Although you may be unsure whether you are providing your pet with adequate mental stimulation, you are likely already offering your four-legged friend enrichment each day. However, by becoming more intentional about your pet’s mental wellbeing, you can help increase their overall mental and physical wellbeing. Our Best Friends Veterinary Care team explains pet enrichment, why mental stimulation is important for your dog or cat, and how to incorporate easy, do-it-yourself (DIY) enrichment strategies into your furry pal’s daily routine.

What is pet enrichment?

Enrichment (i.e., mental stimulation) is any activity designed to stimulate your pet’s mind and, at the same time, help keep them physically active. An enrichment activity helps prevent boredom, frustration, anxiety, and stress, encouraging your pet to engage in natural behaviors, such as foraging, scent tracking, or prey stalking. Toys, walks, and interactions with other pets are some basic enrichment activities you are likely already providing for your four-legged friend. An enrichment activity can belong to one or more of these five categories:

  • Social enrichment — Interacting socially with other animals and people.
  • Nutritional enrichment — Encouraging natural foraging and feeding behaviors to earn food.
  • Occupational enrichment — Giving a pet a task that encourages physical and mental activity.
  • Sensory enrichment — Providing new and interesting sights, smells, textures, tastes, or sounds.
  • Physical enrichment — Altering the complexity of a pet’s environment and providing them with novel items, such as toys or a new bed.

Tips for creating enrichment toys for pets

An enrichment toy often fulfills each of the five enrichment categories. Interactive pet toys are widely available, but a new item’s novelty wears off quickly, compelling you to continue to buy new toys that sustain your pet’s interest. To save some money, you can make your pet’s enrichment toys yourself. Before you start making DIY enrichment toys for your pet, consider these safety tips:

  • Always supervise your pet when they are interacting with the toys.
  • If your pet has a history of swallowing inappropriate items, do not give DIY toys to them. Some pets enjoy destroying a toy. However, you should only allow your pet to do so if you know they will not eat the pieces.
  • Ensure your DIY enrichment toys are sturdy enough to withstand a rowdy pet.
  • Remember that toys are only enriching if your pet likes them. Ensure you create items you know your pet will enjoy.

Do-it-yourself pet enrichment toy how-tos

DIY pet enrichment toys are cost-effective because you can make them from common household items and recyclables such as cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, water bottles, and milk jugs. Use everyday household items to make the following enrichment toys for your pet:

  • Toilet paper roll treat dispenser — Cut treat-sized holes in the sides of a toilet paper or paper towel roll. Use nontoxic glue or tape to close one end. Fill the cardboard roll with high-value treats and close the other end. Your pet will enjoy batting or rolling the toy to dispense the food. You can also make treat dispensers out of water bottles, milk jugs, and other similar containers.
  • Box fort — Use cardboard boxes to create a fort, maze, or tower for your cat. Cut holes and doors to allow your feline friend to explore inside the boxes. If you construct a tower, ensure the structure is sturdy, and won’t collapse and trap your cat.
  • Frozen food containers — Freeze nearly empty xylitol-free peanut butter and yogurt containers. Allow your dog to lick out the remaining contents.
  • Muffin tin food puzzle — Place a few treats in each of a muffin tin’s wells and put a tennis ball over the treats. Your pet will have to remove the tennis balls to get to the food.
  • Snuffle mat — Make holes in a rubber or plastic mat. Tie six- to eight-inch fleece strips to the holes until the material creates a dense rug. Hide food among the fleece, and allow your pet to sniff out the tasty morsels and enjoy.

When you create DIY enrichment toys, you can save money while providing your furry pal with the enrichment they need to lead a full, active life. Enrichment toys encourage your pet’s natural curiosity and behaviors. If your pet appears stressed, anxious, or bored despite your enrichment efforts, schedule a visit with our Best Friends Veterinary Care team.