Enrichment for pets

Keep your pet happy & healthy with enrichment

Celebrate Love Your Pet Day on February 20th by creating enrichment activities for your pet! 


Enrichment activities are very important for pets because it encourages physical activity, mental stimulation, and natural behaviours. Engaging your pets in such activities that tap into natural instincts, are also important for their emotional wellbeing.

Animal Welfare Scientist of the FOUR PAWS Science Unit, Sabrina Karl, says such activities tap into characteristics, energy levels and innate behaviours of pets.

​On the question if food should be part of enrichment activities, Sabrina says for many pet species feeding and foraging behaviours take up a significant proportion of their time in their natural environments.

Food can therefore be an important enrichment device, when used to stimulate natural behaviours. For most animals, searching for and finding tasty food feels good and can be highly rewarding​, ​especially for dogs, that exhibit scavenging behaviours as it​ is​ a natural behaviour​.​

 ​"Animals are heavily driven by a desire for food. While it is easy to provide them with food in their bowls, it is far more stimulating and beneficial for them to engage in ​enrichment activities around their food," 

She explains that this is not only true for dogs and cats, but also p​et rats, rabbits, parrots, and chickens can ​also take part in ​activities that allow them to 'work' for their food.

“This can evoke positive emotions as well as encourage their natural problem-solving abilities​." 

​Pets like rabbits and chickens become quite creative when they are presented with mental challenges in order to obtain their food. For example, they can be given obstacles to overcome before they reach their food or be encouraged to use their cognitive skills to find hidden treats.

​"​This is not only a great way to enrich their environment, but it is also a great way to keep them entertained and stimulated.​"​ 

According to Sabrina, different dog breeds have been bred for certain purposes​. ​Today, dogs​​ are mainly used as companions, a role which may not allow them to exhibit their natural behaviours or provide the mental challenges that they have been bred for​.

This more relaxed role is especially difficult for “working” dog breeds ​such as Huskies ​who were originally bred to pull sl​eighs​ and travel long distances every day, border collies who were bred to herd livestock, and rottweilers who were bred to guard livestock.

​This is also true for cats, whose natural behaviours involve hunting and exploring their territory which they are unable to do if they are kept indoors.

"​It is not enough to challenge an animal only physically to keep it fit and healthy, animals also need mental challenges to use their brains so that they do not get bored. Boredom can create high stress levels, behavioural issues and make animals sick​. E​nrichment makes a pet’s life more interesting​."

There are also non-food enrichment activities which work just as well at encouraging natural behaviours and should also be considered​.​The most important thing is that the encouragements are really rewarding for the animal​, says Sabrina: "It is also important that the body condition of an animal is considered​. I​f an animal is overweight, either use tasty low-calorie food such as carrots, or use the food the animal likes but reduce the portions of their normal, daily food.

These activities are also important in preventing unwanted behaviours.​ “If animals are bored, they may start to express displacement behaviours, ​engage in ​self-destructive behaviour or unnormal behaviours or aggression towards humans and other animals​. This can happen​ because of the lack of using energy and from doing nothing​. So, it is important to build enrichment into their daily lives to prevent these issues.”

One of her favourite enrichment activities is to​ hide small pieces of food​ or ​treats in​ her​ flat or garden and let ​her ​dog search for and find them​.

"​I also like the toy called the wobbler Kong since it is quite robust, and my dog needs to move it around to access food, it also teaches independence from the owner​."​  ​

Sabrina's recommended hide-and-seek enrichment activities 

  • Toys that you can hide food in can be a good choice although they need to be not-easily-destructed so there’s no risk of an animal hurting themselves or the toy breaking while playing with it
  • If you use any kind of intelligence-game​ ​with little drawers​ and ​levers, you should supervise your pet during this enrichment and be aware that if they are new to this type of activity, they may become frustrated at first as some of these devices can be complicated, thus a little help at the beginning makes it more fun
  • Hiding food in paper-filled boxes also works well, along with clicker training which is a good way to mark and reward good behaviour while providing mental stimulation and facilitating the pet-human bond

You can even make treats yourself like the tutorial video herewith for doggie ice lollies shows.

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