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       Remember, variety "is" the spice of life


What is exotic cat enrichment?


Imagine doing the same thing over and over everyday. Never changing. Imagine your house being the same, day in and day out. Eating the same exact food, doing the same crossword over and over. Is this the life you want have? I bet your answer is "no". Most people like variety in their lives. Animals are no different. Animals need change in their lives also. This change is what is referred to as enrichment. Animals that are given enrichment may live longer and may possibly have healthier lives. Enrichment also helps prevent boredom. A bored animal may become problematic and develop personality issues. So what next you asked?


There are many many ways to add exotic cat enrichment to an animals life. Through senses, predatory behaviors, exercise, social, enclosure, feeding and training. Animals depend on their natural god given senses. Adding some or all of these are important for the lives of all animals.


An enriching a cats 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.


Exotic cats spend much of their time stalking, killing, and consuming their prey. Finding a safe outlet for a cats natural hunting behaviors can be quite a challenge. By designing enrichment activities that allow the carnivorous felines to chase, pounce, and chew, cats will thrive. Predatory behavior can be stimulated by putting hay-filled burlap sacks or cardboard boxes into the enclosures. You can also scent them with perfumes, herbs, urine, essential oils etc. The cats pounce on, shred, tug and play to their hearts content like they were prey. Animals pelts are also a good way to stimulate the predatory behaviors. Giving them pieces of rabbit, deer, and cow pelts can entertain them for hours. Try hanging something for them to attack and play with. Use a large commercial spring and attach a ball, tire, burlap sack, cardboard box, or any other safe product. They will attack, pull, tug and chase. Having the time of their lives.


In the wild, a cat does not eat everyday. Animals will gorge on food after catching their prey, sometimes having to fast for days before their next kill. At home, we feed our animals daily. Usually in the same spot, at the same time, with the same food. By varying theirs diets, hiding food to hunt, food puzzles, changing feeding locations on a regular basis, as well as changing feeding times will greatly reduce boredom of the same old thing. If you decide to fast a cat for a day, give something for them to chew on like ox tails, beef bones, pelts.


Some other activities may involve exercise while others promote problem solving skills. Moving the "furniture" around in their enclosures, giving new items and taking older items out can also make a big difference. Rotate the things in the enclosure to make them new and exciting. Enrichment may be as simple as giving an animal a ball, cardboard box, or toy. The activities or objects must also be safe for the animal.


Most exotic cats live and hunt alone but communicate with one another by leaving behind scents. Encourage marking by rotating the animals enclosures. Granted, that you have more than one. Upon entering a yard recently occupied by another animal, they will immediately patrol the grounds, sniff everything, and then re-mark the entire yard. They mark by wiping their back feet on the ground, urinating, or scratching tree trunks and big logs. The cats also use tree trunks as scratching posts to sharpen their claws.


Species specific enrichment is your best odds. Caracals love to jump, Servals love to play in water, while a Geoffroy loves climbing and high places. Be innovative and try and think like a cat. Here are a few other ideas to ponder.


spices, herbs, perfumes and animal scents (urine, feces, skins) applied around an exhibit to add an olfactory dimension;


playing recordings of vocalizations of the same species, predators or other naturally encountered sounds to elicit natural behavioral responses;


placing elevated platforms and perches to allow visual access to other exhibits, animals and activities;


incorporating simulated prey items into predator exhibits to encourage stalk-and-chase behaviors.


An innovative and well-planned enrichment program may be one of the most powerful and cost effective tools available to maintain physically and psychologically healthy animals in a captive environment. Benefits may include increases in breeding success and a decrease in stereotypical behaviors. Enrichment can positively impact all of the animals and people involved with it.