Sensory Gardens/Enrichment for animals

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What is a sensory garden/environment?

These are areas that are designed to have a variety of elements that usually stimulate a range of senses, but could be designed to target just one or two, such as smell and taste. This could be provided for animals by planting a variety of herbs and botanicals they could interact with.  For more information on suitable plants see below, or why not arrange a Herbal Choices session to identify which plants are of particular interest.   Care should however be taken in choosing containers that do not leach chemicals.


To stimulate other senses, such as touch, other elements could be added including a variety of materials to walk on such as pebbles, mulch, twigs, sand and gravelled areas.  Sound could be added in the form of water, such as fountains or waterfalls, or grasses that would create sound when they move in the wind; however adding objects that create loud or unpredictable noises are best avoided.  Having a lawned area, or chamomile lawn, could also be beneficial, as well as a water feature such as a pond or stream.  


The purpose of these areas is to not only provide sensory interest, but also a place that is relaxing for your animal; and whatever space  is available, sensory enrichment elements can be scaled up or down to fit within this area.

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Enrichment in your animal's outdoor environment

Enrichment can be made accessible within the confines of a garden, yard, field or track and can take many forms, and knowing your animal  will be the key to providing this for them.  For your dog this could be as simple as placing their favourite toy in a pile of autumn leaves and giving them guidance to seek it out.   


The introduction of  structures of varying heights for cats and dogs could not only provide enrichment but also work different muscle groups.  


Different terrain for horses, such as access to woodland and rough grazing,  sloping or hilly areas, and the introduction of obstacles such as logs, could again make use of different muscle groups while also encouraging movement.  Scratching posts within the field setting would probably be well received by horses, and cats could make use of a log for a different kind of scratching post.

Pet Friendly garden area plan

Even though our design entry for the  Pet Friendly Garden Competition at the Landscape Show 2019 was not shortlisted, there are ideas in the attached PDF files that could be adapted and used in your garden or yard area.  These include planting options supportive for both animals and wildlife. 


We also encourage lawned areas that are maintained pesticide-free, however small, rather than "plastic" or artificial grass which can heat up quite dramatically on sunny days and is not biodegradable.   Emission of toxins is also widely discussed on social media, however significant changes have been made since the first artificial turf was introduced in the 1960s, with lead and crumb rubber free options now available.  However cheap imports would appear to be best avoided.  


A lawned area is supportive for burrowing insects and worms, with slightly longer grass also attracting insects, and thus encourages wildlife and supports nature.  There is also the positive environmental impact of plant photosynthesis from a lawn.  On a slightly different tangent could the soil itself be beneficial; particularly for our microbiome?  See what you think: https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-surprising-healing-qualities-of-dirt.  Chamomile lawns are also a wonderful alternative to a traditional lawned area.   Moss lawns are also growing in popularity as an option, as are clover lawns which are more resistant to urine stains.


For organically grown plants and seeds which are ideal for animals, have a look in our Shop.

Plants as enrichment

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 When available to them horses will naturally browse on (hedgerow) plants such as cow parsley, nettles, etc, as well as overhanging tree branches and shrubs, and access to these could be beneficial to your horse, as well as natural enrichment.  If available this would typically make up around 10% of their diet, but can be as high as 50% in some cases.   The greater diversity of plants available will allow your horse access to, and the ability to select from, the many constituents these plants offer, and the amount your horse requires to maintain their health and well-being.  


Below are some plants that horses could browse on and benefit their health and well-being, as well as provide natural shelter:

  • Angelica
  • Blackberry
  • Chamomile
  • Cleavers
  • Comfrey
  • Common mallow
  • Cow Parsley
  • Dog rose
  • Hawthorn
  • Herb Robert
  • Hogweed
  • Lemon balm
  • Marshmallow
  • Meadowsweet
  • Milk thistle
  • Plantain
  • Pot marigold
  • Red Clover
  • White willow
  • Willowherb
  • Wormwood
  • Yarrow

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Companion animals can also benefit from having access to plants for their health and well-being.  These may be eaten, rolled in/rubbed against or just inhaled.  In fact  a study analysing wolf (the closest relative of the dog) scat during the summer months revealed their diet contained 8% grasses and berries, with other studies showing around 20% plant matter.   It is sometimes thought grasses are consumed to prevent parasites, but David Mech  (an American wolf expert) feels it may be consumed for the vitamin content.  A short study by Dogs First seems to support this,  with only 1 in 10 of the dogs that regularly selected grass being diagnosed with worms.


Some beneficial plants for dogs:

  • Barley grass
  • Cat mint
  • Chamomile (Roman or German)
  • Cleavers
  • Echinacea
  • Fennel
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemongrass
  • Marshmallow
  • Parsley
  • Pot Marigold
  • Roses
  • Yarrow

 

References: 

Diet composition of wolves (Canis lupus) on the Scandinavian peninsula determined by scat analysis , S Muller

 https://dogsfirst.ie/stage-1-grass-eater-trial-complete/ 

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Cats may too eat plant matter, but as this is indigestible for them it is unlikely to be for nutritional benefit.   In a study of wild cat scat they found 25% contained plant matter, consisting mainly of grasses and twigs (Ref: Feeding Ecology of a Feral Cat Population on a Small Mediterranean Island).


Some beneficial plants for cats:

  • Barley grass
  • Cat mint
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Roses
  • Valarian


Herbal supplements are sometimes added to an animal's feed however given the choice they may not choose all the constituents of these, but they could be broken down at a Herbal Choices session and offered individually; allowing your animal to choose.  However, supplements prescribed by your vet should be continued and reviewed by them.