The Importance of Animal Enrichment: Beat Their Boredom Blues

Enrichment is defined as the manipulation of a pet’s environment to increase activity and behaviour that satisfies the animal’s physical and psychological needs. It improves health by increasing a pet’s perception of control over their environment. Enrichment techniques fall into five categories: food-based, sensory (sight, smell, touch, hear, taste), new objects, social and positive training.

All domesticated animals need environmental enrichment whether they live in a zoo, shelter or your home, and it’s particularly important for animals with behaviour/physical problems.

Providing your pet with an enriching environment means their home should meet their specific needs and allow them to carry out fun, safe activities throughout the different stages of their life.

Different species behave differently.
There are big differences between dogs, cats, birds and pet pigs. For example, cats might stalk, hunt and catch small prey items punctuated by climbing, running and resting. Look for activities that encourage or mimic these.

Here are some ideas:

• A ball filled with food will encourage hunting, chasing, catching and consuming behaviours.

• Place a fleece covered (touch) perch near a window so that your cat can climb up and observe (sight, hear, smell) birds and other wildlife at a strategically-placed feeder.

• Cardboard boxes and paper bags are perfect for exploration, so get creative!

• Multi-pet households where the animals are in stable healthy relationships offer valuable opportunities to be social with their own species. Socialisation with you is important too.

• Use positive training techniques rather than tactics that make your pet fearful. Consider the type of food you will supply (taste) and how they will access it, for example dogs might benefit from toys that encourages foraging behaviour.

Consider still or running water, and how they might access the outdoors. Pet doors and litter tray location are also important aspects to consider.

Your pet’s physical environment is important; minimalistic homes are not ideal. Cats and birds love height (sight); perches, window sills, scratching poles (touch) and climbing frames. They also like places to hide and ‘survey’ without being seen, whereas most dogs like to chase and forage.

Avoid competition between pets, which might lead to aggressive behaviour. Give them their own area, which includes everything they need. Many animals can be quite resistant to accepting others into their social group, especially if there has been a lack of early socialisation, so introducing a ‘buddy’ might not help.

Routines are calming for pets, but often our time away from home breaks their routine. Establish positive rituals for your pet and make time for regular play and grooming. Cats often prefer brief interactions. Find toys that suit their preferences; do they like to chew (taste) or chase (sight)?

Your pet might find exciting new odours interesting (smell). Scent trails can be set up for your dog to track. Indoor cats love herbs, such as catmint and catnip, or just a box full of leaves from the garden. Synthetic pheromones are also available to calm pets.

Any changes you make to your pet’s environment should be done gradually to avoid upsetting them. Ensure any new toy or equipment is safe. Play with them to show them how it works (sight) and have fun together.


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