They love us without asking for anything in return. OK, maybe they bark for a needed potty break or meow when it’s dinnertime. But for the most part, dogs and cats don’t make a big deal about all they provide: love, joy, companionship and comfort – not to mention a few laughs in between. Here are 10 ways to pay them back on National Pet Week, and whenever else mood strikes.
#1 – Make a Puzzle Toy
With everyday items such as an empty toilet paper roll or egg cartons, twine, tennis balls – and basic craft supplies and a few extra minutes – you can create puzzle feeding toys that challenge dogs and cats to find a treat. In addition to feeding both mind and body, they’re a great boredom-buster. Check out these easy-to-make ideas that go a long way in keeping your pets happily occupied.
#2 – Pet Your Pet, Even More than Usual
Be it a bounty of belly rubs or a flurry of fur strokes, they love it – and you benefit, too! When humans pet animals, our brains release oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone most associated with social bonding. (It’s also released during sex and while breastfeeding.) Some research indicates that oxytocin levels double when we pet dogs and cats, and that’s believed to help boost immunity, lower production of stress-producing hormones such as cortisol, and ease pain.
#3 – Have a Cookout
A sizzling steak or ribs-on-the-grill will certainly get your dog’s attention – but not so fast. Ribs and other on-bone meats pose a choking hazard. Steak, hamburger and other fatty meats can trigger pancreatitis. The size and shape of corn on the cob can cause blockages that may require surgery. Toppings such as onions and garlic are toxic, as is alcohol. It’s best to stick to healthier fare chicken breast and salmon (hey, also remember your cat on National Pet Week).
#4 – Go for a Long Walk
Cats may want to sit out on this one (perhaps literally), but weather permitting – and perhaps even not – many dogs are more than happy to cover as much turf as possible. Already, dog walkers average about 300 minutes of exercise per week to meet recommended exercise levels; that amounts to 2.2 hours more than what’s typical in a week for people without dogs. Some extra mileage during National Pet Week will benefit those on both ends of the leash: Studies show the exercise of dog-walking results in pet owners (especially men) having lower rates of artery-clogging cholesterol and triglycerides than their petless counterparts.
#5 – Don’t Overdo the Treats
Even during National Pet Week, treats should comprise no more than 10 percent of the total daily diet for both dogs and cats. Reason: What they offer in taste they lack in the nutritional requirements. And overdoing the goodies can lead to deficiencies of key vitamins and minerals. That said, a big impact can be made in small quantities, so check out these healthy homemade treats for cats and dogs.
#6 – Play Bedtime Games
Dogs often let you know their playtime preferences. They bring you balls to play fetch. Rope for tug-of-war. Or they chase squirrels during the evening walk because…well, they’re dogs. Cats, however, may be less “vocal” about their wants for pre-bedtime interaction – until the wee hours when you’re trying to sleep. To help ensure Zzs to please both of you, grab a shoelace or piece of string and jog around the house, dragging it behind you. (For a cardio workout, go up and down stairs). Just be sure you let your cat capture the “toy” every now and then. She’ll feel satisfied – and you’ll have time to catch your breath.
#7 – Throw a Party
What better excuse to round the neighborhood brood for a delightful dogfest? The ideal location is a fenced backyard with plenty of room to run – perhaps through an impromptu obstacle course – or a local dog park. But a large basement can suffice during bad weather. Guests should be well socialized, able to wrestle without hurting each other (or pet parents), have been spayed or neutered and with up-to-date vaccinations. A take-away goodie bag of treats or toys is a nice touch; be sure to have first-aid supplies, poop bags and stain remover (for indoor festivities) on hand.
#8 – Teach New Tricks (or Practice Old Ones)
Whether you want to brush up on old skills or teach new ones, multiple short sessions throughout the day can keep dogs’ minds sharp (plus give you both quality “bonding” time). And cats? Yes, they can be trained – and a treat reward is good incentive for some. For instance, if your cat likes to grab toys or open cabinets with a paw, teach her to shake hands by tapping her paw and saying “Shake.” When she raises and offers it, reward her with a treat and lots of praise.. Plan for a lot of repetition…and having patience on your part.
#9 – Visit the Vet
When was the last time your pet went to the vet? If you need to think, it may be the perfect time to schedule a physical and ensure vaccinations, ID tags, licenses and microchip are up-to-dates. National Pet Week is ideal to ensure you’re properly stocked with heartworm and flea and tick medications (and whatever else your pet may need).
#10 – Volunteer at the Shelter
What better way to pay tribute to your beloved pet to than help those in need of loving homes? You can walk dogs, feed cats, play with critters waiting adoption or do whatever chores are needed. If you don’t have the time, consider donating some of your pet’s old or unused toys, blankets, bedding or other supplies.