“Animal enrichment, also known as environmental or behavioural enrichment, is the process of providing captive animals with some form of stimulation in order to encourage natural behaviours, which helps to improve or maintain their physical and mental health” (Untamedscience.com 2019). Now, you may read this and say captive animals are animals in zoos and wildlife facilities. Well actually, the term captive is referred to as an animal that cannot escape or will not survive in the wild which includes our pets who wouldn’t be able to hunt, forage and find shelter on their own due to domestication and reliance on humans.
The next thing you may be wondering is why it is important. Behaviour enrichment is a boredom buster. The more you encourage your pet to use their brain and keep them occupied, the less time they have to be bored and display problem behaviours like destructive and anxious behaviours. Have you ever noticed a tiger pacing or an elephant swaying at a zoo? Zoos put toys and encourage foraging behaviours to keep their animals busy to try and stop these behaviours.
In my opinion, every animal can benefit from a bit more stimulation and it can be not only fun for them but for the both of you as well.
There are several types of behavioural enrichment. These types are cognitive, social, physical habitat and sensory. The beauty about enrichment is that often we can provide several types at once. For example, a snuffle mat where they must forage for their food provides sensory and cognitive behaviour enrichment. Doggy daycare or a play date at a friend’s house can provide physical, sensory and social behaviour enrichment. One of the easiest times to provide enrichment is meal times.
Behaviour enrichment helps keep life fun for our pets and for us and is easier than you think! So let's try it!
Written by Michaela Cameron, Veterinary Nurse