Many dogs are alone for long periods every day and most cats are now kept entirely indoors. What suggestions can I give clients to help them provide an enriched and stimulating environment for their companions?
Meeting the social, exploratory, play, and exercise needs of companion animals is essential. Most owners are unaware of the specific needs of dogs and cats and may fail to meet them, but the inability to express normal behavior patterns may lead to undesirable pet behavior.1 Problems associated with limited environmental stimulation include eating disorders, attention-seeking behaviors, anxiety-related behaviors, compulsive disorders, self-injurious behaviors, and aggression.2
Specific breeds of dogs have been developed to perform certain functions. Terriers, for example, were originally bred to seek out, catch, and kill various animals and vermin. Herding breeds of dogs often like to chase, while hunting breeds enjoy stalking. Understanding the basic nature of your dog's breed may help prevent problem behaviors. When the dog's needs are denied, it can cause problems between owner and pet.
Cats' natural behavior must also be considered when animals reside solely indoors. Outdoor cats spend a great deal of time hunting. Indoors, this behavior may translate into playful but aggressive attacks on owners or other animals in the home. Cats are also accomplished climbers, and often end up perching on places that owners prefer they wouldn't. Marking its indoor territory using claws and urine is another normal, but objectionable, feline behavior.
Like all family members, dogs and cats need an environment that is secure, safe, novel, and complex enough to meet their needs. They should, to some extent, control their environment and what happens to them, and have the opportunity for meaningful human interaction.