Beating the winter blues: Enrichment ideas for cats, birds and dogs

Help pets (cats, birds and dogs) beat winter blues with enrichment ideas. Creative, low-cost games, food puzzles and foraging activities for animals.
By  Christelle L. Del Prete

Winter is a gorgeous time of year at the Sanctuary. Even a dusting of snow in the mountains transforms the landscape into something magical, and brisk temperatures mean less sweltering under the hot desert sun. While Dogtown residents get playtime in the snow and more long walks in the cool temperatures, for other animals – particularly parrots and cats – winter means fewer chances for outdoor excursions. But when caregivers pull out all the stops, there are no “winter blues,” just extra fun for all.

Enrichment games and food puzzles for cats

Boxes are wonderful playthings (and enrichment) for catsCreative games are part of daily life in Cat World. “These guys live to play,” says caregiver Heather Henley. And the cats are happy with just about any toy – or anything that can be turned into one. During the winter, when most of the cats prefer to hang out in well-heated buildings rather than outdoor catteries, they get even more toys to make up for the built-in entertainment of birds and squirrels they’re missing outside.

Cardboard boxes are a favorite. “It doesn’t matter what size the box is,” Heather explains, because the cats (especially Ten Bears, a handsome black-and-white boy who doesn’t let feline leukemia, FeLV, and the feline immunodeficiency virus, FIV, slow him down) will find a way to get inside it. “They’re like little kids turning boxes into forts and pirate ships.” Paper grocery bags are great fun too, especially with a bit of catnip hidden inside.

Playing with food is encouraged in Cat World. Caregivers hide food bowls around the rooms and let the cats hunt for them. They’ll also place treats in clean baby food jars and let the cats figure out how to scoop them out. “(The cats’) mental health is just as important as their physical health,” Heather says, “so we keep their minds active.”

Enrichment, exercise and foraging for birds

Winter days in Parrot Garden are filled with rocking tunes, swinging games and delicious sessions of hunt and peck — all in the name of entertainment and exercise.

Nothing ups the fun like the right soundtrack, and when caregivers turn up the radio, birds respond like anyone does to a favorite song — with off-key singing, head bobbing and dancing. The jury’s out on favorite tunes, but it’s safe to say that the more hooting and hollering, the bigger the hit.

Cody the parrot towel ridingFor birds like African grey Cody who love the thrill of rides, caregivers bring out towels, have the birds hop aboard and hold on for their lives. All it takes is gently swinging the towel back and forth and Cody will flap his wings for all he’s worth, loving every minute of it. It’s not only fun, but a great workout for “perch potatoes” like Cody.

Even feeding time turns into fun time for the birds at Parrot Garden. Instead of putting food in a dish where birds can mindlessly gobble it down, staff turns it into an opportunity for the birds to act how they would in the wild, where 65 to 70 percent of each day is spent foraging for food. They start with bird-safe material, like sea grass or cat scratch mats, and then add goodies. Birds get to forage around for the treats, which are already part of their regular healthy diet – and way more fun to hunt around for than have served to them. More than just fun, the activity keeps birds from packing on winter weight.

Animal enrichment ideas

Enrichment toys and games don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. With a little imagination and creativity, winter can be the best time of year for the indoor animals at the Sanctuary.

Read another article about activities to enrich the lives of pets.

Photos by Molly Wald 


Caring for Pets