Feeding your pet is more than just filling a bowl !
How to use food to strengthen the relation between you and your pet, but also to allow him to use his physical abilities ?
In nature, animals have to work hard to feed themselves. With their acute senses, they have developed a range of skills that allow them to forage or hunt and find food or prey. Their survival depends on their ability to use these skills successfully. Our pets, on the other hand, never need to worry about their next meal. Owners are there to provide all the food they need. However, it is not always a good idea to simply put down a full bowl in front of our pets a couple of times a day.
In behaviour training, food is used to strengthen the bond between humans and their pets and give the animals a chance to apply the skills specific to their species. One good way of achieving this is to begin by getting rid of your pet's food bowl! Owners often think that they are doing the right thing by feeding their pets a full meal in a bowl, or by giving them treats for no particular reason; this is seen as a sign of affection. In fact, your pet's overall wellbeing may be better served if you make feeding a more challenging experience.
Make feeding a more challenging experience
Humans have developed skills that go well beyond an ability to satisfy our primary need to find food. Through our work, not only do we earn money (which allows us to buy groceries), we are able to apply our skills and abilities and respond to challenges. What could be more satisfying than to complete a task successfully or to feel smart and competent?
How can we help our pets to feel a sense of accomplishment? A good starting point is to take stock of their specific food foraging skills. Cats, for example, are excellent jumpers (which allows them to catch birds), agile climbers (which can be a headache for owners when kitty gets stuck up a tree), have considerable dexterity and possess acute senses that allow them to find prey. Dogs are known for their highly-developed sense of smell, their physical vigour and their ability to strategize (when hunting, for example). Of course, not all our pets have the same skills and strengths. As our pets age, they may suffer from osteoarthritis and find certain activities painful. Keeping in mind your pet's limitations, you can tailor its foraging challenges and give it stimulating tasks that are within its abilities. This will allow it to display a broader range of behaviours (in technical parlance, its ethogram).
How to combine feeding with training sessions ?
There are various options to help your pet express itself. You can choose among a range of interactive food-dispensing tools and toys. Some of these require your pet to work to get at the contents, some provide mental stimulation by forcing your pet to figure out how they work, and others simply require physical effort. Your Passionimo team can guide you towards the most suitable option for your cat or dog.
Another way of building on mealtimes is to use them as training sessions. It is recommended that an adult animal be fed twice a day, whereas a younger animal that is still growing should be fed three times a day. You can easily schedule a five-minute training session in the morning and another in the evening, when your pet is hungry and expecting food, to teach it specific behaviours and amusing tricks. These sessions should be fun for the animal: a game in which it can earn kibble! As in any good game, each session should finish on a high note. You can end by feeding your pet the remainder of its meal in a food-dispensing toy or by simply scattering the kibble on the floor or, in the summer, on the lawn.
Here are some tips and hints to make your feeding sessions successful:
- In the morning, divide your pet's daily ration into two containers (or three, if your pet is young). This will ensure that you don't overfeed and that the pet does not mistakenly get extra meals from other members of the household.
- The first time you give your pet the food-dispensing toy, you will need to supervise it to make sure it uses the toy appropriately.
- If possible, start by using the easiest setting on the toy. In the case of a dispenser ball, for example, make sure that the openings are at their largest setting and place the ball on top of a few pieces of kibble. This will reward your pet the first time it uses the ball, since some kibble will be "released".
- Before each use, make sure that the dispenser device is undamaged. You don't want your pet to injure itself on sharp edges.
- If you have several cats or dogs, it is best to give each one its own dispenser and, if possible, to feed them in separate rooms so as to avoid resource guarding incidents.
- It isn't enrichment if it isn't challenging! Keep adjusting the difficulty of the settings and rotate among various toys and tools. If you keep using the same dispenser and training for the same behaviours, what started as a game will soon become boring…
Once your veterinary team has recommended a device and techniques that are tailored to your pet's skills and needs, you will have all you need to meet its nutritional requirements and to provide it with physical and mental stimulation at mealtimes.