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Not Just for Humans

Aug 28, 2017 09:37AM ● By Louisa Asseo

Enriching Activities Aren’t Just for Humans


It’s back to school time for our kids, but what about our companion animals? Shouldn’t they be learning too? Providing learning opportunities for pets and captive animals in zoos and educational programs is called “enrichment.” The benefit of behavioral enrichment is improvement of the overall physical and emotional welfare of animals in our care. The goal is to design games and tools for pets that enhance the normal behaviors of the species. Enrichment lowers stress, minimizes destructive or unwanted behaviors, and lowers anxiety-driven behaviors. In addition, it helps strengthen the bond you share with your pet through closer interactions and fun activities you can share. 

There are simple ways to enrich the lives of our dogs and cats. Simple daily acts like taking your dog on a walk are one way, but go a step further and offer toys that make your dog think and solve puzzles. Agility training, traveling, hiking, sports, and interactive play with other dogs (for dogs that enjoy this) are some other well-known ways we can add fun and learning to their daily routines. Cats like interactive toys that encourage normal hunting instincts. Climbing structures, high shelving, and scratching trees can help satisfy normal cat behaviors as well. Providing treat dispensing toys and teaching your cat “tricks” can also encourage a cat to “hunt” in order to be rewarded with a treat.

When we share our lives with other fun species such as rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, birds, reptiles, and even fish, enrichment sometimes takes a little creativity. Foraging is a great and simple way to help add enrichment.  Foraging is a term used to describe the normal behavior of an animal in search of food, shelter, mates, and other necessities.  Instead of offering healthy foods in a bowl only, try offering food in new ways. Adding toys that encourage them to open a box, solve a puzzle, or root under objects to find a morsel of food is both fun and healthy for all exotic species.  This also encourages more activity and can promote healthy weight. 

Each exotic species has its own set of natural behaviors, so enrichment can be offered in different ways. For example, providing nesting material and blank substrates allows your pet to “make his bed.” Other ideas include playing toys with them, teaching fetch and other interactive games, and allowing safe and supervised time out of their enclosures. 

Our pets add so much enjoyment to our lives; by adding some enrichment activities to theirs, we are truly helping them to live happier and healthier lives.

 Dr. Louisa Asseo, owner of Oasis

Veterinary Hospital, can be reached at

(925) 954 – 8087, 6635 Alhambra Ave,

Suite 100, Martinez, or visit