Enrichment toys can help keep your pet mentally stimulated, but you don’t need to spend big bucks on interactive toys. Our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team knows that pet ownership can be expensive, so we provide steps to make your own enrichment toys for your four-legged friend.

Pet enrichment importance

Enrichment involves mentally and physically stimulating your pet’s mind, body, and senses and is essential to your four-legged friend’s overall wellbeing. Enrichment has many benefits for your pet, including:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Preventing boredom
  • Strengthening the human-pet bond
  • Preventing undesirable behaviors, such as excessive barking, destructive chewing or scratching, urinating outside the litter box, and overgrooming

When providing your pet with enrichment opportunities, ensure the experience is positive. If the challenge is too difficult, your pet may get frustrated and stressed, so always work to their current skill level and increase the challenge as they understand the game. 

Muffin tray pet challenge

The muffin tray game is a simple way to engage your pet’s sense of smell and thought to find the hidden treasures.

  • What you need — Regular or mini muffin tray, tennis balls or ping pong balls, and highly scented treats—the tray and ball size should best suit your pet’s dimensions
  • Challenge — Place treats in a few muffin tins and cover all tins with the balls. Let your pet bat away the balls to find the yummy treats. 
  • Reduced challenge — If your pet seems unsure about what they should do with the covered muffin tray, remove several balls to reveal the treats, showing your pet how to play.
  • Increased challenge — Once your pet gets the hang of the game, place the covered muffin tray in a closed box. You can up the ante with scrunched newspaper over the tray inside the closed box. 

Plastic bottle pet challenge

Retrieving treats from a plastic bottle can mentally stimulate your pet—dogs will especially love the noises they make with their new toy.

  • What you need — Empty plastic bottle, scissors or box cutters, treats
  • Challenge — Cut holes in the plastic bottle, place treats inside, and let your pet roll and bat the toy around to retrieve the treats.
  • Reduced challenge — Make the holes in the plastic bottle large, so your pet can easily extract the treats.
  • Increased challenge — Make the holes in the plastic bottle small to make treat retrieval more difficult, but ensure the holes are large enough, so the treats won’t get stuck.

Cardboard box pet challenge

Use the numerous cardboard boxes delivered to your home to make a fun, interactive game for your pet.

  • What you need — Cardboard boxes in different shapes and sizes, scissors or box cutters, treats
  • Challenge — Disperse treats in a few cardboard boxes, leaving some empty, and let your pet use their nose to find the treasure.
  • Reduced challenge — To make the treats easier to access, leave the boxes open or cut large holes in the sides to help your pet find the baited box. 
  • Increased challenge — Close the boxes and place them in several rooms throughout your home. 

Snuffle mat pet challenge

If you are limited on craft supplies, you can still provide enrichment for your pet by creating a snuffle mat from a simple bath towel.

  • What you need — Large towel and treats
  • Challenge — Place treats in the towel’s center, roll up the towel, and let your pet use their nose and paws to unroll the towel and find the treats.
  • Reduced challenge — Place treats on the floor, cover them with the towel, and let your pet move the towel to access the treats.
  • Increased challenge — Place the rolled up towel with treats inside in a box, which will make unrolling more difficult. 

Obstacle course pet challenge

Use common household items to interact with your pet and stimulate their mind. 

  • What you need — Household items, such as couch cushions, blankets, plastic cups, broomsticks, and a ladder
  • Challenge — Make an obstacle course using the household items and encourage your pet to navigate the maze for treats.
  • Reduced challenge — Use only a few obstacles and walk your pet through the course to show them what you expect, and then offer treats each time they navigate a challenge.
  • Increased challenge — Create a difficult obstacle course with numerous objects, and change the obstacles once your four-legged friend masters the course.

Scavenge pit pet challenge

Let your pet use their hunting and nose work skills by creating a scavenge pit.

  • What you need — A large tub (e.g., kiddie pool), cardboard boxes, empty toilet rolls, plastic bottles, scrunched up newspaper, and treats
  • Challenge — Place treats in the bottom of the tub and fill the container with the other materials. Allow your pet to dig and hunt through the scavenge pit to find the treats.
  • Reduced challenge — Add only a few items to the tub so your pet can easily find the treats.
  • Increased challenge — Place treats in closed boxes and inside newspaper balls, so your pet is challenged by multiple puzzles.

These challenges are fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to provide enrichment for your four-legged friend. Contact our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team for other enrichment ideas for your pet, or for any concerns about their health.