Investigating the usage of enrichment feeding for pet dogs and the associated perceived benefits and challenges

Fund

AWF Research Fund

Grant

£2,995

Research Period

2021

Area of study

Student Research

Description

Investigator(s): Madeline Heys

Supervisor(s): Carri Westgarth

This research project investigated the use of enrichment feeding (EF) with pet dogs – that is, the use of toys, puzzles, or games to provide food in place of a bowl. EF is recommended by vets and behaviourists alike, yet there is a significant lack of empircal research to support these recommendations.

The project took the form of an online survey distributed to dog owners across social media, receiving 1750 eligible responses. The data was then cleaned, and statistics were run using statistical software package SPSS. The study investigated the reasons owners use EF, as well as the perceived benefits and barriers to its use.

It found that owners believe EF provides mental stimulation and prevents boredom, whilst time and cost were the most frequently cited barriers to its use. Owners were less likely to use enrichment if they were male, or over 50 years old. Dogs were less likely to be fed using enrichment if they were older, of working type compared to hound, and have smaller exercise needs. Dogs that were fed using enrichment were more likely to experience fear of other dogs, training difficulties, or show interest in their meals. Using enrichment feeding was associated with owner perceptions of reduced hunger and begging.

These results reveal potential benefits of EF to contribute to obesity treatment and the management of behavioural problems. Further research using experimental research designs into EF and weight, behaviour and quality of life would be beneficial to establish causational relationships and to provide a basis upon which advice could be given by veterinary and behavioural professionals.

A paper is due to be published soon.

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