I often make my ratties “work” for their dinner. I’ll take their dinner, divide it into several portions and then make it into some sort of puzzle. For example, I often hide their rat blocks and dry food in boxes, toilet tissue rolls, or egg cartons. Then, they have to chew through the paper and cardboard to reach the food.
In the photo above, Chloe is working hard to get her dinner. I took her rat blocks and a bit of cereal, divided it into two portions, and wrapped each portion of food in a couple of paper towels. Then, I stuffed the bundles into two small aspirin boxes. Finally, both aspirin boxes got stuffed into the yellow Robin Eggs carton. In the photo, she has already chewed several holes in the Robin Eggs box and you can see the aspirin boxes underneath.
Actually, right when the photo was taken, she was trying to pull the whole thing into her house! Rats often will stash their food for later and, most likely, if there were any bits she didn’t want to eat, she would spend some time finding a great place to hide her leftovers.
In the wild, animals have to forage for food. They don’t get food handed to them in a bowl. Making my rats work for their dinner helps increase natural foraging behaviors, such as searching for food and chewing through things to get to food. Also, since it takes them awhile to solve a food puzzle, my rats spend more time being active and engaged, and less time being bored.
Working for food for is one type of what animal trainers and zoo keepers call “enrichment.” Enrichment basically refers to any environment, object or activity that provides additional stimulation or that increases natural behaviors. When we keep animals in captivity, whether it’s a pet rat at home or a lion in the zoo, it’s important to pay attention to not just the animal’s physical health, but also the animal’s mental and emotional health. Food puzzles are one way that I can make dinnertime more interesting for my ratties.