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November 22, 2021

How Do I Make My Pet’s Habitat Fun and Enriching?

A house just doesn’t feel like a home without the right meaningful personal touches.  One fun and beneficial way to add character to your pet’s living space is to design and accessorize with enrichment in mind.  In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how you can elevate your pet’s habitat or living space (and support their mental and physical health) by adding opportunities for daily enrichment.   
 
Steps for making your pet’s habitat fun and enriching include: 

  1. Prepare your pet’s space with safety in mind 
  2. Support all of your pet’s instinctual behaviors 
  3. Choose a fun theme for your pet’s space  
  4. Make the most of your space (and make it your pet’s own) 
  5. Don’t forget to provide mental stimulation! 

1. Prepare Your Pet’s Space with Safety in Mind

The first and most important step in setting up a fun and enriching habitat for your small pet is to select and prepare a space that is safe and spacious.  Every pet’s space will be unique and the appropriate size and location will vary by species.  Tips to consider when enriching your pet’s habitat include:  

Dedicate as much space as possible for enrichment 

All forms of enrichment involve physical activity, so it’s important to provide as much space as possible for your pet to explore throughout the day.  If your pet roams freely, this is a great time to double-check that you’ve created a safe, free room environment.   
 
If your pet spends dedicated time in their habitat during the day, here are some tips for creating ample space for your enrichment haven: 

  • Add an exercise pen (x-pen) for extra space  
    • Adding an x-pen to your pet’s habitat is a great way to increase the amount of room they have for exercise and enrichment.  A habitat alone does not provide enough space for many species (including rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas) to move, explore, and exercise in a healthy way.  To help expand your pet’s space, some habitats (like our Large and Extra Large Enriched Life habitats) come with an attachable x-pen which doubles the habitat space.   
  • Choose a safe, spacious area outside the habitat for daily enrichment 
    • Even with the extra space provided by an x-pen, all small pets should experience dedicated time outside the habitat every day.  In addition to the basic mental and physical benefits this provides, time outside the habitat provides an essential opportunity for your to interact and bond with your pet.   

Safety first

Once you’ve selected an enrichment space you select for your pet, take extra steps to ensure your pet’s safety.  Make sure the area is clean and a safe distance away from any objects that could pose a threat to your pet’s health (including plants, cords, and any objects that could fall from nearby shelves.)   

If you’re new to interacting with your pet outside the habitat, we recommend checking out our article on how to safely hold small pets.  If you have specific questions about how to make sure your pet’s exercise/enrichment space is safe, don’t hesitate to ask your trusted veterinarian.

2. Support All of Your Pet’s Instinctual Behaviors 

All small pets are wired to instinctively engage in a number of enriching behaviors daily, including playing, chewing, hiding, and exploring.  When planning your pet’s enrichment space, it’s essential to thoughtfully map out the space with accessories and activities that support each of these activities.   

If you already provide daily enrichment for your pets, here are some tips for taking enrichment to the next level in relation to each instinctual behavior:  

Chewing  

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: regular chewing is essential to your pet’s dental health.  It’s true!  For animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, champion-level chewing is necessary to keep their ever-growing teeth worn and healthy.   

One easy way to build your pet’s enrichment space while supporting their dental health in the process is to offer multiple chews and rearrange and replace them regularly.  This activity helps keep your animals interested and engaged with their chews over time. 

Provide a variety of materials.  Oxbow’s Enriched Life natural chews are made with a wide variety of materials to provide different textures and chewing experiences for pets.  Some examples of these safe chewing materials include:  

  • Timothy hay 
  • Untreated cardboard 
  • Untreated wood  
  • Willow  
  • Catbrier  
  • Bulrush  
  • Apple sticks 
  • Mulberry  
  • Seagrass 
  • Corn leaf  
  • Raffia paper  

With more than 60 Enriched Life Natural Chews to choose from, it’s easy to keep your pets constantly interested in keeping up on their dental maintenance. 

Want to learn more about small pet dental health?  Check out our handy Dental Health Checklist! 

Playing 

Raise your hand if you miss recess!  Us too.  The good news for our pets is that playtime can be anytime.  Small pets are playful by nature and love interacting in fun and enriching ways with their surroundings.  Supporting your pet’s play instincts provides endless opportunities for fun and creativity and is a great way to build your bond.   

Here are some fun tips for decking your pet’s space out to stimulate play throughout the day:  

  • Space it out  
    • The more your pet moves around, the better.  By spacing out your pet’s chews and play items, you will naturally encourage them to be active.   
  • Offer a variety of shapes and structures 
    • When it comes time to select items that support your pet’s play instincts, offering a variety of shapes, materials, and structures provides mental stimulation and increases the likelihood that your pet will engage in play throughout the day.  
    • Offering a variety of items is also a great way to determine which toys and accessories your pet enjoys the best.  Every pet’s favorites will be different! 

Hiding

You know not to take it personally when your small pet hides away for a little rest and relaxation.  As a prey species, the hiding instinct is important for both your pet’s mental and physical health. 

Unlike more visibly active forms of enrichment, it’s sometimes easy to overlook hiding as an important activity for small pets.  Quite to the contrary, hiding is an essential instinct for all small pets.  The good news is that supporting this behavior is easy. 

Offer at least one dedicated hideout for your pets.  Depending on the size of your pet’s space, offering multiple options through the space is even better.  Great hideout options for small pets include:  

Exploring 

Like all great explorers before them, your pet will benefit from a little encouragement in their conquests.  That’s where you come in.   

There are endless options for encouraging your pet’s exploration instincts, but some of our favorite tips include:  

  • Hide tasty treasures throughout the space  
    • Small pets are expert foragers and will instinctively seek out rewards they can smell in their living space.  Hide species-appropriate veggies, fruits, and healthy treats throughout their space to encourage them to explore high and low throughout the day. 
    • Learn more about how to support your pet’s natural foraging instincts here.        
  • Fill that hideaway with hay  
    • Rest and relaxation time doesn’t have to be passive.  In fact, filling your little loved one’s hideout with hay can encourage them to explore, even as they escape the hustle and bustle of the environment around them.  Place a couple of veggie or treat pieces deep in the pile of hay to kick those exploration instincts into high gear.   
  • Offer items that roll 
    • Many small pets love the physical activity of chasing, tossing, and pushing toys and accessories throughout their space.  Items that are designed to roll are great for encouraging exploration each day.  Some great items that move include: 

Learn more about exploring basics in our All About Exploring article. 

3. Choose a Theme for Your Pet's Space

If you’re an active member of small pet communities on social media, you already know that Pinterest and Instagram can be a source of endless inspiration for awe-inspiring themes pet habitats and play spaces.  And while the sky’s the limit for decking out your pet’s enriching domain, the good news is you don’t need to be an A-list Instagram influencer to personalize your pet’s enrichment habitat.   

Here are some fun, safe ways to make your pet’s space their own:  

  • Add some personalized décor 
    • Every pet is unique and each is special.  Looking for a fun way to add an enrichment-inspired personal touch in your pet’s habitat or living space?  Check out this great How To Video on Making a Personalized Pet Banner!    
  • Motivational quotes aren’t just for mom and dad!   
    • Okay, we understand that these are mostly for our enjoyment, but we’re suckers for seeing a good, stylized quote on the wall in a pet’s favorite play corner.  To fit the enrichment theme, choose a health or fitness-themed quote to display in your pet’s enrichment space.  
  • Choose a theme for your pet’s enrichment area  
    • Providing enrichment for your little loved one is fun by nature and integrating a theme into your pet’s enriching habitat can make it even more enjoyable.  The opportunities for themes are endless, but here are a few ideas to consider:  
      • Pet Gym: “Do you even enrich, bro?”  Add some gym-inspired accents to give your pet the extra inspiration they might need to crush a killer workout each day.  Mirrors for self-admiration are optional.   
      • Playroom: Playing is instinctual and so many of our Enriched Life accessories are specifically designed to support this fun and important behavior.  So, why wouldn’t you dedicate a theme to play?   
      • Obstacle Course: Is your pet especially adventurous?  Creating an obstacle course that incorporates all the key areas of enrichment offers endless hours of fun and creative planning.  Just don’t forget to offer healthy treats as rewards along the path!

4. Make the Most of the Space (And Make It Your Pet’s Own)

It’s just a fact of life that most of us have don’t have unlimited space for our families and pets.  Even if you have a free roam environment for your little ones, you likely find yourself wishing you had more real estate for accessories and enrichment.  The good news is that limited living quarters should not be a deterrent for creating a full enrichment experience for your little loved ones.   

Here are some easy ways to make the most of your space: 
 
Offer Enrichment in Your Pet’s Favorite Hiding Spots

As we’ve discussed, hiding away for rest and relaxation throughout the day is an instinctual behavior for all prey species.  One way to make the most of your enriched habitat space is to make a habit of placing your pet’s favorite chew toys in their hideouts.   

Promote Vertical Play 

Most pets enjoy exploring vertical spaces within their habitats.  One great way to encourage your little loved one to stretch his or her legs is to incorporate enrichment accessories that are designed to be hung or attached to the walls of a habitat or exercise pen.  Some of our favorite items that are custom made to inspire pets to “get vertical” include: 

Here are some species-specific considerations to keep in mind with supporting your pet’s vertical play instincts:    

  • Chinchillas are athletic explorers that love getting vertical.  Take advantage of their multi-level habitat by ensuring there are opportunities for enrichment at every level.   
  • Rats are expert climbers.  Make sure to add a high-quality climbing rope to your rat’s habitat and make a multi-level hammock a staple for rest and relaxation.   
  • Rabbits are curious and are great at stretching out to explore.  Incorporate enrichment items that attach to the wall of a habitat or x-pen fencing to encourage your bunny to stretch those legs!

5. Don’t Forget About Mental Stimulation!

We don’t need to tell you how smart your pet is.  If you’re like most pet parents, you probably already gush to everyone you know about what a smart cookie your pet is.  In addition to being fully supportive of bragging on your pets (they are amazing), we’re here to validate what you already knew: small animals are highly intelligent and greatly benefit from mental stimulation each day.   

Offering basic chew toys and play accessories is a great way to help your pet flex their mental muscles, but there are some additional ways to further stimulate your pet mentally. 

Promote Foraging in Healthy Ways  

It comes as a surprise to some pet parents that rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, and many other small pet species actually love to work for their food.  Promoting foraging is easy and fun for you and your pet alike.  Check out our Top 10 Foraging Accessories for Small Pets! 

Incorporate Puzzles and Games  

Brain teasers aren’t just for humans!  Small pets are highly intelligent creatures and benefit from mental stimulation in the form of puzzles and games.  The good news is that there are numerous great items that are specifically designed to engage your little Einstein’s gray matter.  Some of our favorites include:   

Play Interactive Games with Your Pet  

All forms of enrichment are more enjoyable when interactively enjoyed with your pet.  There are a number of ways to engage in fun, interactive play with your pets.  Some of our favorites can be found in our Games with Pets handout.