Are You Using Enrichment?
Enrichment is anything that changes your pet’s daily life. This term is well known and discussed in Zoos and Aquariums as an important part of captive animals lives, but have you considered this an important part of your pets life? We as animal lover talk about animal health often, but we tend to forget that emotional health is important too. Enrichment allows your pet to have more choices, which in turn enhances their well-being.
Types of Enrichment:
Enrichment can be categorized into 5 different types depending on the behavior it invokes in the animal; Habitat or Environmental, Cognitive, Sensory, Food, and Toys. You may be surprised how easy it is to incorporate enrichment into your daily routine.
Environmental enrichment is adding or changing the environment in which your pet lives, your home! This can be as simple as taking them on a car ride or as complex as building them new furniture. If your dog or cat looks out the same window every day, imagine how new and exciting it would be for them to get access to a different window. Getting them a new bed, moving their current bed, putting their toys in a different part of the house, these are all easy ways to incorporate environmental enrichment.
Training your pet is the best form of cognitive enrichment. This type of enrichment simply means that you need to challenge your pet’s brain. We as humans love puzzles and brainteasers, well pets do, too! A few short training sessions a day can add enrichment and decrease unwanted behaviors with only a few minutes of your time. If training isn’t in your wheelhouse, you can also use puzzle feeders. These have become wildly popular in the pet supply industry and are easy to find. These feeders allow your pet to problem solve to get a reward. You can use their daily meals or extra treats for these feeders.
Example of a puzzle feeder found at: https://www.chewy.com/trixie-activity-flip-board/dp/134669
Sensory is one of my favorite forms of enrichment. There are so many fun and easy ways to add this to your pet’s day. Smell is a very important part of your pet’s nervous system, they are meant to smell and they love to smell. Rubbing some pet-safe fresh herbs on a tree in your back yard can add hours of enrichment, taking your pet for a walk to a new area gives them many new smells to explore, or Chewy.com now carries pet safe bubbles for your pet to chase and pop. And if you are reading this, you probably have a smart phone or computer; pull up a video of any animal and let your pet listen.
It is likely that you are already using some form of food enrichment. If your pet does not have diet restrictions it can be as simple as giving them a treat or changing the way you feed your pet. If you put your pet’s food in the same bowl every day, try using a different type of feeder. Slow feeders are easy to find and simple to use. Putting a few tennis balls in their regular food bowl challenges them to either move the tennis balls or take them out to get to the food. You may try spreading your pet’s kibble out on their favorite blanket or if you are feeling very motivated, here is a link to directions to make your very own snuffle mat. (https://iheartdogs.com/diy-let-your-dog-dig-for-food-and-treats-in-this-entertaining-mat/). This allows your pet to dig and forage for food without having the risk of them ingesting non-food items.
The most common enrichment is toys. Most pet owners already have lots of toys for their furry friend but a good way to keep the toys fun and exciting is to rotate them. You likely already know your pet’s favorite toys, but giving them access to those toys all the time makes it easy for them to get bored. If you rotate those toys along with buying new ones, you are constantly changing their enrichment. There are several types of monthly subscriptions online that you can now order for your pet or if you are feeling crafty you can make your own out of recycled materials from home.
There are so many ways to enrich your pet’s day, even with our busy lives it is important to remember that these animals rely on us for everything. It’s also important to remember that enrichment isn’t just for cats and dogs, every animal can benefit from enrichment. While many of these ideas are easy to incorporate, never leave your pet unattended with enrichment, especially if it is new, as their health is our top priority. This type of positive interaction can help curb unwanted behaviors as it physically and mentally exercises your pet. An enriched pet is a happy pet.
Rachel Ries, CSR