Animal Enrichment


As a pet owner, it is important to identify and provide positive psychological and physiological environmental stimuli that facilitate your pet’s natural behaviors and encourage them to actively engage with their surroundings. Providing enrichment that fulfills these needs is essential for your animal’s happiness, mental well-being, and overall health. Here at YHPC, we have a new online shop where you can find great toys and healthy treats to improve the lives of your dogs and cats. These items can be utilized to enhance the quality of life of your pet by implementing them into a home-based enrichment schedule. Below, we will discuss the different categories of enrichment and provide you with ideas that you can put into action with your pet, some of which you can do with items from our shop.

Environment:

        Manipulating your pet’s tangible environment can help keep them mentally and physically stimulated. Rearranging furniture now and again will keep your pet’s interest piqued. Closing off different rooms randomly is also a good way to keep their environment interesting because not having access to a room for a whole day makes it really exciting to go scope out once the door is opened again. Don’t forget to utilize their outdoor space for enrichment too. We encourage that dogs have ample time in the yard/dog park/etc to play and explore, as they greatly benefit from time outside. Many cats also enjoy outdoor time, but this can be more difficult to facilitate as they can easily climb over fences and escape. A fun way to create a safe outdoor space for cats is by making a “catio” where they are able to be outside in an enclosed area. A simple web browser search for catios will provide you with a multitude of ideas on how to implement this concept for your kitty. Dogs would also benefit from this, so don’t be afraid to get creative and make an area like this for your canine friends too. Also, cats love to climb and perch themselves up high above others, so providing them with opportunities to access varying levels and heights throughout their environment is important. Keep a cat tree or two in your home for easy height access, or buy floating shelves to hang on the walls for them. Floating shelves are a big hit, but just make sure you secure them appropriately to avoid injury to your cat. 

Cognitive:

Mental stimulation is important for any living being, and a great way to provide cognitive enrichment for your pet is to do positive reinforcement clicker training with them. A common misconception is that dogs are the only domesticated animal that can be “trained,” but in reality, many animals are trainable and benefit from this process including cats, ferrets, mice, birds, fish, and many other typical housepets! You don’t have to be a certified trainer to teach them either. With a little research and practice, anyone can do it. Use high reinforcers (such as favorite treats) to encourage desired behavior responses such as “sit,” “wait,” etc, and you can also use training to teach fun tricks. Play around with it to discover what types of behaviors your pet enjoys learning. 

Sensory:

  • Auditory – According to a research article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, playing relaxing classical music for your dog could enhance their overall well-being and help reduce anxiety, decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and promote more restful behaviors. On the other hand, playing heavy metal music or pop music had adverse effects, so it’s probably best to avoid extended exposure to this style of music for your furry friends. Playing talk radio or podcasts is another auditory input you could try. Make sure to keep the volume below 70 decibels, give them breaks from the sound, and monitor their responses to the stimuli. If they don’t seem to enjoy it, don’t play it. Another fun idea is to play audio recordings of different animal vocalizations for your cat or dog such as squirrels chattering, birds chirping, cats meowing, dogs barking, etc and see how they respond – you might be surprised! 
  • Olfactory – For both dogs and cats, their sense of smell provides a significant sensory input that helps drive them to navigate and explore their surroundings. Implementing scent-based enrichment is a great way to facilitate this naturally occurring behavior for both canines and felines. Most people probably have the tools for this enrichment activity at home already. You can sprinkle spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove onto toys, cardboard scratch pads, pet beds, towels, blankets, patches of grass outside, etc. Other scented items you can use are coconut oil, vanilla extract, perfumes, catnip, or essential oils (just research beforehand to make sure what you are using is not toxic to your pet.) We sell a large variety of organically grown catnip-infused toys on our website. Keep in mind your pet may dig or scratch at the areas you applied the scent enrichment, so don’t put scents on items that are priceless. 
  • Visual – When pets are home alone, there is a serious lack of visual stimuli for them to enjoy and thus, can lead to boredom. A simple idea to curb boredom while you’re gone or even when you are home and busy is to leave some window blinds open. This allows your pets the opportunity to watch the multitude of activities going on outside which can be very entertaining for them. Many pet owners also opt to have DogTV playing for their pups when they leave the house for extended periods of time to provide them with visual stimuli. Laser toy play is another fun visual stimulation tool for both dogs and cats – just make sure you shine it on a toy that they can eventually “catch” and grab onto so they don’t get frustrated. Also, go check out some downloadable apps for smart devices, such as the catfishing game, for your felines. On our website, we carry some other great interactive and visually stimulating toys for cats such as the catnip cyclone, the play and squeak thrill of the chase and the petkit swipe toy that are worthy of checking out.
  • Gustatory (Taste) – This one is quite self-explanatory, but it’s important to mix up your pet’s food and treat experiences. Just like people, animals get bored with the same old meals and treats all the time, and there’s no reason not to change it up every once in a while. YHPC has a large variety of healthy treats from well-known brands such as Fruitables, PureBites, Etta Says!, Icelandic, Buddy Jacks, and more for both cats and dogs in the online shop. Go check them out and keep a few different varieties on hand to surprise your fur babies with.
  • Textural – Provide your pet with different textured items to explore for a variety of tactile input. Try switching out blankets made of different fabrics, providing toys that are all different textures, or setting out scratch pads and towels for them to explore. Pieces of astroturf make for cheap and fun textural enrichment pieces that are quite versatile. Mix things up by attaching them to a chair leg or wall for them to rub up against, putting it on the ground for them to walk on, or sprinkling some of those scent enrichment items on it mentioned earlier for a fun surprise.

Toys:

Allow your pet access to a variety of toy styles to explore such as – stuffies, balls, bones, chew toys, puzzle feeder toys, kongs, wands, laser pointers, ribbons, feathers, self-play battery-operated toys, buckets, bags, boxes, hammocks, blankets, bottles, paper tubes, ropes, frisbees, squeakers, etc. The more interactive, the better! Often, novel objects and toys can be combined with food or scent related enrichment to pique your pet’s interest. Don’t allow access to every toy they own at all times, as they will get bored with everything. Switch out toys on a rotation so that they can forget about them and get excited when they suddenly reappear. The online YHPC shop carries a large variety of popular toy brands that pets love including Yeowww!, Fuzzu, Ruff Dawg, West Paw Design, and Zippypaws. 

Food:

In general, animals enjoy working for their food as this is a natural instinctual behavior for them! Mealtimes and treat rewards are easy opportunities for owners to work in some mentally stimulating activity into their pet’s day because it can follow their normal routine. Puzzle feeders are an excellent tool to provide cognitive exercises that challenge your pet while also providing that delicious treat they desire. They will be highly motivated to work the puzzles out with the promise of a treat or kibble reward at the end. YHPC offers a few great options of treat-dispensing toys and puzzle feeders that require manipulation to release the treats.

Some other ideas to mix up meal and treat distributions are the following: create an indoor or outdoor scavenger hunt, hide or bury piles of food, scatter food for them to graze on, or place food inside paper bags, boxes, plastic bottles, Wiffle balls, kongs, or paper towel tubes with holes cut out for food to fall through when manipulated. A fun seasonal idea is to offer food frozen into an ice block for them outside during the summer. 

In conclusion, providing varied sources of enrichment is of major importance for any animal. Enrichment helps pets by preventing boredom, decreasing problem behaviors, and improving their overall well-being and mental health. Most of the ideas listed in this blog are easy to implement and we highly encourage you to give some of them a try. Remember to check out the YHPC online store where you can purchase both some fun toys and healthy snacks for your furry friends to start applying a few of these ideas in your home.

Resources:

https://www.yhpc.com/shop/

http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/environmental-enrichment-why-old-dogs-and-cats-need-new-tricks

https://www.academyfordogtrainers.com/blog/the-importance-of-enrichment/

https://resources.bestfriends.org/article/cat-enrichment-toys-puzzles-aromatherapy-and-more

https://www.thedrakecenter.com/materials/environmental-enrichment-indoor-cats

Credit: Robin Laclede