Pets Require Enriched Environments


All dogs were born to do a job, and we live in a nation of unemployed dogs. Cats are born with a prey drive, and we stifle that, which results in brain-dead, fat cats.

We know enriching pets’ lives can be life-saving. A life void of an enriched environment is certainly boring, but, moreover, it may be a source of anxiety. In cats, there’s a link between an unpredictable and unenriched life with feline idiopathic lower urinary tract disease, now dubbed Pandora’s Syndrome. This causes cystitis, or painful urination. If it hurts do go inside the box, cats then choose to go outside the box. Cats that have accidents outside their boxes are subject to relinquishment. Dogs and cats that don’t have appropriate outlets sometimes create their own “fun,” often tearing down drapes or chomping shoes.

Using my words, the Central Veterinary Conference created this handout. I know enriched environments save lives!

One easy way to enrich the environment is to feed healthy dogs and cats out of food-dispensing toys, and there are now dozens and dozens of choices.

For cats, Dr. Elizabeth Bales created an entire indoor feeding system. Make no mistake, cats live longer and healthier lives indoors, but living to just scarf food from a bowl (sometimes the food is left out all the time and cats train us to be automatic food dispensers). These natural-born hunters never have the opportunity to do what comes naturally to them when they live indoors only and constantly eat from an always-full bowl.

Doc & Phoebe’s Feeder

That is why Bales created Doc & Phoebe’s Indoor Feeders. Various mouse-like feeders holding kibble are hidden in various places around the house (of course, the cats are taught “the game.”) The feeders are designed to simulate the tactile feel of prey allowing your cat to grab, claw, and use teeth. In other words, it allows cats to be cats. (To support the nonprofit funder of cat health studies, if you order Doc & Phoebe’s Feeder, type in the Discount code: CatsWinn as you check out.)

For dogs, there are a myriad feeders to choose from. Type in dog puzzle feeders in the Amazon search, and the choices will blow your mind. But, you can make your own, too! As long as you don’t have a dog that will ingest plastic, a plastic milk carton can do the trick for a few days. Once it gets too beat up, just replace it. For cats, an empty box can serve as a new object of curiosity for days.

I talk here about more do-it-yourself enrichment toy ideas for dogs and cats:

DVM 360 does a great story about how I feel we have much to learn from zoos regarding enrichment for our pets.

I talk here about enrichment toys and food puzzles, including Kong toys, and various others. I even offer an enrichment buffet:

Here’s why I contend the average monkey, black bear, or lion at a zoo has a more enriched life than most of our dogs and cats at home.