• Laura McCarthy

The devil finds work for idle hands - or paws!

At-home enrichment for pets during lockdown

What is enrichment?

It is a fancy word - I know! But actually a very simple principle. To take a direct quote from wildwelfare.org "Enrichment is increasing the complexity of the environment in a way that is meaningful to the animal's needs". Or... giving your pet what it needs without direct input from you (although snuggles are still nice if your pet enjoys that kind of thing!).


What needs does my pet have?

For the purpose of answering this question, I have included a nice visual from Linda Michaels (http://www.dogpsychologistoncall.com/hierarchy-of-dog-needs-tm/). The information here is listed for dogs, but can be adapted for other pets too. Basic needs at the lower end of the pyramid (food, water, safety, good health and shelter) need to be met before other needs such as play, exploration and enjoyment of novelty/social interactions become important. NB: please be aware that some species may not be social in nature and may find social interactions aversive. Therefore, environmental enrichment would include allowing these pets to feel safe and minimise contact which could be distressing. In these cases, husbandry interventions can be disguised to make them appear non-intrusive and/or natural. If you want to see an example of this, San Diego zoo have a lovely video of feeding baby condors whilst minimising human impact here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2hCDg3hXF4

How can I use this?

You can use enrichment from home to give your pets the best physical and mental wellbeing, which in turn, may allow them to be more calm and secure.


Firstly, please think about how you deliver your pet's food. I would encourage you to deliver these things ways that encourage exploration and problem-solving (please see some ideas below). You need to ensure that what you are doing is safe and appropriate for the species you are dealing with (no food packages in water for cats - that would be mean!).

Here, some food has been given in frozen form to encourage the dog to work a bit.

These doggos are using their noses to hunt out treats in a sand pit.

This cat is using her brain to access some goodies.

And it needn't be expensive! Kizzy enjoyed her kibble given in a loo roll (if you can get your hands on some!)


Please also think about your pet's environment and how it can provide the ability for your pets to engage in natural behaviours. For example, some dogs like to dig - so a sand pit can be a wonderful way to provide for this need without sacrificing your flower bed. Other species, such as rats, gerbils and rabbits need to dig, so providing them an option to do this is a basic welfare provision. Horses and rabbits are 'grazers' so are likely to practice biting and chewing behaviours if they are unable to graze. If you have a rabbit or horse in confinement (perhaps stall rest) then providing licks or chewing material will help to promote mental and physical wellbeing.


Cats enjoy climbing, so high walkways can be a lovely way to maximise on this and provide lots of hiding spaces (see images below). Also, many animals; including birds and rabbits; will collect nesting materials. Giving them options to pick up can provide them with hours of fun!

Image of cat walkway from dezeen.com

Image of rabbit collecting nesting material from 'jm maleti' on Pinterest


There are so many possibilities - what I want you to try and imagine is "what would my pet choose to do if they had complete freedom to do anything?" and then think about ways that you can allow these behaviours, without harm to your property or to others (I am NOT advising that you let your dogs chase the neighbours cat!! - you could get them some furry toys though).


I would be delighted to know what you think of this blog and to get pictures of your own pets!

Thank you to Hannah, Natalia and Deanna at www.partnersinpaw.com for some of the lovely pictures and videos.


As always, stay safe and take care until next time!




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