Photo courtesy of RSPCA
Remember that treats and snacks contain calories. When using treats and snacks for food enrichment activities, be sure to consider them as part of an animal’s daily food allowance to avoid weight gain.
Foods high in fat and/or sugar should only be used as occasional treats, or rewards for training, and should be a small portion of their daily intake.
Food Balls, Puzzle Feeders and Mini ‘Kongs’
- Provide mental stimulation and encourages natural foraging behaviour
- Animals will have to manipulate them to get the pellets out
- Initially supervise animals to ensure the feeder size is appropriate
- Always check the opening(s) isn’t blocked and food can be removed easily
- Provide their feeders at a certain time; routine reduces stress
- For communal housing, provide one feeder per animal. This prevents one animal from monopolizing a feeder
Try to feed small animals when they are most active and like to graze and forage, (e.g. early morning, late afternoon and overnight). Ensure they have continuous access to hay and/or grass. At night check there is enough hay to last until the morning.
Photo courtesy of RSPCA
Most small animals love to chew. It is important to provide a variety of chew items for them to use. The teeth of some small animals constantly grow; therefore, in order to promote the proper wearing of their teeth, chewing items are essential. The following are examples of chew items that can be used as part of your enrichment program:
- Chew toys that are made of edible wood, leather, rope or non-toxic hard plastic are suitable for use of small animals and birds. They can either be hung from the cage or scattered throughout the cage for the animal to find. Ensure that the toys are safe and species appropriate before implementing them in your enrichment program
- Paper towel rolls are not only readily available but are very inexpensive as well. Small animals enjoy chewing and shredding them, but they can also use the roll to hide and tunnel through
- Some small animals need a variety of vegetables to maintain proper health. Firm vegetables can be offered to the animal for chewing and will also provide required nutrients.
- Hay and/or grass and safe leafy greens
- Wooden chew sticks designed for small animals or birds
- Branches from fruit trees that aren’t chemically treated
Encourage chewing! It’s a natural behaviour and keeps them occupied.
The following has been adapted from the RSPCA.
In the natural environment, small animals and birds forage for food to survive. There are several easy ways in which we can allow them to express this normal behaviour and stimulate the olfactory sense.
Searching for Food Encourages Natural Foraging Behaviour and Keeps them Busy
- Scatter feeding – scatter greens and/or daily pellet ration around their home
- Hiding food under flower pots and in cardboard boxes or tubes with the ends stuffed with hay or shredded newspaper
- Hanging up their greens so they have to stand on their back legs to reach them
- Wrapping some pellets in brown paper for them to unwrap
- Hide fruits and vegetables within the cage for a small animal to smell and search for
- Make a homemade pinata using paper rolls stuffed with treats and hay
- Hang some root vegetables from the cage, so the small animal can either climb or reach up for them
Photo courtesy of ASPCA
Find DIY instructions to build your own:
Before incorporating fruits and vegetables into your enrichment program, ensure they are safe for consumption. Some products can actually be toxic to certain small animals.
Hay and Grass: In the wild, rabbits spend around 70 percent of their time eating grass and other plants. Hay and grass take a long time to eat, keeping them occupied. Good quality hay (sweet-smelling and dust-free) and/or grass should constitute the majority of diets and should be available continually.
Hay can be provided in various ways. Keeping hay in racks or hanging baskets keeps it clean and above floor level. Placing these above litter trays may encourage rabbits to eat more hay. Hay is recommended as dietary enrichment as it is important for:
- Providing vital fibre
- Wearing down their constantly growing teeth
- Keeping digestive systems healthy
- Emotional well-being