Enrichment: It’s Not Just Fun and Games

By Suzanne Denk, Dip. FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist

Enrichment is a buzzword that is everywhere, but it is often mistaken for the quantity of toys your pet has or making a puzzle increasingly difficult. Enrichment is more than that – it is about improving quality of life.

The idea of enrichment for animals started in zoos. Enrichment was meant to improve their physical surroundings, create social groups and provide feeding choices to address the physical and mental well-being of the animals. Enrichment should encourage the animal’s natural behaviors.

Natural behaviors for a cat include scratching and hunting. Providing scratching posts in the location of your cat’s choice and opportunities to hunt with teaser toy play are enrichment ideas which address these natural desires. A rabbit instinctively wants to chew, forage, dig and burrow. Set up their living space to provide enrichment and fulfill these needs with shredded paper in a box or hay in a cardboard tunnel for chewing, digging, burrowing and shredding. Behaviors from a dog we may interpret as naughty are really just natural instincts to chew, dig, forage and sniff. A walk where your dog can sniff a lamppost as long as they want, a ball pit or designated spot in the yard to dig and rotating a variety of chew items can enrich their day.

Enrichment is an environment that is varied and stimulating, provides opportunity to think about and explore spaces, and allows your pet to make choices and to bond with you. Enrichment should be an activity your pet wants to engage in. Stress is decreased by enrichment activities and they provide an appropriate outlet for excess energy. Physical and mental activities which recognize the instinctive needs of our pets contribute to their whole wellness.

Our lives are busy, but the quality of our pets’ lives is entirely in our control. Life is about more than eating and sleeping. Fulfilling your pet’s natural desires with enrichment is more meaningful than just fun and games.

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