If you've ever had a job working from home or have spent a lot of time home alone, you already know how hard it can be to stay away from the refrigerator. Without the added stimulus of other people to talk to, problem-solve with—or simply to keep you away from the staff fridge—it's easy to fall into bad habits, like snacking all day long.
Your pet is the same way. Left home alone all day, your dog or cat might turn to alternative methods of entertainment, like scratching the couch cushions to shreds, peeing on the rug, or annihilating your favorite pair of leather loafers. So while you don't want to open up a free-for-all snack bar for your pet while you're away from home, it can be smart to introduce a few treats for him to find and enjoy while you're gone.
It's tempting to load your pets up with the treats that they love—high-fat, high-protein nibbles with plenty of taste—but you don't want to add significant calories to a pet's diet via treats. (Aim for 10 percent or less of their total daily calorie intake.) Look for low-calorie treats at the pet store, or introduce your pet to vegetables and fruits as snacks. Carrots, asparagus, blueberries, seedless watermelon, strawberries, peaches, zucchini, bell peppers, celery, cucumber, broccoli and apples are all good options. Just stay away from grapes, raisins, garlic, onion, avocado, cherries and chocolate, as they can be potentially fatal to pets.
Both cats and dogs often love playing with treat dispensers, which you fill up with cat or dog food or treats, then lock into place before giving to your pet. There are two basic types: ball-shaped dispensers and ones that require your pet to solve a puzzle before getting a reward. Many cats (and dogs who love to fetch) prefer ball-shaped dispensers, because they simulate some of their favorite games. Other puzzle toys may require a pet to press a lever, move a slider or remove something with their teeth or paws to get their reward.
Treat dispensers introduce the concept of trickle feeding to pets who are likely to gorge on free-choice food or who tend to eat too quickly—but they also work wonders to help keep a bored pet occupied while you're gone. Again, just keep an eye on portion sizes and calories.
You can re-create the ongoing pleasure associated with slowly dispensed treats simply by hiding little snacks around the house for your dog or cat. Choose treats that are fairly neat if you do this: carrots are a better bet than blueberries, for example.
Many pet owners love filling a Kong (a hollow rubber toy) up with dog-safe peanut butter (make sure it doesn't contain Xylitol) and giving it to their dogs to lick. You can prolong their enjoyment by sticking a peanut butter-filled Kong in the freezer. Other good freezer options include cut-up watermelon and cucumbers, but be careful about giving your pet ice cubes: many dogs and cats love ice, but it can damage their teeth if they really start chewing on it.
These tricky treats can help entertain your pets and stimulate them mentally while you're gone. We all have to leave our pets at home sometimes, but food isn't the only way to keep them happy. If you have an energetic dog or cat, be sure to give them lots of attention and exercise before you head out for the day. The same goes for when you get home—a long walk and extra cuddles can go a long way toward helping your dog stay active and sociable.