Beyond the Bored Pet: The Case for Environmental Enrichment

Child playing with his dogJust like us, animals require activities that keep them mentally and physically active. Though we often treat them like little humans, our pets are still driven by behaviors that are instinctual and important to their well-being.

When we notice a bored pet, this often means he or she is experiencing a deprivation of some kind. It may be not enough time with their people, lack of exercise, or an inability to fulfill certain behavioral needs.

So, what role does environmental enrichment play in the health of our pets? Let’s find out!

Mental and Physical Enrichment for Pets

All pets, from the tallest to the smallest, need physical activity and stimulation through exercise, socialization, and – for lack of a better word – tasks. Specific needs vary from species to species, but we’ll focus on canines, felines, and small mammals.

Dogs

Dogs are very social pack animals who rely on others for security and learning, yet so many canines spent 8 or more hours a day lying around the home, waiting for us to return. This can often result in problem behaviors, such as escape, chewing, scratching, and chronic barking.

Depending on the breed of the dog, some require much more activity (think sporting or working breeds) and opportunities to perform tasks they were bred for, like herding. Even if your dog is a loveable mutt, he or she needs exercise and socialization.

To incorporate enrichment into your dog’s day, try the following:

  • Schedule 20-30 minute dog walks before you leave and when you return home.
  • Enlist the participation of family members with daily games, such as fetch.
  • Provide plenty of challenging toys, such as a Kong, for solo playtime.
  • Consider getting the help of a dog walker or signing your dog up for doggie daycare.
  • Teach your dog fun tricks or provide agility training for an ideal method of canine behavioral enrichment.

Cats

Cats need mental and physical enrichment? You bet they do! Although felines are often perceived as independent and aloof, requiring less social time than dogs, cats definitely need interaction and playtime.

These aerodynamic pets are meant to move. Without opportunities to express these behaviors, cats can become anxious, resulting in litter box woes or bald spots from compulsive grooming. To keep your cat happy, try providing the following:

  • Lots of easy-to-pounce toys, like catnip-filled mice
  • Places to climb and hide (cat trees with sleeping cubbies and platforms are great!)
  • A playmate or two, if your cat enjoys meow pals
  • Plenty of interaction with you (laser pointer games, feather chase, etc.)

Pocket Pets

These furry companions, often called pocket pets, are confined to small cages most of their life, so it’s imperative to keep them mentally and physically engaged. Consider the following:

  • Wheels
  • Tunnels
  • Things to chew on
  • Places to hide
  • Ramps and other places for climbing
  • Swings or hammocks (ferrets love these!)
  • Other friends

Many small mammals, like rabbits and ferrets, can be house-trained. This allows them to spend time out of the cage for greater movement and supervised fun.

A Bored Pet No More

All pets require attention and understanding of their unique behaviors and instincts. The more you understand your pet, the better you’re able to provide stimuli that matches their specific needs and interests.

Please contact the team at Schertz Animal Hospital with any additional questions or concerns.