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Building a Sensory Garden

Sensory enrichment can be provided to our pets in so many ways – through toys, feeders, around the house, and of course in our gardens. Our Education Officer, Daniel Tipping, has shared some simple tips for creating your own sensory garden at home…

Sensory enrichment is, well, exactly what it says on the tin. Anything that enriches the lives of our dogs or cats through the use of their senses would fit the bill. That could be providing them interesting new scents to make use of their extremely powerful sense of smell, adding a new vantage point to let them see new sights, introducing them to new surfaces to scratch, dig, walk on or nap on – the list goes on!

Understandably, the garden is an excellent place to add some sensory enrichment, with plants to sniff, varied surfaces, wildlife to watch, all manner of sounds… just letting your dog or cat into the garden could quite feasibly be a sensory experience on it’s own. However, with spring on the way, complete with longer days and (hopefully) a bit of warmth, we’ve provided a few simple tips for if you wanted to add some extra enrichment to your pet’s day with your own sensory garden.

Can You Smell That?

Adding interesting new scents is an obvious choice for a sensory garden – these could be in the form of flowers (though be mindful, as some could cause allergies or more severe reactions), or more commonly herbs. A hardy wee plant such as rosemary or thyme would be a good choice, compared to something like basil which could very easily be ripped out by an overeager dog or cat (as I remember fondly, when my cat Emmie ripped out and ran off with a freshly planted coriander)!

Mint is another great option, as it carries the added benefit of if your pet decides to have a chew, they may freshen their breath! Also belonging to the mint family – and an obvious choice for those of a feline persuasion – is catnip. While the herb has cat in the name, catnip can be equally enjoyed by our pups as well.

There are of course many options, it may be hard to choose between them. Ultimately, the best one is the one your dog or cat interacts with the most – since herbs are so inexpensive, perhaps try planting a few and let them self select!

Dig Your Paws In!

Adding interesting new textures and surfaces is easily accomplished in a sensory garden – most gardens already have a few, namely grass, soil, and concrete. But why stop there?

A sandpit can provide a host of new activities, like digging (hopefully saving the flowerbed in the process). You could also try burying some treats in the sand, just below the surface, which will encourage them to use their sense of smell, too! Just be sure to cover it up when it’s not in use, to stop other animals getting in there and leaving something unpleasant behind.

On warmer days, help your dog stay cool in the sun by adding a child’s paddling pool or similar – my family’s dog, Sally, used to go crazy for a sprinkler!

What’s That Sound?

With neighbours, vehicles, birds, wind and more, a garden can be a real symphony of sound for our pets – adding something as simple as a wind chime or water fountain could take it to another level!

Safety First.

As much fun as a sensory garden can provide, there’s a few safety concerns to consider too.

Some pets can have their allergies play up, especially with all of the plant pollen common in the spring. Signs of hayfever are very similar to those of humans, including sneezing, itching, and a runny nose or eyes. Letting them out earlier or later in the day can help to alleviate this, as the pollen count is usually highest around midday. Some pets – especially those with longer fur – could benefit from a bath, or a simple wipe with a warm, damp towel after playing outside. If you’re worried about hayfever in your pet, or if they’re showing any worrying symptoms, be sure to contact your vet.

In addition, some flowers, herbs, and plants can be problematic, with others being downright dangerous. Any reputable garden centre should be able to point you in the right direction of pet-friendly plants, or a simple search online will tell you all you need to know.

Have Fun!

Really, the only limit in creating an amazing sensory experience for your pet is your own creativity – old tyres, upturned planter pots, wooden pallets or whatever else you have laying around the house could quite easily be transformed in to something your pet will find fascinating. The possibilities are endless!

Daniel Tipping

Education Officer

Daniel is Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home’s Education Officer and is responsible for planning and delivering educational workshops to schools, community groups and workplaces – If you’d like to find out more about our Education Programme please visit our Advice & Education page.

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