Like people, animals of all kinds can get bored, especially if they’re domesticated or in captivity. Boredom can manifest in different ways for different animals and can result in some unwanted behavior. But there are some fun ways to keep animals engaged and entertained! For dogs and cats, there are many toys and activities to keep them engaged. Plus, many zoos spend a whole lot of time working on and creating enrichment activities for the animals they care for.
For dogs, boredom can happen in a few ways: tearing up couches or shoes, whining or barking more than usual, or in some cases, sleeping more than usual. While dogs don’t need to be engaged or entertained 24/7, they still need regular kinds of enrichment like going on walks and playing with toys.
Going on walks or hikes is very enriching for you and your dog, as it keeps them engaged but it’s also a great form of exercise! Even a walk around the block can be fun for dogs and for older dogs, sometimes that’s all that they might be able to do. And there are some dogs that love playing fetch, an activity that also keeps them interested and makes them run off some of the energy they have.
- Taming a dog’s tendency to destroy toys – Lisa Moore, The Seattle Times
Having toys and things to chew on can also keep your dog entertained. For Milo’s 10th birthday, I gave him a squeaky chicken toy, which he immediately started to destroy when I gave it to him. I was so glad that he started to destroy it so quickly because I knew then that he liked it! But all dogs are different – some will be like Milo and will love squeaky toys, others will love tennis balls more, and even more will love kongs filled with treats.
This last one is a fun one for a few reasons, as a Kong filled with treats (i.e peanut butter) is like a puzzle! It takes some focus and dedication for dogs to get the tasty treats out, which keeps them entertained for some quite time. Other treats like pig’s ears and rawhides are also great ways to keep your dog focused on chewing/destroying something.
While cats are a bit different, they’ll also need enrichment and fun activities! Boredom looks a little different in cats than it does in dogs; although, some cats might look for a way to beat the boredom by destroying something in the house. Some other signs that your cat is bored might include: overeating, overgrooming or other repetitive behaviors, chasing or fighting with the other pets in your house, moping around the house or sleeping too much.
That last sign seems weird, as cats tend to sleep a whole lot (15 hours a day!) but if they’re just getting up to use the litter box and eat, they might be bored! There also could be another reason for these behaviors so if trying to entertain or play with your cat isn’t fixing any of these problems, you might want to talk to your vet.
There are a few different ways to keep your cat entertained; like dogs, some cats will love toys! Pet stores often sell a few kinds of cat toys but there are ways to make your own. There are toys that have feathers at the end of a string tied to a wand, felt mice covered in catnip for the cats to bat around, ping pong balls, light up toys, and so many more. If you have any leftover yarn, little yarn balls are also fun for some cats! Plus, it’s well known on the internet that many cats love cardboard boxes and laser pointers. Like with dogs, different cats will like different toys and it’ll be important to switch out toys so the cats can have some variety.
Toys are really great but there are a few other ways to keep your cat happy and entertained. Scratch posts will be vital for their claws (and having these can possibly save your couch!). These scratch posts can be actual posts covered in rope or carpet and there are scratching boards made from corrugated cardboard. You can also have perches of different heights, as cats love to be up high! Plus, there are ways to attach a perch to a window so your cat can sit and watch what’s going on outside.
Enrichment and fun activities aren’t just for dogs and cats, as zoos also spend a long time coming up with activities for all the animals in their care. Many zoos will have various different kinds of enrichment activities, from a habitat with trees, vines, and perches to puzzle feeders to toys like hammocks, chew toys or burlap bags. Enrichment activities at zoos will largely depend on the species and their natural behaviors; this makes sense – elephants and otters are very different animals from different places. Their habitats and behaviors are going to be different. And there are some zoos that also do training as both an enrichment activity and a way to have behaviors that help with veterinary care.
Like people, animals can also get bored and it’s important for any animal owner/caretaker to offer entertaining and enriching activities for the animals! This can be as simple as having toys available and playing with the animals; it could also be as simple as having treat puzzles that require the animal to work for the extra food. Many dogs will also appreciate having walks and many cats will also love having things to climb on. And while animal enrichment will mean finding ways to fight boredom in a cat or dog for most people, creating activities and toys for zoo animals is a big part of many zoo keepers’ day to day!
Hopefully, this will be helpful for folks but I do want to make a disclaimer that I’m not a veterinarian or vet tech, nor do I have any formal training/education in animal behavior. While there are many behaviors in animals that might be indicative of boredom, it might also be important to talk to your veterinarian about any concerning behavior in your pet.