Why boredom is a problem for pets

It has been argued that ‘boredom’ is a human concept and attributing such an emotion to pets or animals leaves us open to be accused of humanising them. It is true that little scientific research has been conducted to assess whether animals are capable of being ‘bored’ but what we can say with a degree of certainty is that animals certainly can feel frustrated, and that monotony or a lack of stimulation leads to frustration. The relevance comes in understanding that our pets are very capable of feeling frustrated by a lack of stimuli and that frustration can lead to seem very undesirable behaviours.

With birds kept in cages and lacking stimulation we see feather plucking, increased vocalisation and destructive behaviour. Small mammals like Guinea Pigs or hamsters can be become aggressive with each other. Cats who are frustrated might over-groom themselves, toilet in strange places around the house or become more persistent with attention seeking behaviours such as crying for attention or simply becoming more withdrawn and lazy. Dogs are perhaps the most vulnerable to frustration behaviours, they will become destructive; chewing up furniture and bedding etc. Resorting to stereotypical behaviours such as tail chasing, fly snapping or excessive licking. Dogs that lack stimulation are again more likely to become aggressive and bark for attention.

These negative behaviours can sometimes even become self rewarding in that the animal that meows, barks or squarks for attention invariably gets told off or talked to thus encouraging more vocalisation. Sadly many pets with frustration induced destructive or aggression behaviours will get either punished by their owners or possibly even surrendered to an animal shelter when all they need is some attention and time spent with them.

All pets need stimulation and interaction. Birds and small mammals should still be handled and given the opportunity to interact with toys and their environment as much as possible. Cats should be encouraged to play and given attention spontaneously not just when they are demanding it! Dogs need regular walks every day, ideally to different locations, all day in the garden is no substitute for an hour in the outdoors! There is an endless array of novel dogs toys, puzzle feeders etc to enrich and entertain them.

Studies show that animals show strong monotony avoidance behaviour. Although routine is a part of all our lives that routine needs to be a rich and varied one. Our pets deserve our attention and a life full of interesting and stimulating activities just as much as we do. Sometimes it pays to consider whether that naughty puppy or annoying pussy cat would do better with more attention and less telling off.