What is environmental enrichment?
Environmental or behavioral enrichment is the process of manipulating an animal's environment to increase physical activity & normal species typical behavior that satisfies the animal's physical and psychological needs. It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal's perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time. Techniques utilized to enrich an environment generally fall into 5 categories:
- Food based enrichment
- Sensory enrichment (sight, smell, touch, hear, taste)
- Novel objects
- Social enrichment
- Positive Training
Do remember that to be effective, the animal can not be made fearful and must actually utilize or engage in the activity for it to be enriching.
Who needs it?
All captive living animals need environmental enrichment weather they live in a zoo, shelter, laboratory, sanctuary, or your home. Animals at risk for and with chronic behavioral or physical problems are in special need of environmental enrichment.
How do I get started?
Think about what the species your target animal belongs to would normally do. For example, cats might stalk, hunt, and catch small prey items punctuated by climbing, running, and resting during a normal day. Look for activities that encourage or mimic these:
- Food based enrichment – hide a small ball filled with food so she can hunt and find it, then it will zip around the house like a mouse when batted and pushed encouraging chasing, catching, and consuming behaviors.
- Sensory Enrichment – place a fleece covered (touch) perch near a window so that your cat can climb up and observe (sight, hear, smell) birds and squirrels at a strategically placed feeder.
- Novel Objects – offer your cat empty cardboard boxes and paper bags to climb on, around, and through to explore one afternoon.
- Social enrichment – multi pet households where the animals are in stable healthy relationships offer valuable opportunities to be social with their own species. Cross species socialization between you and your cat are important too. Remember avoiding punishment and creating predictable interactions for your pet are critical here.
• Positive Training- when it is fun, everyone likes to learn something new. Be sure sessions are not frustrating, and never use techniques that make your pet fearful. For more information see www.clickertraining.com
There are many environmental enrichment items on the market for almost every species imaginable, but also allow yourself to get creative. No one knows your animal better than you!