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Exotic Animal Enrichment

Your exotic pet is a special part of the family, but they are also living in a completely unusual environment as compared to their natural habitat.  One of the biggest concerns when keeping a healthy pet is to find ways to enrich their lives.  Behavioral and environmental enrichment are great ways to interact with your pet and to learn about their native behaviors.

Enrichment is intended to encourage behaviors that are appropriate for the species, and that satisfy an animal’s physical and psychological needs. For example, improvements in exhibit structure, feeding schedule or social grouping may reduce stereotypical behaviors, such as pacing or over-grooming, as well as promote behaviors which resemble those observed in the wild. An enriched environment should also offer a captive animal some sense of control, resulting from its ability to make choices for itself, such as whether or not to hide, what kind of temperature and weather to experience and when and how to acquire food, etc. Your hamster isn’t going to tell you he’s bored, but he probably is!  We have all seen a hamster in a ball, out roaming the house, or a mouse running on a wheel in its cage, but there are other options!  Try these suggestions and let us know what ideas you have come up with.

  • Use toilet paper and paper towel rolls for small pets, both mammals and reptiles, to crawl through.
  • Rabbits love to play on the dense cardboard concrete forms (tube shaped).  Put hay around the tube for them to toss about and snack on.
  • Multiple kinds of branches and at varying heights for birds and reptiles in their enclosures.  Change the layout whenever you clean the cage.
  • Many bird toys have places you can hide food in them, puzzles the bird will need to figure out in order to get their treat.
  • Put different types of bowls/plates in reptile cages for them to soak themselves in.
  • Hide food for small mammals in different areas of their enclosure and let them find the treats.
  • Use balls, rattles (these can be made out of large bolts, washers and nuts as long as they don’t contain lead!), and pieces of wood that the animal can move around, play with and bury.
  • Move their house around to a new location in their enclosure.  You’ll be amazed watching a small gerbil push its house back to the “right” spot.
  • Buy hides that are edible.  www.oxbowanimalhealth.com offers several bungalows made from Timothy hay that are safe for animals to eat.  Much more fun than eating a plastic house!
  • Oxbow also offers Critical care food – a powdered form of food that you can add water to until it reaches the desired consistency.  Make it the same consistency of play-doh.  You can then place balls of the food in various locations throughout the enclosure for the animal to find.
  • Rotate through toys.  Just because a bird has 10 toys doesn’t mean they should all be in use at once.  Use a couple for a few weeks, then rotate for ones that haven’t been used for a while.
  • Let your bird chew on old phonebooks.  They love to rip and destroy the pages!

Have fun trying new ideas!

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  • "Dear Valley Animal Hospital,

    I am so thankful for Dr. Halverson and the staff at Valley Animal Hospital. My two babies (Dashchunds) were diagnosed and treated for pancreatitis last week. It is because of you that I still have my precious dogs! I will always remember the kindness and understanding I was given during a very difficult time. I have no doubt my babies were given the absolute best care! I want you to know it meant the world to me and I'm sincerely grateful.

    Thank you ALL so much!"
    KB
  • "I just wanted to tell you and everyone thank you so very much for your dedication to building trust and a relationship with our Koda. Further more we have never received a follow-up call from a veterinarian - ever. We feel confident leaving Koda in you care while going on vacation in a few weeks."
    Dr. Kathy Bradshaw