Years ago, when I worked for the San Diego Zoo, one of our tasks was designing and implementing fun and safe games and puzzles for the animals. Our budget was limited, but there’s an awful lot you can do with PVC pipe, heavy rope, metal rings, empty boxes, etc. This was referred to as “environmental enrichment” and it was incredibly important to the mental health and psychological well-being of those animals in captivity. Environmental enrichment, however, isn’t just for exotic animals in zoos. Combating boredom in your pets is just as important! Mental exercise is as critical as physical exercise, but it’s not like you can hand your dog a Rubik’s Cube or ask your cat to work on the New York Times crossword puzzle. To make life easier for you, and more enriching for your pets, here is my starter list of puzzles and games to keep your pets entertained.
For puppies and kittens, environmental enrichment is particularly important for their developing brains and for establishing good balance and muscle tone. You can design your own indoor playground set up, or find one already made online.
For adult dogs, food is usually the ultimate motivational tool. If your dog likes to snack, then put their food or snacks into an interactive puzzle toy made specifically for dogs. Nina Ottosson has an entire line of these durable toys. The Dog Turbo is definitely one of my favorites.
While you can build one of these yourself from PVC pipe and empty 2-liter bottles, this version available online is more portable and quicker to set up.
If your dog isn’t as motivated by food as they are by movement and activity, then how about a machine that will let them play fetch to their heart’s content?
And if they like movement and sounds, try the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball. This one was a favorite of my Pug who would chase this toy until he needed a nap.
For adult cats, you will want to find a toy that allows them to utilize their natural hunting skills safely indoors. These bird toys are durable and make realistic bird sounds when your cat bats them around.
For cats that like to surprise their “prey,” and for those who like to play at night in the dark, this ambush style toy will certainly appeal.
If you have cats that are food motivated, there are a lot of foraging toys available. I prefer these from Fundamentally Feline for their simplicity, durability, and the directions and support you get when you buy their products for your cats.
Finally, for cats that like to dig and get their paws into the action, you can put their kibble or treats in this fun interactive feeding station.