Accessories to the crime
Enclosure accessories which increase natural behaviors in your pets fall under the large umbrella term called enrichment. Enrichment can also be changes in routines, new food items or rearrangement of cage furniture. When you first give an animal a new enrichment device, observing their interaction is essential. After the initial observation, revisions can be made to the enrichment item to ensure their safety.
While I was growing up I had a pet snake. Monica, my California king snake, initially had cypress mulch as the substrate in her cage. It held in the moisture and was readily available at the local pet stores. It also made the exhibit look natural; Monica appeared to be moving on the forest floor. At feeding time issues arose. I was scared that while she was eating her meal, the wood chips would get stuck on the food and she would ingest it. So after observing her I revised her habitat and opted for Astroturf. It was readily available, easy to the clean and cheap.
I placed it in the bottom of her cage, along with some new hollowed logs and wooden huts for her to hide in. I placed the lid on and walked away. Many hours later the time was 10:30 PM. I went into bed and before I shut the light off I took a quick look in Monica’s cage. I could not find Monica.
I took the lid off and lifted some of the huts. Nothing. I quickly picked up the hollowed logs and looked through them, still nothing. Then I took out all the huts and logs and water bowl. Monica was gone.
I swiftly walked down the hall into the living room. My mom was up watching TV and my dad was sleeping in the recliner. I told my mom the situation and we quickly walked back to my room and started the expedition. I was told not to wake up my father as he was scared of snakes. My mom and I started unscrewing the baseboard vents, stripping my bed of its sheets and pulling dresser drawers out. Zilch.
This made me flashback to a few years earlier when my teddy bear hamster, Bert, escaped from his cage. It was either Bert or I who piled up his entire chew toy collection on one side of the cage that aided in him climbing up and fleeing his cage.
The internet suggested laying down a piece of wood, to create a ramp, on a bucket and create a trail of seeds into the bucket to lure him out. We assembled a similar device and waited. After four long days of hearing tiny footsteps in between the walls of our house, we had some luck. We were watching the television in the living room, when Bert peeked his body out from behind the TV and was safely returned to his enclosure.
To this day we still don’t know who piled those blocks up. Bert is not talking. He has been dead for 14 years.
Now, however, we had a king snake loose in our house. We weren’t going to leave a trail of snake food (aka dead mice) out to lure her out of the woodwork. So, my mother and I started at the beginning. We went back to the cage and reexamined the logs and huts. Then we looked into the cage which was empty aside from the Astroturf. We lifted the few millimeter tall artificial grass and there Monica was, curled up, trying to go to bed for the night.
When giving new enrichment devices assess and reassess the potential hazards. Consider if the pet can get cut or entangled in the enrichment. Take into account if the enrichment item could be used as weapon against another pet, if it could damage the enclosure or could it aid in your pet escaping.
Enrichment is necessary to our pets’ wellbeing. Enrichment allows our pets to make choices and increase their mental and physical repertoires. Have a fun and safe time enriching.
For more info, check out my weekly pet column: Critter Companions