What Is Enrichment?
According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, enrichment gives animals a creative outlet for physical activity and mental exercise, as well as choice and control over how they spend their time.
Some small things we can do to provide enrichment to our pets include puzzle feeders that encourage animals to forage for food, climbing structures that enhance habitats, and training sessions where animals can interact with their owners.
The Five Freedoms Of Animal Welfare
In 1965 the government in the UK commissioned an investigation into the welfare of intensively farmed animals. Results of the Farm Animal Welfare Council report led to guidelines for animals. The guidelines were that all animals should have the right to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves, and stretch their limbs.
More than 50 years later, five “ideal” states for all captive animals have evolved into five freedoms. Initially, these guidelines were created for farm animals but have become a comprehensive framework for animal welfare across species used by government organizations worldwide.
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – They should have access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
- Freedom from Discomfort – They should be provided with an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease – They should have preventive care and rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to Express Normal Behavior ie, Enrichment – They should have sufficient space, proper facilities, and the company of the animal’s kind.
- Freedom from Fear and Distress – They should be ensured conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.
For more information on The 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare, check out our YouTube video!
Inside Your Reptiles Enclosure:
Providing enrichment within your reptile’s enclosure is a form of enrichment called environmental enrichment. Environmental enrichment is defined as changing a captive animal's environment in a way that improves the animal's quality of life.
Promoting Natural Behaviors In The Wild
We can provide enrichment methods that promote natural behaviors such as digging by providing species appropriate loose substrates. Most reptiles have the ability to dig as that is typically how most eggs are laid, obviously there are some exceptions to this (tokay geckos, etc.). Providing a nice digging area within your enclosure is a great way to encourage your pet to exhibit some of their natural digging behaviors.
Providing Mental Stimulation
Providing mental stimulation to your pet is probably one of the most important forms of enrichment and is called either behavioral or cognitive enrichment. Animals have the ability to become bored and when that happens you can sometimes see negative effects, like behavioral changes or even illness. Some things you can do within your pet’s enclosure is provide foraging opportunities, puzzle feeders and even moving all the enclosure décor around.
Providing Physical Exercise
For physical exercise, we go back to the term of environmental enrichment. If you have an arboreal species, you are probably already providing lots of climbing opportunities, but providing ample climbing options to semi-arboreal and terrestrial animals is a great way to help them build up muscle mass for a healthier animal. If you have a more terrestrial or fossorial species, providing a loose substrate that they can tunnel in is another amazing option!
Outside Your Reptiles Enclosure:
We can also provide both environmental and behavioral enrichment outside of our reptile’s enclosure. By working with your pet hands on, hopefully you will become enriched too!
Supervised Time Outside
One of my favorite ways to provide a change in environmental enrichment is to have supervised outside time with my pets. This can be time on the floor of my reptile room or even outside as long as weather permits. For example, I love to take my bearded dragon outside in the summer, it gives her opportunities to forage for dandelions, bask in natural sunlight, and just gives a change of scenery. A caveat to mention is that your animal should be supervised at all times, as accidents can happen. We wouldn’t want you to lose your animal or potentially have it snatched up by a predator. Another thing I would like to mention about natural foraging is that it should only be done if you know for sure no pesticides or other chemicals have been used in the area.
Reptile toys provide incredible behavioral enrichment. Some of my favorite options are puzzle feeders and treat dispensers. Only in recent years have I seen commercially made reptile toys, but you can definitely use toys that are made for other species like dogs, cats, birds and small mammals.