By Michelle Nichols
We’ve all been there: You buy your dog or cat a toy, and they’re gung-ho about it for a month, a week, or 15 minutes. Then it just sits in their toy box, never to be played with again. Like us, our pets are drawn to new things. In a 2008 study published in Animal Cognition, a group of dogs chose to play with new toys over familiar toys 38 out of 50 times. Cats exhibited similar behavior (though to a lesser degree) in a comparable study, choosing the novel object 32 out of 65 times.
This preference for new items over old is called “neophilia,” and humans exhibit it too (hence Apple’s propensity for releasing new iPhones every year). If your pet had his or her way, every season would be holiday season, with plenty of new goodies to unwrap and enjoy before moving on to the next shiny object. And as much as we love giving our pets everything they want, this can get costly.
Fortunately, buying new toys isn’t the only way to present new and interesting objects to your pets. Following are some simple strategies for taking existing playthings and making them interesting again. Your pet (and your wallet) will thank you.
An old rope toy and tennis ball: not so exciting. An old rope toy wrapped and secured around a tennis ball: a brand new challenge! Take a look through the toys your pet is bored with to see if you can combine them in exciting ways. You’ll be surprised what you can build with a little imagination.
Antlers are a great option for heavy chewers, but they’re certainly not cheap. Don’t buy a new one every time your dog gets bored. Infuse some new life—and flavor—into the ones you already have instead. Here’s how to do it:
1. Pour chicken, vegetable, bone, or beef broth* into a pot. Make sure there’s enough to completely cover the antler(s). Bring to a simmer over low heat.
2. Once broth is simmering, put the antler(s) in. Simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Remove antler, and put on paper towel to cool. Wipe off any excess broth.
The porous material of the antlers will soak up all that yummy broth, meaning antlers aren’t just reinvigorated, but much tastier, too.
*Be sure to purchase a low-sodium variety for this project. Also, check the full ingredient list of a broth before using it, as some contain garlic, onions, or other additives that can be harmful to your pup.
Your dog or cat doesn’t need access to 20 toys at once, especially if they only play with a select few. Rotate their collection, making just a few toys accessible at a time and storing the rest out of sight. Swap out toys every two weeks so that the “oldies” become “goodies” once again. Clean the toys in between their rotations to remove latent, familiar smells.
Is there ever such a thing as too much catnip? Take a toy that your kitty has become disinterested in, spray it with catnip spray, and boom—a previously ignored toy becomes your cat’s new go-to. We like the spray from KONG Naturals, which is made with potent catnip oil and other natural ingredients from renewable resources.
Many a good toy has been forced into early retirement after losing its squeaker or fluffy insides. Performing an easy operation can bring it back to life. Re-stuff with an empty water bottle (size depending on size of toy), tennis balls (you can find all sorts of sizes at the pet store or online), or parts of other old, gutted toys. Then sew back up. It’s the same toy but with a whole new twist.