Three Ways to Love Your Pet Without Treats

Some tips for those who want the love without the calories

A pug who appears to be bored and resting on a wooden bench.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am guilty of giving my dog a little bit of food from my plate on occasion. It’s difficult to come home from a long day and go right to providing the attention she needs. So, naturally, I reach for a little piece of food to try to show her how much I love her. It can be impossible to resist when she shows up with her big puppy eyes. Plus, I feel guilty for not being there through the day.

That being said, you and I both know that a little extra food adds up over time. This can translate to extra weight on your furry little friend. The lack of stimulation can lead to behavior changes or boredom.

I often find my clients asking, “How can I show my pet some love without just giving them a treat?” Here are a few ideas for you to consider!

Take Them Out

A small Cavapoo plays fetch with its owner. It’s shown bringing the tennis ball back to the thrower.
Photo by Mia Anderson on Unsplash

This is an easy one; most pets love to spend time with their owners. This simple step can make a big difference in your pet’s day-to-day life. Many animals receive a similar feeling of reward with positive attention from their owners as they do from eating treats or human food. Taking your pet out will look differently depending on what is available to you.

Playing fetch at a park, for example, if you have a dog, can be a major source of stimulation for them. This activity not only gives them much-needed exercise but also serves as a bonding experience for both of you. Or, you can consider taking a simple walk around the block with your pet and other family members. Just be sure you go when it’s cool out and bring water if it will be a long one.

For cats, you may be able to set up an enclosed outdoor area connected to your house that you can allow them to roam into. This catio will provide many of the joys of outdoor life while diminishing some of the risks. Or, if that’s not feasible, you can use the space you already have inside to set up an indoor playground. This can incorporate cat trees, furniture that they’re allowed on, and a prized toy or a laser light. This type of activity is not only adorable, but it also helps stimulate your kitty’s brain, translating to a higher level of satisfaction.

Give Them a Task

A kitten surrounded by toys.
Photo by Kim Davies on Unsplash

Ok, I get it. We can’t all just go from work, errands, or whatever straight to a walk or to the park for some fetch. Furthermore, not all homes accommodate a catio, and not all pets are motivated by purely physical activity anyways. So, this second one involves a little food reward, but in a healthy way.

Pets frequently spend much of their day either waiting for us to get home or get off work when we can pay more attention to them. This amounts to a fairly understimulating day. Therefore, many pets benefit from reward-motivated tasks to stimulate critical thinking. While most of these problem-solving games involve food, it doesn’t have to be a treat. Many pets will be motivated to get their normal meals through a puzzle toy of some kind. Or, if they need something higher value than their normal diet, you can incorporate a healthy snack like carrots, green beans, or a small amount of canned food.

There are a wide variety of puzzle toys for both dogs and cats that come in all shapes and sizes. The first one that comes to mind is the classic Kong toy (no affiliation). This hard rubber toy has a hollowed center to allow the placement of treats or kibble. Usually, it is sealed with peanut butter or wet food to make it more complicated to get the interior foods out and add to the time it takes to solve it.

While many pets figure these out quickly, there are many more complex toys that can be purchased or made at home. These toys can keep pets’ brains occupied for several minutes to a couple of hours in some cases. Not only that, if you use their normal kibble as the reward, it promotes a more active component to mealtimes compared to the stationary eating they’re used to. These toys can serve as stimulation during hours that you’re away or times that you’re home but unable to engage with your pet. Always make sure you purchase the appropriately sized toy for your pet — we don’t want any accidental ingestions.

Be With Them

An image of a cat snuggling with its owner.
Photo by Chris Abney on Unsplash

This one requires very little on both of your parts. As I’ve mentioned, many pets desire time with their owners, and often a positive experience just requires you to be there with them. It is normal for pets to spend a lot of time sleeping, grooming, or generally lounging around. Sometimes, that can be made into a social activity.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the family cat jumping into our lap unexpectedly. While they always seem to choose the precise moment that you were planning to get up, this impromptu cuddle session can mean a great deal for your cat. Allowing them to rest with you while you gently pat their head or rub their chin can score some major bonus points.

Similarly, sometimes just lying on the floor (or couch, depending on how you roll) with your dog can make a big difference to them. Pets don’t necessarily need the in-your-face interaction that many of us would like to give them; however, they appreciate the together time. Try setting down your phone for 30 minutes and lying with your dog. I’m sure you’ll notice an improvement in your bond and your pet’s happiness.

There are no silver bullets when it comes to pet care, as each one is an individual. These are three ideas to help promote your bond with your pet and stimulate their minds. These methods avoid the loop that many of us get stuck into where we simply hand off a treat in exchange for what we perceive as happiness in our pets. Thanks for reading!

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