Behavioral Enrichment

Noun Challenge: July 25, 2014

Today’s noun: Behavior

Behavioral enrichment, also called environmental enrichment, is a term referring to the stimulation of animals in captivity. Before I go on about behavioral enrichment, let’s talk about animals in captivity. You’re probably thinking about a zoo or aquarium, right? Well, you are correct, but did you think of your own pet? An animal living in captivity is any animal that is not living in the wild. The cat in your lap, or the dog under the desk is living in captivity.

Now that that is all cleared up, let’s get back to behavioral enrichment. What is it and why is it important? Well, put in the simplest terms, its playing with, and caring for your pets; making sure they are fed, groomed, and not bored. You need to make sure you stimulate each of their five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Some of these take care of themselves. Smell and hearing are going to take care of themselves as long as you keep up with the rest. Sight is pretty simple, make sure your pet doesn’t spend all of its time in one place. As long as your animal can move, this will be okay. Taste is also easy; switch the flavors of their food, and make sure they get different textures. Giving treats works well. Last, touch. Literally, just touch your pet. You can stroke their fur, or scratch behind their ears. Yes, it’s that simple. Another part of behavioral enrichment is entertaining your pet.

For a cat, this means playing with him or her. Playing could be as simple as putting a ball of yarn on the floor for them to play with. If your cats are anything like mine, that’s not good enough. Mine like to chase moving things. If i wanted to use string, I would need to continuously swing it in front of them, and that does get tiring after a while. So, what do I do? Well, I put a towel, a regular bath towel, on my bed and slide my hand under it. The cat loves it. I only need to do it for a few minutes at a time, and it keeps her occupied for a good twenty minutes. Just do that a few times a day, and you’re golden.

For dogs, this means having a piece of rope to play tug-of-war, or a chew toy for them to bite on. It could also mean chasing them around the yard. You really just need to find the activity that your dog enjoys. If you have more than one dog, don’t assume they will all like the same things. For my dogs, one loves to play chase, or tug-of-war. The other likes to wrestle on the floor, and swim in the summer. If you’re not sure what your dog likes, just try a bunch of different things until you find what they enjoy.

The last part of behavioral enrichment that I’m going to talk about is making sure the environment is appropriate. For dogs, this means making sure they have somewhere to go to the bathroom, a place to run, things to chew on, a place to sleep, etc. For cats, it means having a clean litter box, a scratching post (or something to scratch), somewhere they can be up high (most cats like to jump up to higher places), and providing a place to sleep. Cats and dogs are fairly simple to accommodate. More exotic animals are a bit more difficult. This is why most places prevent private ownership of tigers, zebras, owls, giraffes, and other “zoo” animals.

Why is behavioral enrichment so important? Well, you want your pet to be happy and healthy, right? That’s why we spend so much money at the vet. If your pet is not properly stimulated, they will start to show signs of neurotic behavior. This could be over grooming themselves, strange movements, being overly aggressive, biting or scratching at themselves, pacing, or repetitive vocalization. Now, I know you’re all thinking “My pet does one of those!” Yes, probably, but that doesn’t mean they are under-stimulated, or that you aren’t doing enough. One of my dogs loves to talk. The other is very clean and always licks his paws when he comes inside. The only time you should worry about any of these behaviors is if they are not normal for your pet. Of course, if something about your pet’s behavior changes, it doesn’t mean you have failed, they may be sick, or have allergies. If you are concerned, take them to a vet. Do not assume it will be fixed if you play with them more.

Well, this post was much longer than I intended. Sorry. But I hope you learned something, and take care of your furry friends!

As always, I apologize for any grammatical errors. Have a furry day, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

)O(

 

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