Environmental enrichment is the provision of stimuli that encourage species appropriate behavior and satisfy an individual animal’s physical and psychological needs.
The goal of enrichment is the promotion of psychological well-being while taking into consideration the animal’s ability to function within the parameters appropriate for its species. Environmental enrichment enhances species-appropriate behaviors and activities, increases behavioral choices, and encourages appropriate responses to environmental challenges.
When we modify the animal’s environment we stimulate physical and mental activity, promote species typical behavior and provide a means to cope with stressors. These responses reduce aberrant behavior and lessen fear and distress which yields a healthier animal.
The benefits of enrichment are decreased chance of injury, improvement of performance in cognitive tasks, the slow of disease development, and reduced levels of abnormal behavior. The best enrichments change over time as an animal interacts with them.
There are five types of enrichment: social, structure/substrate, novel foods, manipulanda, animal training. Social enrichment consists of laboratory animal species that exhibit a wide range of social structures in the wild. Social enrichment in biomedical research is very beneficial such that it encourages sensory and intermittent contact. If animals are given full unrestricted contact with one or more individuals, there will also be a more positive response to humans. While this is important, socialization considerations such as species, previous social histories, protocol limitations, housing limitations and risk assessment must be considered.
Structure/substrate enrichment encompasses the enclosure such that it promotes species typical behaviors such as locomotion, brachiation, and exploration. Structure/substrate enrichment consists of things such as bedding materials, perches, visual blocks, nest boxes, huts, tubes, swings, and amount of usable space.
Novel food enrichment stresses that in their natural environments, most laboratory species spend a majority of their day searching for a variety of foods. Examining this, food and treats should be time consuming, like unshelled nuts and frozen foods, and highly desirable, like marshmallows, dog biscuits, or juice. Changing an animals diet by providing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables yields a more natural intake of foods thus balancing their diet. Placing food inside toys that are difficult for the animal to open encourage the animal to work for his food, as they would in the wild, as well as increase their cognitive and problem solving abilities.
Check back for more of Kristina Adams, M.S. words on environmental enrichment tomorrow!