Pet Advice: What to do with your pets whilst on lock down
Life has been turned upside down for everyone on the planet, and this includes your pets. We have put together some great ideas for you to try at home with your furry friends, to help keep them happy, healthy and entertained – but we must be mindful that life has also likely changed dramatically for your pets too, and they must be given ‘down time’, away from the hustle and bustle wherever possible – this will help them as we all learn to adjust to a new pace of life.
We also think it is important to note that there is no evidence that cats and dogs can become ill from the Coronavirus themselves, there is further information on this topic here , as always, we would encourage you to remember to wash your hands before and after interactions with your pets.
Things to remember before we start:
- Always supervise your pet’s playtime, especially if children are involved in the activities.
- It’s so important to ensure your pets get their downtime, away from the hustle and bustle. We know this can be really tough, especially if you don’t have an outdoor space, or much space in your home. Our pets are having to adjust in lots of ways too – and they don’t know why life has suddenly changed so much, so quickly. So make sure you build down time into your daily plans with your pets.
- Do keep an eye on the number of treats that you are giving your pet, whilst you are at home you're more likely to be handing out more treats, but your pet is also probably receiving much less exercise than normal.
- As always, ensure you wash your hands before and after any interaction with your pet
Our animal experts are well used to finding fun and engaging ways to keep the animals we look after here on site happy, healthy and entertained! It’s all par of the course for caring for animals whilst they wait for their forever home to come along – here we share their top tips and ideas:
Dog enrichment ideas;
- Agility; you can use shop-bought items such as weaving poles, jumps, etc. However, if you do not have these items you can improvise with household objects. For example; garden canes could be used as weaving poles, a hula hoop attached to two poles and stuck into the grass can act as a ring jump. The more creative you are the more you can build. At first, teach each of the individual pieces of equipment as a separate exercise before combining them to make a course. With lots of praise and rewards, you will get there. Let’s face it, we will all have a bit of extra time on our hands currently. Not only is this a good activity to ‘pass the time’, it’s a great bonding exercise and keeps you and your dog fit and stimulated. You can even encourage your children to take part. Don’t forget! – as you are going to be using extra treats and your dog is going to be on restricted exercise for the foreseeable future, make sure you choose a ‘low fat’ treat for your dog as it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Also, you could think about splitting up your dogs’ daily intake allowance of food, putting these into smaller meals using different forms of enrichment or to be used as the training ‘treat’. Alternatively, you could reduce your dogs’ daily intake to account for the amount of ‘treats’ they are going to consume during these activities. Here is a video of one our dogs enjoying enrichment training, watch it here.
- There are a variety of Slow feeders and puzzle feeders out there which you can purchase. However, there are a few ways you can replicate these ideas at home. A great example is a snuffle mat, as there are many tutorials online to guide you through making one. They are simply a mat with various layers of fabric that are designed to replicate a dogs’ natural behaviour of searching for food. A dog uses its nose to search through the material to find the hidden food. Don’t Forget! To consider the amount of food your dog is consuming through this extra enrichment activity. You can find instructions on how to make a slow feeder here.
- ‘Licky mats’ encourage your dog to figure out to ‘lick’ off the substance smothered onto the mat, which in turn builds the dogs ability to keep focus and concentration for prolonged periods of time. From experience, peanut butter or salmon paste appear to be a firm favourite. However, you can simply use your dogs’ normal meat.If your dog isn’t a wet meat fan, there are some variations out there that you could use, or even homemade versions such as an old egg carton which can provide the same simulation. This form of enrichment isn’t just a simple task but it can also have some very helpful practises. For example; to keep your dog entertained during a bath by providing them something enjoyable to do. You can buy licky mats online from most pet stores.
- The towel game’ – as simple as it sounds, all you need is a towel and a few of your dog's favourite biscuits. Simply start with the towel flat and as you roll the towel up into a sausage shape place a few biscuits between the rolls. The idea is that the dog has to use its nose gently to unravel the towel and as they ‘go find’ their own rewards. ‘You can see an example of one of our dogs playing the towel game here.
- Empty plastic bottles or cardboard boxes can be used as another form of food-based enrichment. Small holes can be made in the chosen item to ‘drip-feed’ the dog treats as they figure out how to maneuver it. In some cases, the dog purely enjoys ripping up a box to find their treat, which is fine, it also provides a positive outlet for frustration in an appropriate manner. All it requires is for you to pick up the pieces afterward. TAKE CARE! Please do not leave your dog unattended with these forms of enrichment, also please tape up around the holes on plastic bottles to ensure the sharp edges are not exposed. You can watch a video on one of our dogs enjoying a drip feeder here.
- If you have an old fleece blanket or towel laying around this can be made into a new tuggy. There are many tutorials online that demonstrate how to do this. The technique is very similar to the one used to make the popular activity of making ‘Scoobies’ which was a ‘craze’ with the children. Alternatively, the method used to make plaits can be used. This is a perfect activity to keep the children busy too. Once these are made, they can either be used as a simple ‘tug of war toy’ which is a great way to teach your dog the ‘leave’ command. But also, they can be used to hide a treat inside of the woven pattern. Watch a video on how to make a tuggy here.
- Scent work games are great fun and helpful to exercise your dogs’ innate behaviours. Examples; within your garden, you could use some old flower pots to hide different treats, or if your dog is more motivated by toys, hide them under the pots spreading them around the area, then ask your dog to ‘go find’ them. The idea behind scent work is that it keeps your dog mentally stimulated as it uses their natural instincts and senses to find the rewards whilst also keeping them physically active by moving around to search for them. See an example of scent work games by clicking here.
- ‘Hide n seek’ – This is another fun scent game, do you have a toy-motivated dog? Why not try hiding your dogs favourite toys around the house then asking him to ‘go find them’.This in itself is a great way of getting your dog to exercise and is rewarding once they find them as they are of high value to them. Alternatively, this could be done with treats. If doing this game with treats Don’t forget to watch their waist lines!
- Got a muzzle laying around the house? Why not attempt ‘muzzle training’. There is a misconception that muzzle training is only done for dogs that need it. However, it can be taught as just a fun game! This also has many practical uses in which a situation arises where one is necessary. For example, if a dog is in pain and needs to see the vet it is a safety precaution and in this circumstance a ‘muzzle trained’ dog would have a positive association with it and it would not be an extra stress. Watch a video on muzzle training here.
- An old baking tray is a standard kitchen item within most people’s cupboards. This can be turned into a fun game for a dog. By using the tray as a base to place treats, you can then ‘hide’ them with tennis balls on top. For example, if you have a dog that is motivated by treats, your dog then has to investigate each one removing them one at a time, until they find which ones have the hidden treats under. Watch some of our animals using them here.
- Many dogs have a basic level of understanding when it comes to the standard obedience commands but why not take it a step further? You could incorporate these commands in to ‘doggy dancing’ steps such as teaching your dog to weave in and out of your legs or to stand onto your back. There are also many different basic commands you can teach your dog from the basic variations e.g. to ‘beg’, ‘high ten’. In addition, you could teach your dog to ‘fetch’ certain items. For example, it already knows how to fetch a ball, why could you not teach it to ‘fetch’ the TV remote or your slippers, these exercises can be adapted to individual dogs of course but who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?! See a video on how to train your dog here.
- ‘Flirt Poles’ are a great way to engage your dog in a game, by playing on their natural instincts. This is an easy way of getting your dog motivated to participate in more physical activity. The game itself is where the dog is aware of the toy on the end of the pole then you move it along the ground grabbing your dogs’ attention then move it around picking up the speed and distance it covers. When the dog catches it, the reward is that it gets to play and rag it again. You can buy pre-made poles or make your own with the use of three things 1) You could use some plastic piping 2) You could use an old lead and attach it to the end of the pole 3) Use a toy your dog likes and attach it to the other end of the lead.You can see one of our dogs enjoying a flirt pole here.
Cat enrichment ideas;
- Similar to dogs, why not implement a slow feeder, puzzle feeder or licky mat to your cat to present them with their food. By using these forms of enrichment, it helps to keep them mentally stimulated as they have to work out how to use the piece of equipment in order to receive the food reward. There are many variations of these feeders, which tests the cat's ability to problem-solve. In addition, they are a handy way to monitor that the cat isn’t eating too quickly, as this can cause digestive issues and ultimately end up in the cat vomiting. See a video of one of our cats enjoying a slow feeder here.
- ‘Snuffle mats’; these are again either shop bought or home-made. There are many tutorials online to guide you through making one. They are simply a mat with various designs and layers of fabric that are designed to replicate your cats natural behaviour of searching for food. A cat uses its nose to decipher through the material to find the hidden food. Don’t Forget! To consider the amount of food your cat is consuming through this extra enrichment activity. Watch one of our cats enjoying a snuffle mat here.
- Why not get creative with house hold items to create new forms of enrichment? These examples can help you to do this. Such as; use old toilet roll tubes to hide treats in, either by folding the ends in to enclose the treat into a little parcel or by cutting the tube into four pieces. This is so you can hide the treat inside the four pieces slotted together to form an Asterix shape. Alternatively, you could simply hide a treat into scrunched up newspaper, as more often than not, when you buy your cat a new toy all they want to play with is the receipt!
- Got an empty box lying around the house? Why not use it as a foraging box? A foraging box is simply a box filled with lots of toys, shredding newspaper or similar that has either treats or ‘catnip’ sprinkled in. The idea of this is that the cat will search through the box searching for the ‘treats’ activating its senses to find the reward. See one of our cats using one here.
- Increasing your cats play time, this can be done by simply spending more time with your cat and its toys. Fishing rods are a great way of engaging your cat in a game using its basic instincts to stalk, run and catch the toy. Don’t worry if you don’t have a ‘fishing rod’ toy, you can simply make one yourself by using a garden cane. Attach some elastic or string to the end of the rod and a toy onto the other end. TAKE CARE – do not leave your cat unattended when playing with this type of toy as the cat could easily become tangled. Watch some of our cats enjoying fishing rod toys here.
- Creating new toys so your cat has something new to investigate and play with. One example of something you could make is an octopus shaped toy. Firstly, cut up lots of strands of an old blanket or t shirt, then plait them together, tying a knot at the start and end to ensure that it doesn’t unravel. Then repeat this 7 times to create the octopus. To finish, simply tie them all together and there you go, an easy DIY toy for your cat.
- Do not underestimate a cat! Dogs are commonly thought of as the ‘more intelligent’ of the two pets.
However, you can use similar training methods to teach your cat new tricks. For example; the principles of ‘clicker training’’ can be used to teach your cat. It is based on the basis of association and positive reinforcement. The click gets ‘paired’ with the reward which equals a treat. By teaching this you could incorporate it into all different sorts of games, such as; teaching them to jump on and off different surfaces or even over small jump. Once you find what your cat enjoys the most and is willing to work for, combined with your own time and patience, you can achieve great results!
You can also watch videos about how to help your pet through lock down from our Senior Animal Behaviourist, Zita, here.