It seems like the most natural thing in the world—our pets need food, water, medical care and lots of love. But dogs and cats have other needs, too. Our furry friends need ample physical exercise and mental stimulation to lead truly full and happy lives.
"They need jobs," says Kristen Collins, CPDT, ASPCA Animal Trainer. Dogs and cats need to stay busy and engaged, but unfortunately most pets are unemployed—daily they sit at home, chronically bored and waiting for their humans to return from work. And as we all know, an idle pet can quickly turn into a naughty pet when restlessness becomes overwhelming.
"With nothing to do, dogs and cats are forced to find ways to entertain themselves," explains Kristen. "Their activities of choice often include behaviors we find problematic, like excessive barking or meowing, gnawing on shoes, raiding the garbage, eating houseplants and scratching furniture."
To prevent behavior and health problems, Kristen recommends the following physical and mental workouts—both when you're there to join the fun and when your pet is home alone.
- Move it! Healthy adult dogs need at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a day. Jogging, swimming and playing at the dog park are all great ways to burn excess energy.
- Engage in structured games, like fetch  and tug-of-war —they're not only great exercise but also teach your pet impulse control and strengthen the bond between you.
- Keep your dog occupied when he's home alone by giving him a food-stuffed puzzle toy, like the Kong , or some tasty chew toys.
- Like their canine counterparts, cats also need plenty of aerobic exercise. Get kitty fit with rousing play sessions, such as chase and fetch with furry toys, small balls or toy mice .
- Encourage your cat's favorite home alone activities, including bird watching, exploring paper bags or boxes, watching cat videos or spending time in secure outdoor enclosures.
- Teach your cat new tricks! Felines are quick studies and can learn practical skills  like coming when called, sitting up, rolling over and even using the toilet!
Kristen adds: "The bottom line is that you're responsible for enriching your pet's life. Providing opportunities to exercise your cat  or dog's  mind and body will keep her healthy and happy—and enhance your relationship, too."
For more information about enriching your pet’s life, please check out expert advice from our Virtual Pet Behaviorist .