March 17, 2013

Porky pets: From thick to thin

By KIM COOK The Associated Press

Our dogs are often as fat as we are, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Family cats can look like furry ottomans. At Tufts University, they've set up an obesity clinic at the vet school.

It's time to get our pets up and at 'em.

Dogs and cats love to play, and there are scores of great toys to engage their bodies and minds.

Be mindful of your pet's breed and character when choosing games and toys, advises Victoria Wells, senior manager for behavior and training at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' adoption center in New York City.

DOGS

"Scent-oriented dogs will respond best to games that involve seeking out something that has an odor, so hide treats around the house that they have to locate," she says. "Buy toys that you can hide treats inside, and the dog has to tumble it to get at them."

Intelligent dogs need mental stimulation just as people do, says Wells.

Spot's Seek a Treat sliding puzzle and Discovery Wheel might fill the bill. Company of Animals has a Twister treat-finding game. The Kong line of toys are pack pleasers; they have holes at one end to hide treats, and the heavy-duty rubber construction makes them tough enough for larger dogs. (Available at many pet stores, or at www.wag.com; www.companyofanimals.co.uk)

Big, energetic dogs will have fun chasing the sturdy Varsity Ball. And for a little humor, consider Moody Pet's Humunga lips-, tongue- or moustache-shaped chew toys that give your dog a hilarious visage when they're holding them. (www.varsitypetsonline.com; www.moodypet.com)

Dogs that love to interact love to tug -- and Wells says that, contrary to some opinion, tugging can be a great game.

"It's all about who's in control of the game. You decide when you play it, when the toy must be released, when it must be dropped," she says.

Teaching these skills early in a puppy's life makes play a lifelong joy. But even a rescue dog can learn, with patience and understanding.

Try a tennis ball attached to a rope, which makes retrieving and throwing easy -- no slobbery balls to grip. Petco also offers Bamboo's Combat Bone, a soft and floatable bone-shaped tugger, while Homegoods' extensive pet department, HG Pet, has great squeak-and-fetch options too. (www.petco.com; www.homegoods.com)

Sturdy coils of small, medium or large marine-grade rope also do the job, but for multi-dog tug action, consider Ruff Dawg's four-handled rubber toy. (www.wag.com)

If you've got a ball-loving dog, you've probably spent hours throwing one; tennis balls seem to be the toy of choice. For something a little different, consider the Mystery Tree, which requires the dog to trip a lever to release the ball. And for truly energetic canines, get the Hyperdog Launcher, which shoots up to four balls 220 feet via a slingshot-like contraption. No more goober-y hands or sore throwing arms. (www.activedogtoys.com)

Some dogs love hide and seek; Kyjen has a plush tree trunk you stuff with mini squirrels for Dog to extricate. (www.kyjen.com)

And how about chasing bubbles? Activedogtoys.com has the automatic Bubbletastic and Bubble Buddy, which blow bacon- or chicken-scented bubbles.

CATS

Cats appreciate an interesting toy as much as dogs do. Kitty condos, which often have several elevations and platforms to climb, sit on and hide in, are excellent choices.

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