How to Make Feeding Time More Mentally Stimulating and Enriching

As you fill your small pet's food bowl, you might wonder if there's something you can do to make mealtime more exciting. After all, nibbling on the same pellets day after day from a dish in the corner must get pretty boring, right? In nature, animals enjoy the excitement of exploring the landscape for their meals.

You can easily switch up both what your furry friend eats and how they eat it.

Learn About Small Animal Natural Instincts

Think for a moment about how your pet would find food in the wild. In nature, rabbits and guinea pigs spend time searching and wandering around for edible plants. They graze and eat as they find suitable foods throughout the day, often spending up to 70 percent of their time engaged in this activity, known as foraging.

"Animals are not programmed to live as we keep them," Dr. Laurie Hess from VetStreet explains in an article that encourages small pet parents to nurture foraging habits. When animals are kept in their habitats left to sit and eat all day, they may develop behavioral problems and become bored or chew their fur.

You can help alleviate this physical and mental stress by offering enrichment opportunities to make your companion happier and more fulfilled, such as foraging activities and yummy foods that more closely align with what they'd find in nature.

Enriching Small Animal Meal, Snack, and Activity Ideas

Let's make your little buddy's next meal delicious and stimulating. Try implementing a few of these simple feeding changes and DIY games into your pet's routine this week.

1. Create an obstacle course.

Upcycle a few cardboard items your pet can easily wiggle through, like tissue boxes, paper towel tubes, or small packing boxes. Place them on the floor of the critter's home and carefully tuck your pet's food into the corners of your cardboard creations for your pet to seek out with their foraging instincts.

Note: Small animals chew on anything and everything! Be sure what you select is safe and free from glue, staples, tape, or anything that could harm your little furry friend.

2. Offer variety.

You know how fun it is to try a new restaurant. Your furry friend (especially rabbits!) would love to browse a new menu too. The Kaytee Fiesta line is packed with a wide variety of delicious ingredients, including dried fruits and veggies in a rainbow of flavors and textures your small animal might just drool over. Why not give it a try to pique your pet's interest in mealtime? Or, simply enhance your pet's current bowl with a sprinkle of Kaytee Food From The Wild Treat Medley. The hamster/gerbil food topper mix features tasty carrots, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, rose petals, and sunflower seeds. In the rabbit/guinea pig formula, your pet will savor carrots, marigolds, rose petals, spinach, and strawberries.

3. Fill the hay bin.

Did you know guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rabbits need unlimited hay to stay healthy? Yes, they do! Chewing on timothy hay helps keep their teeth filed down to an appropriate length, plus hay keeps their digestive health in tip-top shape. Level up your pet's mealtime by offering a new timothy hay with flavorful add-ins to boost their curiosity and foraging opportunities. Try Kaytee Timothy Hay Plus Carrots with pets that love the orange veggie, or maybe a refreshing Kaytee Timothy Hay Plus Mint. There are also hay varieties featuring cranberries, marigolds, and a blend featuring rose hips with thyme.

4. Play a hiding game.

When you want to offer your furry friend a treat, why not turn it into an activity? We love using the Kaytee Toss & Learn Carrot Game to trigger both mental stimulation and snack time for pets. Simply hide the treat (maybe a chunk of fresh apple or Kaytee Timothy Biscuits Baked Carrot Treat) under one of the wooden carrot chews and let your pet sniff around, nudge, and eventually toss the carrots out of the way to find where the tasty morsel is hiding.

5. Sprinkle on a surprise.

Do you bring your pet rabbit or guinea pig out for playtime in a Kaytee Pet-N-Playpen? Amp up the fun by adding a sprinkle of Fiesta Krunch-A-Rounds Treat for Small Animals to the floor, a blanket, or a hay pile in the enclosure for the pet to discover and enjoy. Have a smaller furry friend? Use the Kaytee Country Harvest Treat Blend to encourage foraging.

6. Enhance the hay bin.

What's better than a full bin of fresh hay? Hay with surprises tucked inside! Your small furry bestie will get excited to root through the hay with their nose when they discover there's more than just grasses to tug at and nibble. Try adding some Kaytee Granola Bites with Superfoods, in Spinach and Carrot or Cranberry, Apple, and Flax, or Kaytee Timothy Biscuits Baked Vitamin C to encourage foraging in the hay.

7. Offer natural snacks.

In the wild, your pet might sniff a branch and instinctively chew on it to help wear down their teeth naturally. You can recreate that same experience by offering Kaytee Apple Orchard Sticks. These are suitable for pet rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, and gerbils. Your pet might also enjoy the Field + Forest by Kaytee Mini Hay Bales featuring dehydrated carrots and an edible, natural palm fiber raffia ribbon tie!

How to Boost Small Animal Mental Health

Feeding your pet doesn't have to mean adding the same scoop of food to the bowl each day. Get creative!

Take some inspiration from the smart folks at the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute's Small Mammal House. They purposely provide the animals with enrichment activities to enhance their well-being and to help them demonstrate their species-typical behaviors for visitors. They encourage natural foraging by hiding food throughout the exhibits, allowing animals to burrow into their bedding to find their food, and using puzzle feeders to nurture problem-solving. Can you do something similar in your small animal's habitat?

Learn more about small animal mental health and care in "How To Rearrange Your Pet's Habitat." Changing up your pet's home decor and layout can also help with mental stimulation, physical health, and overall happiness.