These days, enrichment is a popular buzzword among pet owners, and for good reason. Enrichment activities, toys, and puzzles are a great way to stimulate your pet’s mind, strengthen the pet-owner relationship, decrease boredom and stress, and reduce unwanted behavior. To learn some fun ways to engage your pet’s mind, follow our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team’s instructions on how to make do-it-yourself (DIY) enrichment toys.
#1: Do-it-yourself snuffle mats for pets
Pets have a keen sense of smell, and sniffing is extremely enjoyable for them. Sniffing activates the pleasure and reward centers in your pet’s brain, causing a dopamine release and triggering a flood of endorphins (i.e., feel-good hormones). Scent-based activities are incredibly enjoyable and enriching for dogs and cats.
Snuffle mats are usually made from fleece fabric strips tied with square knots to a weighted base such as a sink mat or rubber door mat. The strips provide countless hiding places in which you place treats and dry food that your pet must sniff out. A simpler but equally enjoyable alternative is to scatter kibble or treats on an unfolded towel and roll the fabric lengthwise or widthwise so that your furry pal must manipulate the towel to access the treats. You can also twist a flat towel from the center to create a spiral.
#2: Do-it-yourself busy boxes for pets
Busy boxes engage your pet’s natural foraging instincts. These toys encourage your four-legged friend to perform activities that are intrinsically rewarding such as eating, chewing, shredding paper or cardboard, and playing.
To build your pet’s busy box, find a cardboard box, or a plastic one if your pet isn’t inclined to chew. Ensure that the box’s sides are low enough so your pet can access the contents comfortably. Remove the box’s top flaps or lid. Fill the box with your pet’s favorite things such as:
- Food-stuffed Kong
- Long-lasting chews
To create layers between your pet’s prizes, add packing paper, old T-shirts, and hand towels. Supervise your pet to ensure that they understand how to explore the box, and that they play and chew responsibly. Increase the complexity by including treat-dispensing toys, cardboard tube puzzles, and a snuffle mat at the bottom.
#3: Do-it-yourself cardboard tube toys for pets
The next time you use the last paper towel or toilet paper squares, don’t throw away the cardboard tube! Use these tubes to create a mentally stimulating treat puzzle for your pet. To make a satisfying and inexpensive challenge for your cat or dog, put together one of these toys:
- Treat tube — Use a toilet paper tube or a paper towel tube cut in half. Fold in one of the tube’s ends, and insert a few strong-smelling treats or a pinch of catnip. Close up the tube’s other end, and let your pet get to work trying to reach the treat within.
- Treat tube level 2 — Stuff one cardboard tube’s end with crumpled packing paper and add treats. Seal the tube’s other end with another piece of crumpled paper. Enjoy watching your pet pull or paw the paper to access the treats.
- Reach box for cats — Fill a small box with cardboard toilet paper tubes standing on their ends. The tubes should fit snugly so they don’t shift. Place small treats in random tubes for your feline friend to fish out. Modify this toy for dogs by closing the treat tubes with crumpled paper.
#4: Do-it-yourself upcycled tug rope toys for dogs
If your dog loves the smell of your clothes, create an irresistible toy by repurposing a garment you have worn. The best clothing for this project will depend on your pet’s size and strength. Denim is best if your dog is large or a power tugger, while a soft T-shirt may be appropriate if your canine companion is the mellow type. Simply cut the fabric into strips, braid them together, and tie a knot at both ends. Double or triple the thickness by stacking two or three strips together before braiding. Tug toys are intended for interactive use (i.e., you and your pet). To prevent destructive chewing or dangerous ingestion, put away the toy when you and your dog are not playing with it.
#5: The muffin tin game for pets
Enrichment activities encourage critical thinking, requiring your pet to manipulate objects to access hidden treats. The muffin tin game is a simple and inexpensive way to introduce your furry pal to enrichment, engage their mind, and slow rapid eating.
Get a muffin tin and enough toy balls or similar-sized pet toys to fill each of the tin’s wells. Sprinkle dry food or treats in the empty wells and cover each with a ball or toy. Place the tin on the floor and allow your pet to investigate. You may need to help your pet get started by showing them a hidden treat or praising them when they use their nose or paw to move the balls. Gradually increase the challenge by putting treats in only a few of the wells.
Enrichment activities don’t have to be expensive or complex to be effective. They simply have to engage your pet’s natural instincts (e.g., seeking, foraging, exploring, playing, chewing) and provide them with ample opportunities to earn fun rewards. Incorporating enrichment into your pet’s everyday routine can help improve their behavior and enhance their mental and physical health. Let our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team know which of these DIY enrichment toys your pet enjoys most! Connect with us on Facebook or call to schedule your pet’s next appointment.