What is enrichment?
Enrichment is a key aspect of pet ownership - it is just as important as correct nutrition and veterinary care. We need to make sure that we meet all our animals’ exercise and behavioural needs; such as digging, hiding, social contact, foraging and gnawing. Without enrichment, stereotypical behaviours (eg. pacing, rocking and excessive grooming) can manifest, animals may feel stressed, and acts of aggression towards humans can occur (Poole, 1998; Baumans, 2005).
The main aim of enrichment is to allow animals to exhibit a wide variety of behaviours. In the wild, an animal’s environment is constantly changing, but we must simulate this change in captivity (Wells, 2009). Therefore, having knowledge and understanding of an animal’s natural behaviours is necessary to be able to make an appropriate environment in captivity (Baumans, 2007). Animals should feel safe and secure in an environment that is complex and challenging, but one that they can control (Baumans, 2005).
Here are some of our Ranger's favourite enrichment tips and tricks to improve your pet’s welfare, no matter the species.
Invertebrates may not be as intelligent as mammals, for example, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t require some form of enrichment. They can enjoy activities such as digging, hiding and burrowing; there are multiple ways that you can meet these needs.
Invertebrates enjoy having a variety of hides across the length of their enclosure so that they can control their temperature (one end of the enclosure has a heat mat). Fake plants can give them something to explore and I’ve even seen my scorpion sitting on top of the plants (pictured left)!
Providing a good depth of bedding can also be important. Some invertebrates, such as my salmon pink tarantula, fancy themselves as a landscape architect and will move their soil around (see top photo).
Another way to enrich your invertebrate’s life is to feed them different prey items.
Many species of reptile enjoy exploring different hides, sticks and plants. You can also provide a variety of textures through bedding, rocks and bark. One way to avoid purchasing new enrichment is to cycle items or to rearrange them. This makes the environment different and gives them something to explore. However, it is worth leaving a couple of items in the same place and washing them at a later date so that the environment doesn’t feel completely different to your reptile, preventing any stress.
Many reptiles require a humid hide to aid with the shedding process, preventing stuck shed. Some animals enjoy having a dip in their water bowl so it may be worth having a large, deep water bowl to allow them to do this.
In the wild, corn snakes often burrow. An easy way to encourage this behaviour is to provide mounds of bedding so that they can tunnel and climb over it. It may be difficult to find them if needed but they enjoy it! Bonus points if you can spot Snoopy below.