Behaviour Enrichment

You may hear the term behaviour and/or enrichment at zoos or even some vets and nurses may use the term in consults. So, what exactly are they talking about and why should it matter?

“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” ( 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.

Did you know that a dog sniffing and processing smells tires them out more than a walk? A cat that has a window to watch wildlife has been shown to be less stressed than one that isn’t visually stimulated. Do you have a working breed of dog and seem to find that you can’t keep on top of them? Do you have a dog or cat who is stressed or at risk of stress?

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.

Food-based behaviour enrichment is for every species and can be things that you can do on a budget at home or you can buy toys and puzzles at your local pet store and online too. There is a range of different levels and pricing for puzzle feeders which you can purchase even from your local Kmart. If you want to get creative or save money, save boxes and toilet rolls and fold and stuff them with food.

You can scatter food on your lawn, which is free.

Please note that when using puzzle feeders for the first few times, make them easy so that your pet doesn’t get disheartened and supervise them. Remember you want your pet to win!

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

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