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How To Create an Enrichment Schedule for Your Pet

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As a pet parent, you may have heard the term enrichment used when looking up what things your pet needs to keep them happy and prevent unwanted behaviors. Enrichment, when it comes to our pets, is the way in which we can make their lives more stimulating, provide an outlet for species-typical behavior, and add variety to their day.

Pets may live in our homes and snuggle with us on the couch, but they’re still animals with inherent needs, like chasing, sniffing, digging, or dissecting things using their paws and mouth. If they don’t have appropriate outlets for these behaviors, it can sometimes result in destructive behaviors, mouthiness/nipping, excessive arousal, etc. By providing enrichment, we can give them appropriate alternative outlets.

The Benefits of an Enrichment Schedule

The keys to meeting your pet’s enrichment needs every day are consistency and variety. While having a routine can be great for giving pets structure and making them feel safe, especially if they’re experiencing behavior issues, enrichment is the piece of the puzzle you should switch up. Establishing a consistent rotation of enrichment, regardless of how big or small, will keep the activities novel and stimulating. On the contrary, if we only provide the same two enrichment activities, eventually, our pets may become bored and resort to old behaviors, such as destructive chewing, digging, barking, or scratching.

While we all love to play with our pets, many of us forget that there are other ways to provide enrichment to our companions. Their lives are more than sitting on the couch waiting for the next belly rub!

Creating a Routine Schedule of Enrichment Activities

Everyone’s daily lives look different. Some of us may not have time in the morning, during the day, or evening to actively provide enrichment to our pets—and that’s OK. Luckily, not all of it needs to be a huge time commitment. In fact, with a little creativity, the five main types of enrichment activities can be incorporated into your routine and can keep your pets engaged and occupied while on their own.

For example, nutritional enrichment activities can take place during mealtimes, sensory ones can be scheduled throughout the day while you’re at work, and physical, occupational, and social activities can be done throughout the evening. You will find that many activities fulfill more than one area of enrichment, too. Take this into consideration as you build your enrichment schedule, and keep in mind that your schedule shouldn’t be so strict that it’s stressful for both of you. It just needs to be consistent.

1. Nutritional Enrichment Activities

One of the easiest ways to provide enrichment is to tap into pets’ natural foraging instincts. Utilize snuffle mats, slow feeders, or puzzle toys instead of a regular food bowl to encourage your pet to find their food during mealtimes.

Find the Treat

Use a treat dispensing puzzle toy, like the Jolly Tuff Toppler™, by simply placing their favorite strongly scented treat inside for them to discover. It not only adds nutritional enrichment, but different shaped puzzle toys add a mental challenge that helps your pet improve their cognitive abilities as they try to get the treat out. Make it more challenging by hiding the toy in your house for your pet to find!

2. Social Enrichment Activities

While social interaction will look different from pet to pet, it’s critical for them to have time in their day to interact with another pet or human to fulfill their need to socialize. Depending on what works for your schedule, social enrichment could include a regular cuddle session on the couch in the evening or a trip to the park (if your pet is comfortable with meeting new pets and people). Be sure to keep social interactions positive and be mindful if your pet prefers to interact with you versus another pet.

3. Sensory Enrichment Activities

Sensory enrichment can include anything that stimulates your pet’s five senses. These activities can be added throughout your pet’s day in a variety of ways.

  • Visual Enrichment: If your pet benefits from visual enrichment, allowing them to see different things in and around their environment is essential, whether they’re moving or stationary objects. Provide a window view or a scenic walk for non-reactive pets, turn on the TV to a pet-friendly channel, or let your pet explore a toy basket with lots of toys of different shapes, sizes, and colors to keep them visually stimulated.
  • Auditory Enrichment: Create time in your pet’s schedule to listen to some music or novel sounds for 15-20 minutes. Classical music, for instance, has been observed to have a calming effect on dogs or introduce your pet to the novelty of wind chimes swaying in the wind. This can help create some set downtime in your pet’s routine. Just remember that listening to the same thing can get boring, even for our pets! So, make sure to play different soothing music for them throughout the week.
  • Taste Enrichment: Eating the same kibble or wet food day in and day out doesn’t sound overly exciting, does it? Our pets feel the same way. Since mealtimes are usually pre-determined for many of our pets already, you can start to introduce a variety of flavors and textures to their normal food. Pet-friendly broths, cooked rice, pet-safe fruits and veggies, or a few pieces of a new protein can make mealtimes more interesting. Avoid completely changing your pet’s usual food to prevent digestive issues, and consult your veterinarian for dietary concerns or restrictions they may have before giving them something new.
  • Scent Enrichment: Animals, especially dogs, love to learn about their environment through their noses. Setting aside time for a walk or ‘sniffari’ is an excellent way to let your pet use their sense of smell. If your pet is more reactive or unable to go on walks, introduce new smells to them in the form of different foods, spices or herbs, and objects. Stay away from essential oils, though, as many of these can be toxic to pets.
  • Touch Enrichment: Fulfilling your pet’s sense of touch can be done in many ways. It can be as simple as rotating toys in their toy box (including different shapes, sizes, and textures) or as involved as setting up a kiddie pool or splash mat for them to play in. If they don’t like water, try making a ball pit for them by filling a kiddie pool with plastic balls for them to root around, dig, and play.

4. Occupational Enrichment Activities

While having a job might not sound like an exciting activity to you, it can be quite rewarding for your pet! Including time in your pet’s schedule where they are given a specific task can help work their brain, cultivate focus, and create a sense of structure.

Some pets may already have a formal job that is a part of their day, but for many pets, a job doesn’t have to be as complex as alerting someone about a medical issue. Basic manners training, trick training, and scent work are all ways your pet can feel like they are performing a job, with a positive outcome for them!

fluffy kitten batting at a cat toy inside a cat house

5. Physical Enrichment Activities

Most of us pet parents are familiar with physical enrichment in the form of playtime. Playtime provides physical exercise while giving us a chance to bond with our pets. While not every pet plays the same, choosing the right toys for their playstyle can help them get the most out of their daily play sessions.

Tug and Fetch

Tug-of-war can build your pet’s confidence, help them bond with you, and provide exercise. Using a tug toy, like the Jolly Pets Romp-N-Roll™, grab one end of the toy and have your pet grab the other. Tug and pull against your pet for a few seconds, then release the toy and let them “win.” Vary the amount of time you tug, and be mindful not to tug too hard or jerk their necks in a way that could be painful.

If fetch is more your pet’s speed, the Jolly Pets Romp-N-Roll™ will double as a fetch toy. The ball in the center provides a place for your pet to bite into and allows it to float in water for easy retrieval!

Objects and Furniture

Another physical activity to consider providing your pet is specific objects and furniture for them to explore. Cats, for example, love to hide or be in high places, so providing pet furniture that they can climb into and interact with can be excellent exercise. Tunnels, agility ramps, small jumps, and other obstacle course items also encourage movement and provide new surfaces and spaces to be explored.

Adjust Activities Based on Age

When caring for senior pets, enrichment is just as significant. However, make sure to provide appropriate enrichment activities for senior pets. While the schedule may not change as your pet gets older, the activities will. Case in point, an older cat or dog may not be as keen to run after a toy as they used to be, so their physical activity may need to be altered to include short, wandering, sniffy walks, or simply a shorter toy-toss for them to fetch at their own pace. You can also change up the toys you use for fetch and provide something softer for your older pets who may be missing teeth.

Even though your pet’s activity levels may go down, it’s still just as important to provide enrichment at set times of the day that they were used to when they were younger. Providing enrichment in all areas and at all stages in life keeps their cognitive function strong and helps them stay happier and healthier.

Reminder: Treats should not make up more than 10% of a pet’s caloric intake. Also, stomach upset may occur in pets who do not tolerate dietary changes well.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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