Pet parents work to avoid health problems that are readily apparent—injuries, weight gain and allergy symptoms, to name a few. However, not all shortcomings in your pet’s health are easy to spot. Brain health often falls to the wayside, but neglecting this aspect can make your pet gradually develop cognitive challenges over the years.
Thankfully there’s a lot you can do to keep your pet’s mind sharp and reduce the risk of cognitive disorders. A balanced diet, cognitive training and environmental enrichment are all great places to start. Here are some steps you can take to preserve your pet’s brain health now and well into the future.
Brain-boosting foods and supplements
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil support brain health in pets of all ages. They aid in brain development for puppies and kittens, and the healthy fat sustains proper cognitive functioning well into their later years. Omega-3 fatty acids contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of fat necessary for the brain that pets can’t produce on their own. Sufficient levels of DHA from omega-3 fatty acids can improve attention spans, sharpen memory and reduce the risk of cognitive disorders.
Blueberries and spinach are great for your pet’s brain due to their abundance of antioxidants. These nutrients combat free radicals and oxidative stress, which in turn protects nerve cells in the brain. Pets who eat antioxidants on a regular basis are less likely to suffer from cognitive decline later in life. Plus, blueberries and spinach make tasty treats your pet will love!
Meat, fish and poultry boost brain health in pets because they’re packed with the vitamin B complex. Vitamin B improves communication between neurotransmitters, giving your furry friend more focus and a better short-term memory. Vitamin B also plays an important role in nerve growth and optimizing energy use in brain cells. With enough meat in their diet, your fur baby will have plenty of energy to get up and play!
Puzzle toys that work your pet’s mind
A healthy diet is most effective when paired with mental enrichment. You can enrich your pet’s life by increasing access to several puzzle toys throughout the home. Puzzle toys foster mental stimulation and provide entertainment when you’re not around to play with your furry friend. Pets need challenging puzzles to stave off boredom and strengthen nerve connections in the brain.
Treat dispensers are a popular choice among pet parents. The treats will get your pet’s attention, and they have to work hard to earn the reward. Puzzle toys enhance your pet’s mental processing with the use of mazes, movable pieces and other mechanisms that stand between them and the treat. These toys further enhance brain health by curbing unwanted behaviors and separation anxiety. They’ll give your pup something to do other than chew up the furniture!
Puzzle toys also help pets tap into their natural hunting instincts. Toys that engage these instincts will keep your pet’s mind active well into their senior years. If you have a cat, consider giving them a mouse toy with a refillable cat nip pouch. The smell of cat nip will entice them to sharpen their hunting skills. For dogs, you can pack peanut butter into a soft rubber toy for a tasty treat that has a puzzle-solving element to it.
Training activities to exercise their brain
Your furry friend needs more than physical exercise to stay healthy. Pets need to work their minds as well, which can be just as tiring as a long hike! A good mental exercise for both cats and dogs involves hiding treats or pieces of kibble around the home. They’ll have to use cunning and their sense of smell to sniff out the prizes. Start off easy by placing the treats in plain sight, then slowly work up to hiding them behind furniture, under rugs and on top of bookshelves.
Cognitive training is especially important for highly intelligent dog breeds. Dogs like German Shepherds, Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers were bred to complete specific tasks. Mental exercises satisfy their innate desire to work, which traces back to when their ancestors would herd cattle and hunt game. Active dog breeds gain a sense of fulfillment from activities that work their brains like agility courses, advanced tricks and a choreographed sequence of movements.
No matter their age, breed or medical history, all pets need daily habits that keep their minds sharp. A combination of diet, puzzle toys and mental exercises work together to improve memory, enhance focus and boost overall cognitive functioning. When pet parents prioritize brain health, their furry companions can stay spry as a pup or kitten!