There is no doubt that lockdown will have a significant and lasting impact on all of us, and that includes our pets. For the first time in their lives they’ve had our undivided attention. Dogs may have been frustrated because daily walks were curtailed, but having you at home 24/7 has certainly made up for it.

However, the moment lockdown is lifted pet parents will head back to work, back to the shops, off to the movies and pets will again spend long hours alone.

Like humans, pets thrive in company. Both dogs and cats need people for love, shelter and for entertainment. For dogs that includes, but isn’t exclusive to, a daily walk. Mental stimulation through play, ‘hunting’ and chasing are just as important.

For pet parents who will be leaving the home after lockdown, here are a few things you can do to keep your pets mentally stimulated in your absence. Remember, a bored pet is a destructive pet and purchasing a few toys or devising a few home games is a lot cheaper than a new sofa!

At-home entertainment

If you’ve never thought of buying a toy for your pet, now’s the time. There’s a wide variety to choose from but make sure they’re the kind that don’t necessarily need you to play along too. 

  • Puzzle toys that can be stuffed with peanut butter, small bits of droë wors, biscuit bits or kibble will keep dogs entertained for hours as they hunt down the delicious smell of the food inside. 
  • A rope toy with hooves attached (stuff the hooves with peanut butter) will not only keep them entertained but will also keep their jaws strong and agile.
  • Rogz has a wide range of fun toys, including a soft toy sleeve for a plastic water bottle. Pop the bottle inside and its crunchy sound when your dog chews the soft outer sleeve will provide lots of fun.
  • For cats, try fixing a feather toy to a shelf or door handle so that it hangs just above your cat’s head. Add a tinkling bell. Or buy a ball with a bell buried inside it or a mouse stuffed with catnip. This will satisfy your cat’s hunting instincts.
  • You can make your own toys too. Puppy trainer Janina Kruger suggests that if your dog stays outside when you’re not home, roll balls of newspaper around treats and put them in a box that’s the right size for chewing, ie. don’t give a packing case to a Maltese! Close the lid. If he wants those treats, your dog will do all he can to tear that box open and find them.
  • Puzzle feeders are great stimulators, too, as your pet must work hard to get to his breakfast and dinner.
  • Create a treasure hunt around the garden by hiding kibble or treats. Set your dog off on the hunt just before you leave the house by throwing a handful of kibble on the lawn. Once he’s got the hang of using his nose to find the kibble, he’ll hunt until he’s found it all.

Get to the vet

One of the biggest advantages of having spent so much time at home with your pet is that you are more attuned to him, so should notice the symptoms of ailments sooner than you might have otherwise. These might include limping (arthritis), drinking unusual amounts of water (kidney issues), dragging his hindquarters repeatedly on the ground (anal glands), breathing heavily (heart) or loss of appetite. All of these need veterinary attention. The sooner there’s a diagnosis, the more successful the outcome.

And don’t forget his weight. It’s likely that under lockdown you spoiled him with more treats than usual but an obese pet is at high risk of life-threatening disease, so ask the vet to weigh him.

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