What is Enrichment?
Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Enrichment by definition is the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something. So how does this relate to us keeping animals? While having a place to call home and food are top priorities, that's not all that entails to proper care of animals. Every animal you have met or ever will meet carries natural instincts. These instincts need to be used to help satisfy animals physically and emotionally.
How would you feel if you had to eat the same food everyday, in the same bowl, at the same time. You would get bored with the routine after so long. This goes the same for animals. Let's use a dog for an example. You have a dog that had always been super good while you were at work, no problems for the last year. Unfortunately though while you are at work for the last week he has been getting into your closet and has now chewed your favorite pair of shoes. You may think he's getting back at you for forgetting to add those liver treats to your last Amazon order, but in reality it's just natural instincts. Dogs naturally chew. Chewing helps strengthen their jaw while cleaning their teeth. To them your favorite pair of shoes is no different than any other item in the house. All that he knows is they made a great chew toy. How does enrichment play into this? What if you had gotten a bone meant for chewing, slabbed some delicious peanut butter on to it and had given it to him before you left for work. Chances are he would have spent his time chewing on that delicious bone until he felt the urge to chew moving on. In this case an enrichment item helped satisfy his need to chew while saving you the heartbreak of coming home to a few less shoes. This gave your dog mental and physical stimulation. So now you've decided that this is the trick to keeping your shoes in one piece. A couple weeks go by and one day you come home to find the bone untouched and another shoe chewed. How could this have been avoided? Just like you, animals like variety. Change up the enrichment as often as you can. You could start hiding the bone or wrapping it up in fabrics. Start challenging your animal to allow them to really use their minds and bodies. Make feeder puzzles harder in a slow progression so your animal doesn't become discouraged but instead gains confidence.
Enrichment doesn't have to be satisfied with food. Other forms of enrichment could be with physical task. Some of my favorite enrichment for birds are toys. In my experience birds are naturally destructive. I like making my own toys made of bird safe papers that they can pull apart. However, some birds will might need encouragement in learning to play with toys. You might need to start off with a tasty treat associated with the toy to trigger natural foraging instincts. Same can be done for rabbits as they have the urge to pretty much be constantly chewing something. A cardboard box house can keep them busy for a couple days. Once they get board of just the box you can start adding things to the box to change it up. Some great physical task for dogs can be going hiking, agility, swimming, or something as simple as a car ride. The key to successfully enriching an animals life is changing up their day to day lives with realistic and achievable task.
What happens to animals without enrichment? Lack of enrichment can lead to both physical and mental strain on animals. It can cause anything from depression, self-mutilation, or abnormal repetitive behaviors. Some more common ones to see is pacing, or circling. Others that can be more noticed based on species such as plucking with birds or cribbing with horses. Although we can not give animals the exact enrichment mother nature does, we should not neglect animals mental and physical needs.