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Back to school enrichment for animals

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It’s  time to head back to school, which means fewer people at home with your animals during the day. This is a great opportunity for some enrichment time for your furry friend. It will help them adjust, and in turn make your transition smoother, too.

Let’s talk about enrichment

It’s important to remember that enrichment is an ongoing process, not a single object or event, and it is usually delivered on a routine schedule. If you haven’t had your enrichment scheduled before, don’t worry! It’s never too late to start.

Goals for enrichment:

  • Improving the quality of life
  • Increasing the ability to successfully cope with daily stressors
  • Encourage natural behaviours such as hunting, chasing, and climbing

Here are a few enrichment ideas and activities to help your animals adjust to your family being out of the home more.

Cat enrichment
  • Food puzzles
    • Puzzle feeders, toys or devices that contain food encourage your cats to engage in predatory behaviour. Manipulating the device provides stimulation and exercise.
  • Fishing Game
    • Fill a shallow container with water and a few floating toys (such as ping pong balls). This can be done in a playroom or communal room where there is lots of space. This may be a good activity for when everyone is back from school/work and you can supervise the fun!
Dog enrichment
  • Food dispensing toys
    • These type of toys help dogs work for their food, and provide enrichment, especially when the dog is alone. We share ideas for filled KONG® toys here. Find information and recipe ideas for food dispensing toys, here on our website.
    • For information on cereal box dispensers, click here. You can also watch this how to video.
  • Music
    • The right music can calm your dog and provide them with enrichment. Make sure to select dog-friendly music such as classical music, or music created specifically for dogs. Learn more here.
Small animal enrichment
  • Nesting material
    • Nesting material should be provided for your small animal to build a nest or resting place for themselves. This provides physical and mental stimulation.
    • Examples of nesting material include cotton balls, pieces of fleece, shredded newspaper, toilet paper and hay.
  • Music and white noise
    • White noise can have a calming effect and promote relaxation for small animals.
    • Some classical music, audiobooks and even some Reggae music has been proven to be beneficial for a wide range of animals. There are also audio programs online that are designed for various species of animals. Check that the provider of your information comes from a reputable source.
    • You want to share this music with your companion animal for shorter periods of time (about 2 hours long) to prevent them from becoming habituated  to it or “tuning it out.”

For more, check out this resource on our Shelter Health Pro website.

Separation anxiety and enrichment
  • Keep in mind, if your furry friend is used to having people at home, especially over the past year, they may be susceptible to developing separation anxiety when normal routines resume.
  • Animals that experience a great deal of change, such as a new environment or new schedule, can be at higher risk.
  • Some signs of separation anxiety include howling, barking, or whining excessively. House-trained dogs may also have “accidents” indoors and inappropriate chewing or eating of household items.
  • For more information and what to do if you notice these signs, read this blog: COVID-19 and separation anxiety in pets.

We hope you found these ideas helpful and that they help to smooth the transition back to school for your family!

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