In my last post, I talked about enrichment and, in general, why you should do it for your pets. In the dog behavior and training world, enrichment for shelter and pet dogs is becoming a more popular/trendy topic. People are learning about creative ways to feed their dogs and to provide mental stimulation through enriching food-based, scent-based, and play-based activities. This is great news for dogs and dog owners. So, naturally, I am going to talk CATS first. Our cats need enrichment as much as our dogs do and for many of the same reasons.
Enrichment for cats can fall into one or more of these categories (and probably some others that I am forgetting): environmental, interactive play, self-play toys, scent, and feeding.
Here are just a some of the reasons that enrichment is important for your cat:
With the social distancing/isolation orders in place, many of us are staying home more. What a great time to get to know your cat better and have some fun experimenting with ways to provide a more enriched life!
Over the next week, I am going to post a series of short (and very homemade!) videos on cat enrichment on my YouTube Channel Cat Behavior Playlist. Check out the first video below. Try out some of the ideas you see in the videos, research other ideas and let the fun begin. I’d love to hear what works for your cat, what you learned about your cat, and any of the creative ways you found to enrich your cat’s life….and yours.
While we are all staying home, we are learning how challenging it is to have limited activity and entertainment options. Many people can “find things to do” to occupy some of their time but after a while, even the most resourceful and creative among us will be itching to get back “normal” routines and behavior.
Imagine how your pets feel every day! Their abilities to “find things to do” are more limited than ours – and when they do “find” something to do, it may not be something we want them to do! Just the other night, my dog decided to shred one of her beds. She may have been bored and decided that the stuffing flying all over the place was fun. She may have just been “fluffing up” the bed. I don’t know. But she found a thing to do, and it wasn’t something I appreciated.
So how do we help our pets channel their energies – both mental and physical – appropriately? The same way we would for ourselves: EXERCISE and ENRICHMENT!
EXERCISE for our pets is similar to what we are doing for ourselves without the access to fitness clubs and gyms right now: running, playing, jumping, hiking, chasing things (frisbees, balls, etc.). It is important that you always provide exercise (safe, species appropriate activities) for your pets to help them stay healthy and well-behaved. And, yes, cats need exercise, too (more on that in a future post). Enrichment for our pets, however, is going to look a little different than it does for us. They could care less about reading books, pampering treatments, and podcasts.
So, what exactly is ENRICHMENT for pets? My favorite explanation is from the 2010 Guidelines for Standards of Care in Shelter Animals written by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. This definition of enrichment applies to all pets, not just shelter animals. The ASV tells us that enrichment is:
"…a process for improving the environment and behavioral care of confined animals within the context of their behavioral needs. The purpose of enrichment is to reduce stress and improve well-being by providing physical and mental stimulation, encouraging species-typical behaviors…and allowing animals more control over their environment."
I love this definition! Enrichment reduces stress. It improves well-being. Enrichment meets the behavioral needs of animals and allows them to be themselves (“species-typical behaviors”). Isn’t this what we all want for our pets (and ourselves these days)?!
My next couple of posts are going to focus on enrichment activities and items for dogs and cats that you can easily and inexpensively implement in your home. Stay tuned and get ready to have some fun with your pet. My hope it that providing enrichment for your pet will be so enriching for YOU that you will want to continue to do it even after you get back to your work and social routines!
Problem-solver, Voracious learner. Educator.