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The Importance of Play March 21, 2017 12:54

We spoke to Cara Harris, co-founder of Happiness Is (a company that focuses on herbal products and animal training that promotes the well-being of pets) and asked her about the link between pet behavioural issues and play.

'Our pets love to play but in urban areas it can be a challenge to promote it as a vital component of their health and happiness.' Cara believes that by discovering how and why dogs and cats play, we can find natural, cost-effective and creative ways to address their behaviour and meet their needs.

Types of play

There are three types of play that are important for your pets to participate in:

  • Locomotor play - simple play that involves movement and exercise,
  • Object - playing with an object like a ball or stick,
  • Social - playing with other pets.

In this article we share some ideas to help you encourage your pets to play.

Reasons for play

First, however, it is helpful to understand why animals play. Play is fun and play naturally promotes the well-being of dogs and cats in many ways. It is important for developing physical strength, acquiring life skills and strengthening social group cohesion.

Research has found that hungry kittens play more often than well-fed kittens. It sounds counter-productive but there is a good reason for this: being solitary hunters, hungry kittens have a pressing need to practice their hunting skills.

Encouraging play

When encouraging our pets to play, we should try to find ways that mimic their natural behaviour and that keep their environmental paw-print as small as possible. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Enjoy freedom
    Experience the joy of watching your pet leap, run and prance. Releasing your pet into an open garden or field, especially after being indoors all day, is an example of locomotor play. If your garden is too small to allow your pet this freedom, allow them time off the lead on walks in a safe place.
  2. Play mates and play dates
    Consider getting a companion if you have a single dog or cat at home. Alternatively, arrange play dates with a friend, or schedule regular group walks by meeting up with friends who have dogs.
  3. Chess not rugby
    Fast play, such as throwing a toy or chasing, can sometimes result in increased incidences of aggression. For these pets, look for toys that have a calming effect. For example, our Happy Cat toys provide relaxing fun for the more nervous or aggressive cat.
  4. Mind games
    Consider inventing ‘mind games’ that mimic some form of natural behaviour, like finding a hidden treat under a cup. These games are great for dogs and cats with conditions like arthritis that may limit movement and more active play.
  5. Nature’s freebies
    Grow organic Catnip for your cat, or for a more calming affect - Valerian. Pine cones provide hours of fun for kittens; and what dog can resist chasing after a solid stick?
  6. Toy joy
    There are plenty options when it comes to toys that encourage your pet to play, such as toys you can fill with a small number of treats to meet your pet's foraging and exploring needs. Take a look at the full range of Absolute Pets toys for dogs and toys for cats.
  7. As nature intended
    Chat to your vet about using raw, meaty bones. Dogs will happily spend hours chewing ‘nature’s toothbrush’. Appropriately selected raw bones provide hours of fun chewing and can even aid in dental and gastric problems. Absolute Pets also stocks a range of bones such as this Boredom Buster.

We hope these ideas help you when encouraging your pet to play and keep them happy and healthy.

Cara Harris M.A. (UCT)
Cara is co-founder of Happiness Is, a company developing herbal products and training that promote the well-being of animals.