy choices.
Toys for Dogs
For many dogs, chewing ranks high on their list of fun activities. Long after the puppy teething phase is past, the desire to chew remains strong. Dogs are more likely than cats to chew and/or eat whatever they can, making it important to provide them with appropriate outlets for gnawing. Durable rubber toys, especially those that can be filled with treats, provide safe opportunities for chewing. These toys should have a little “give” and should be sized for your dog. We have Kongs for sale in our clinic, and similar choices are easy to find.
Any toy that makes your dog “work” for her food or treats also provides mental exercise and is great for times when she has to entertain herself. If, for example, you crate her when you are at work, these toys can provide a distraction that will keep her occupied and happy. There are also a variety of puzzle feeders available that will challenge her at mealtime or throughout the day. This video shows a dog enjoying some of these toys:
Interactive toys like balls, frisbees and rope toys are great ways for your dog to enjoy time with you and to get some exercise at the same time. Playing fetch or hide and seek keep his mind and body active and are bonding activities for the whole family.
For variety, rotate your dog’s toys every week or two. If your dog has a favorite toy, leave that one out all the time. Many dogs do have a stuffed “baby” that they enjoy carrying around and sleeping with.
Safety considerations are important-make sure all of your dog’s toys are sized correctly. A toy that’s perfect for a small terrier can be a choking hazard to a curious St. Bernard! All toys, especially those that are chewed, should be inspected regularly. Loose parts (such as eyes or tassles) that can be bitten off, should be avoided, as should toys with loose stuffing. “Squeaker” toys should be used under supervision, as some dogs will tear them apart in order to find and destroy the source of the squeak. Dogs can also find items with their people’s scent irresistible, so be sure to put clothing out of reach. Objects such as pantyhose can become entwined in your dog’s digestive tract, requiring major surgery.
Toys for Cats
Play is especially important for indoor cats for exercise, mental stimulation and to satisfy their strong predatory nature. Like dogs, they will find ways to amuse themselves, perhaps by climbing your favorite drapes! Without an enriched environment, cats can develop illness, become overweight, or groom excessively. Behavior problems, such as urinating outside the litter box, can also occur. Luckily, safe and fun cat toys are easy to find.
Some cats have a preferred prey – either insects, birds or rodents. This preference can influence the kind of toy he likes best. Cats who prefer birds will enjoy chasing wand-type toys. Those who go after insects will gladly chase after a laser pointer. Make sure to provide something tangible for your cat to “capture” after chasing a light to avoid frustration! Small stuffed toys are best for cats who favor rodents.
All cats should have a variety of toys; some to chase, some to pounce on and some to toss in the air. Stuffed toys can be small enough to carry or bigger to “attack.” Make sure these toys are sturdy and well made. Remove any that have small parts or that are falling apart.
What about catnip? Due to genetics, some cats respond to catnip while others are unaffected. Those that do usually begin to enjoy catnip toys at about six months of age. Try rubbing some on your cat’s toys or buy one with catnip already inside to see how she reacts.
You can, of course, buy toys for your cat at a pet store. However, he will probably be just as happy with a homemade “toy.” Cats will chase ping pong balls or a ball made of a piece of crumpled paper. Balls can also be placed inside an empty box or paper bag for additional fun. A paper grocery bag with the handles removed makes a nice hideout for those cats that like the crinkly sound. Empty cardboard tubes and plastic shower curtain rings can also make great playthings. Food puzzle toys and cat trees are great investments that will keep your cat’s mind and body stimulated. This video shows some cats enjoying their new cat tree, placed near a window for additional interest.
Safety is, of course, always an important consideration when choosing toys for your pet. Toys with small parts (such as eyes) that can come off and be swallowed should be avoided. Keep all plastic bags, rubber bands and strings out of kitty’s reach.
With a modest investment of time and money you can provide your furry family members with the entertainment and exercise they need to be their happiest and healthiest.