New research into the impact of boredom on animal welfare

There’s nothing worse than being bored, right? Luckily for us humans, it’s very easy to find something to keep us occupied like watching a new show on Netflix, playing sports, cooking an exotic dish or exploring the local cafes. Our pets, on the other hand, aren’t so fortunate and can’t just hop on the Northern Line when they fancy a new adventure… Hence, the responsibility to keep our pets from twiddling their fluffy thumbs, falls on our shoulders as owners (and veterinary professionals to relay this information!). 

Didn’t think your pet could get bored? Think again! New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has shown that animals in environments of significantly low stimulation are very capable of experiencing boredom. 

The study, which focused specifically on boredom experienced by ferrets, was designed to understand more about: 

1) The perception ferret owners have about boredom in animals (i.e. to what extent do they believe their ferret is capable of experiencing the emotion). 

2) Whether these beliefs had an impact on the type of environment provided for their pet (i.e. do those who believe ferrets can experience boredom take this into consideration when choosing an appropriate environment for them to live in). 

What were the findings? 

Out of the 621 ferret owners interviewed, 93% said they believed ferrets could experience boredom. The same group of respondents were proactive in providing ‘entertainment’ for their small pets, including toys, human interaction, exploration of new places and housing with other ferrets. 

The remaining 7%, who were cynical towards the notion that ferrets could experience boredom, still provided their ferrets with environmental enrichment but notably fewer options. 

How can I tell if my pet is bored? 

According to Dr Charlotte Burn, Senior Lecturer in Animal Welfare and Behaviour Science at the RVC, animal boredom can present in the following ways: 

  • Restless behaviour, such as aimless pacing and scratching at their enclosures – in larger animals this may include destructive actions such as shredding sofas or curtains. 
  • Oversleeping – if you notice your pet is taking more naps than usual then it could be a sign that, well, they have nothing better to do!
  • Overeating – have you ever finished a whole tub of ice cream? Or ordered a late night takeaway just because you could? Animals are no different when it comes to boredom eating so make sure to keep an eye out for this key indicator of boredom. 

If you’re a practising vet, make sure to alert owners to these tell tale signs of boredom and explain why tackling boredom in pets is critical for their mental health and happiness at home! We recommend putting up posters around the practise which clearly illustrate this information and share top tips on how to combat boredom.

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