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What is enrichment and why do it?

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!   

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