May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we often focus on how canines and felines can improve human mental health. As therapy animals, emotional support animals, and family pets, our furry family members fill our lives with purpose, laughter, and endless snuggles when we need it the most. We all know how our animals improve our mental health, but how can we improve theirs?

We have so many things going on in our lives that, often times, we can’t even imagine how we would fit one more thing into our schedule. In these busy moments, it’s tempting to wish for the seemingly relaxing life of a domestic pet. Meals are freely provided; there aren’t any deadlines to meet, and they are given free room and board. A day full of refreshing relaxation sounds like a perfect life. A few days like this can be restful and enjoyable, but a life without any goals or any brain stimulation is a very unfulfilling life. We can get a glimpse of what this feels like when we’ve been in a waiting room for an hour with a dead phone without any magazines, television, other people to talk to. Imagine this being a majority of your life – waiting for someone to walk through the door and acknowledge you.

Here are some practical ways to improve your pet’s mental health.

Give your pet a job
When we think about how animals spend a majority of their time in a non-domestic environment, we quickly realize that a majority of their day is spent procuring nutritional provisions by hunting or scavenging. To occupy their time in a similar fashion, we can place our pets’ daily portion of food in food puzzle toys. There are a variety of different options sold in pet stores and on Some puzzle toys are made specifically to hold dry kibble and/or treats, while others are designed to hold wet foods which allow you to freeze the contents for even longer lasting enjoyment. Instead of putting your dog or cat’s food in a bowl, serve it in an activity puzzle and watch your pet go to work and utilize their incredible mind to figure out how to acquire the food.

Add a dose of fresh air and sunshine
Playing fetch or tug-of-war outdoors, and going on walks together are great ways to improve a dog’s mental health, and ours as well! Put away the cellphone and focus on the enriching and peaceful environment. Let your dog take time to sniff all the interesting scents in the outdoor environment. Talk sweetly to him or her about some of the things you see on the walk. Your furry friend will appreciate the engagement and extra attention from you which will make the walk all the more enjoyable.

Cats can safely enjoy the sunshine too! A leash and a harness, an open top carrier, or a screened in porch are excellent ways to ensure your feline friend has the opportunity to get some fresh air and sunshine too!

Enjoy an adventure together
A simple car ride through a drive-through to get dinner for you and a taste of dinner for your dog, or a drive to a park can be great ways to change up the monotony of the day. If you have more time to spend, you can go on a hike, beach trip, or visit an outdoor cafe to enjoy an adventure with your dog. For added fun, you can invite a few other pet parents and their dogs along. Even something as simple as taking a different path during your daily walks can feel like an adventure to your dog and is a simple way to add some interest and excitement to your dog’s life.

Bring the outdoors inside by keeping pet safe plants around your cat’s favorite area. Cats can enjoy indoor adventures by having a window perch available and a bird feeder just outside the window. A closed top aquarium or a television set to nature shows are other great ways to entertain your cat while you’re away from home.

Help your pet overcome fears
Fear and anxiety can reduce an animal’s quality of life. If your pet is afraid of riding in the car, being groomed, or afraid of everyday noises or objects, positive training and a little patience can go a long way in building your their confidence and will help your pet have a much better quality of life.

Spend quality time together
Taking time to cuddle and gently massage your pet, doing agility with homemade obstacles, or taking a training class to learn new behaviors or tricks can be a fun way to spend more quality time with your furry family member and at the same time, build a lasting bond based on trust.

Our pets change our lives in so many powerful and positive ways. Let’s do what we can to make a positive difference in their lives too!