Our Top Scent Enrichments For Dogs & Cats
Enrichment is an incredibly important aspect of animal ownership. By providing enrichment for our pets, we enable them to utilise their senses in new and interesting ways, encouraging positive behaviours and improving their overall welfare. Scent enrichment involves providing animals with stimulating smells, either to track and search or simply to stimulate the senses.
Scent enrichment is used in many situations, with one of the more common examples being the bringing home of a new puppy or kitten. It is not unusual for breeders to give new owners a piece of fabric or a blanket with the mother’s scent on it. The familiar smell can help calm and provide comfort for the puppy when they first leave for their new home.
Providing your pet with scent enrichment at home is easy to do. Here are a couple of different techniques you can use depending on the type of scent you’re using and the behaviour you’re trying to encourage:
- Place scented cloths around the house, especially areas your pet visits regularly (e.g. near their bed/crate, favourite lounging spot). This can encourage search or calming behaviours.
- Hide scented objects inside socks, or toys to encourage investigation and play behaviours.
All animals can benefit from scent enrichment, but it is especially helpful for indoor cats, or animals on a restricted exercise regime (e.g. due to injury). Variety is also the key when providing scent enrichment, so don’t be afraid to introduce your pet to different scents and mix it up regularly!
As well as encouraging your pet to use their brain and sense of smell, certain scents have been proven to have behavioural benefits. We’ve looked into the best scents for both dogs and cats, and outlined their benefits below (plus one bonus scent at the end!).
*IMPORTANT* In this list, we have selected natural and non-toxic scents. We do not recommend using essential oils as they are not designed to be ingested (which may happen accidentally during exploration and play). Some oils are also toxic to dogs, cats, or other animals. If in doubt, speak with your vet.
TOP SCENTS FOR DOGS
As well as providing digestive benefits in dogs, ginger can be a great tool for scent enrichment. Ginger roots can be purchased in most supermarkets and you can easily rub it against surfaces to leave its distinctive smell. Studies on kennelled rescue dogs have proven that being exposed to the scent of ginger can decrease unwanted barking and lower stress and agitation.
As ginger is safe for dogs to eat in small quantities, try cutting up small amounts and hiding them around your dog’s bed or crate. The act of searching for these tasty tidbits as well as the effects of its scent can help calm down anxious dogs and potentially help them settle more effectively.
Another tasty treat for dogs, coconut shares many similarities to ginger when it comes to scent enrichment. Studies confirm that dogs are less vocal and restless when provided with coconut scents, and this could mainly be due to the mental stimulation the scent provides.
NOTE: Our dogs love coconut and will do almost anything for it, making it a high reward scent to use!
Coconut can be used in quite a variety of ways depending on whether you choose to use actual pieces of coconut (like Soopa’s Coconut Chews), or coconut oil. Just like ginger, if you are using pieces of coconut you can rub the scent onto fabrics or other surfaces, as well as hiding the pieces for your dog to find. Coconut oil is a great tool for scent enrichment when used with puzzle feeders and Kongs. We suggest coating the inside of a Kong with a thin layer of coconut oil or doing the same along the grooves of puzzle feeders like these.
TOP SCENTS FOR CATS
Silvervine is a species of plant native to Japan and China. Although it is unrelated to catnip, this plant contains similar compounds known as semiochemicals. These chemicals are produced naturally by certain plants as a form of insect repellant but have the added side effect of attracting cats.
Only one in three cats are stimulated by catnip, so silvervine is an excellent alternative. It also produces more semiochemicals compared to catnip, making it a more effective form of scent enrichment.
Silvervine isn’t commonly seen for sale here in the UK in its plant form, however, some cat toys are infused with silvervine and more products are becoming available over time.
If you can obtain silvervine branches or powdered silvervine, these make great natural scent enrichment tools. The sticks can be hidden much like the ginger and coconut for dogs or wrapped up in fabric to make an interesting toy, and the powder can be used to make trails for your cat to follow.
Tatarian honeysuckle is another plant originally from Asia. Its branches are known to cause positive reactions in cats, and as a result, we recommend using this part of the plant for scent enrichment.
It is believed that the wood of the honeysuckle plant contains one of the components also found in silvervine; actinidine. It is this component that causes cats’ reaction to honeysuckle and it is completely harmless.
Tatarian honeysuckle wood can be purchased online from specialist retailers. These wooden pieces can be wrapped in fabrics to create a fun interaction toy, or hidden for your cat to search and find, to name just a couple of ideas.
Valerian is a scent that has positive effects on both dogs and cats and is a herb known to have calming effects in people as well as other animals. It is most often available in powdered or liquid form, both of which are ideal for use in scent enrichment.
Due to its calming effects, valerian is best utilised when you know your pet may be stressed (e.g. when you are leaving them alone or before a stressful event such as a vet’s visit). Some techniques you can try include; sprinkling the powdered or liquid form in your pet’s bed area or travel crate, infusing their favourite toy with it, or leaving a scent trail for them to follow.
Consider trying out scent enrichment with your pet, and be sure to share the results with us!Back