Fur-baby fun and games

Pet and animal enrichment

Pets provide comfort, love, and joy to their owners on a daily basis. One of the best, rewarding, and foolproof methods to give them back a fraction of the love that they provide us with is to construct simple enrichment activities for them. 

   Tarleton is home to a large population of beloved pets both on and off-campus. Some of these precious creatures spend long hours indoors waiting for their caretakers to return home, and they can not vocalize their wants or needs. Despite this, it is essential for animal owners to do their best to read their pets behavior to provide them with a great quality of life. 

   In order for dogs, cats, and other pets to be physically, mentally, and emotionally satisfied, it is necessary to support them by encouraging their innate behaviors. Playing, chasing, smelling, chewing, and scavenging are some of the inherent urges that most pets, especially dogs, like to participate in, and it is up to the pet owner to facilitate these behaviors. 

   Pet enrichment can be described as, “providing animals with needed environmental stimuli that satisfy their natural instincts, which promotes physical, psychological, and emotional well-being,” the Preventive Vet website clarifies. Environmental enrichment activities have also been proven to work wonders at zoos and animal sanctuaries around the globe. 

   Many animal habitats must attempt to imitate a natural environment for their animals to help prevent their primal instincts and urges from fading away. 

  “For example, the Honolulu Zoo recently allowed a domestic miniature horse, a sheep, and a llama to spend the night safely grazing in the big cat enclosure. Having a new place to graze provided stimulation for the domestic animals, while having new scents to explore provided stimulation for the tigers when they were released the next morning. These simple activities can offer tremendous pleasure to different species,”  the Animal Behavior College website reported. 

    Zookeepers find very innovative and creative ways to provide their animals with a little bit of mental stimulation and lots of fun. 

   On a much smaller scale, encouraging enrichment for household pets is much more attainable and simple than what it may seem.

    “Providing enrichment for your dog is one of the most important aspects of pet care and it is easy to incorporate into day-to-day life,” the Preventive Vet website explains. 

   Something that may seem like a mindless activity from a human’s point of view, such as fetching a ball repeatedly, is considered one of the most fun activities ever for nearly every dog. In most cases, dogs who do not receive artificial stimulation tend to find ways to enrich themselves, resulting in unwanted behaviors, like a torn up couch. 

   Furthermore, though most cats exude an aura that hints at their independent nature, it is just as important to motivate enrichment activities for them as well. 

   “Just like humans, cats crave and require interaction and mental and physical stimulation. Bored cats can get frustrated and begin to exhibit unwanted behaviors. You leave a cat alone long enough, and they can take out their frustrations in other destructive ways like scratching, potty accidents, or even aggression,”  the Preventive Vet website explains.

    There are also many ways to provide entertainment for cats while the owner is not physically present. YouTube has thousands of video compilations of the sounds of nature and wildlife that any cat is most sure to enjoy. Videos of birds, squirrels, and insects are also a great way to expose cats to a world that their eyes may never get to see, seeing that they are predominantly an indoor species. 

   Overall, there are many different categories of animal enrichment, and a variety of ways to include them in any pets lifestyle. Habitat enrichment involves a change in the environment that an animal resides in, and it creates a novel experience for animals of all types. Adding climbing orifices, raised surfaces, and perching areas,especially for cats, can fuel an animal’s desire to explore their surroundings in a new manner. 

   Cognitive enrichment challenges animals to problem-solve, learn, and try new methods to overcome an obstacle. This type of enrichment is commonly used when training animals to be more efficient in household settings. 

   Sensory enrichment is predominantly used in zoo settings, but regardless, it can be incorporated into a household setting as well. Adding different sounds and new smells to an animal’s routine allows them to become better with investigation and association. 

   Food enrichment and toy enrichment are most often able to work hand-in-hand with each other. Food can be placed in a puzzle feeder, hidden in a towel, buried, frozen in an ice treat, or scattered amongst an area to force animals to forage and work for their meals, just as their wild ancestors once did. Toys are perhaps one of the most easy methods to enable animal enrichment, and there are an abundance of choices at every pet supply store. 

   Numerous popular options of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) enrichment ideas have come to light over the past couple years to combat reckless behavior in animals. Studies have shown that by providing household animals with mind-stimulating activities on a regular basis helps to put a pause on aggressive behaviors, promotes regular sleep cycles, and makes your pet more nimble and intelligent. 

   A popular option among the internet crowd is the viral “lickmat” method, where a variety of pet-safe concoctions are put onto a silicone mat for a dog or cat to partake in. These lickmat activities release endorphins into the brain and initiate happiness and relaxation. Depending on what kind of pet someone owns, different lickmat ingredients are recommended. For dogs, someone might opt for low ingredient greek yogurts and peanut butter, raw eggs, canned pumpkin, and mushed up bananas. Cats on the other hand would most likely find canned tuna, sardines, pate, and small amounts of cream cheese more appetizing. 

   Another cheap and easy option for enrichment is a DIY towel treat roll. To make this activity, all someone would have to do is spread out a large towel or blanket on a flat surface and sprinkle their dog or cat’s favorite treats. Then, they would roll the towel up into a cylinder shape causing the treats to be trapped inside. The towel would then be set on the floor and your pet would need to use their problem-solving skills to recover the treats. This simple activity is predominantly geared towards pets that are highly food-motivated. While they work hard to retrieve the treats from the towel, they are also engaging their minds and bodies in a time-consuming and daunting task. In most cases, when the four-legged companion is done with their activity, they are very tired and satisfied. 

Similar to the way that humans enjoy entertainment, ventures, and engaging in pastimes, animals do as well. If you have a furry friend at home, it might be worth it to try some new enrichment techniques to keep your pet happy and healthy. 

   For more information on how to provide your pet with fun enrichment activities, please visit, https://atlantahumane.org/blog/enrichment-ideas-for-your-pet/#:~:text=Enrichment%20Ideas%20for%20Your%20Pet%201%201.%20Stuffed,…%206%206.%20Ice%20Cube%20Tray%20%28Cats%29%20.