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Chewable Materials for Small Animals: A Scientific Perspective for Zookeepers and Laboratories


In the zoo, laboratory and pet segments of small animal care, it is no surprise many animals love to chew just about anything in their enclosure. Rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs and other small animals have a strong instinct to gnaw and chew. Zoo staff and laboratory professionals should not overlook the importance of providing chewable materials. While seemingly simple, chewable materials play a pivotal role in enhancing the physical and mental health of these animals. The environment of the animal should accommodate innate physiological and behavioral needs such as smelling, tasting, foraging, and gnawing. In this blog post, we will delve into the benefits and importance of providing such materials to ensure the overall welfare of these small creatures.

Physical Health Benefits

One of the primary advantages of offering chewable materials to small animals is the promotion of dental health. Rodents, in particular, have continuously growing teeth, and regular chewing helps naturally wear down their teeth, preventing overgrowth and potential dental issues. Research indicates providing chewable enrichment is paramount to avoiding small animal dental issues. This simple activity can significantly reduce the occurrence of dental malocclusions, a common problem in captive small animals. The Chew Stack is an example of a chewable enrichment device that is more interesting and effective than a paper towel roll. The Chew Stack can be hung from enclosure, where it provides a variety of shapes, textures and chew experiences that keep animals interested and engaged.

Chewing also contributes to gastrointestinal health by promoting proper digestion. The mechanical action of chewing on fibrous materials stimulates saliva production, aiding in the breakdown of food and facilitating nutrient absorption. This is especially crucial in laboratory settings where the precision of research outcomes may be influenced by the health of the animals involved. Our Apple Sticks are an all-natural fiber-rich chewable enrichment product. Great for laboratory rodents and other chewers such as guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, degus, and prairie dogs.

Mental Stimulation and Enrichment

Providing chewable materials is an easy and effective method of offering behavioral enrichment to small animals, yet is often overlooked by some animal caregivers. In both zoo and laboratory environments, where these animals may be confined to limited spaces, engaging activities such as chewing help prevent boredom and reduce stress. This is particularly important for laboratory animals, as stress can introduce variables that may compromise research results.

Chewable materials provide cognitive stimulation. The exploration and manipulation of diverse textures and shapes challenge the animals’ minds, preventing stereotypical behaviors and promoting mental agility. Enriched environments contribute to the overall well-being of small animals, ensuring that they exhibit more natural behaviors, even in captivity.

Proper Material Selection

Careful consideration must be given to the types of chewable materials provided. Natural materials, such as untreated wood blocks or hay, are excellent choices. These materials not only cater to the animals’ chewing instincts but also avoid potential harm from toxic substances found in some synthetic alternatives. Otto Environmental has already vetted the chewable enrichment products we offer. You can be assured our enrichment products are safe when used the appropriate species. We offer a variety of enrichment products that will satisfy the chewing needs of any small animal. Here are just a few of the enrichment products we recommend for chewing animals in the laboratory, home, shelter, and zoo.

  • Timothy Hay Balls are an ideal enrichment idea for rats and mice along with guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, and other rodents. The balls roll and are designed to be chewed and eaten.
  • Willow Bundles are easily held, manipulated, and chewed by rabbits, guinea pigs, prairie dogs, chinchillas, degus, rats and other chewing animals.
  • Natural deer antlers are rich in calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and collagen. Naturally shed and collected in the USA, they are perfect for eager chewers like squirrels, chinchillas, and prairie dogs.
  • Carrot Crunchers contain nothing but carrots but are tasty, crunchy fun for rabbits and other gnawing animals.


Chewable materials are an essential enrichment tool for small animals in both zoo and laboratory settings. Beyond addressing physical health concerns, these materials contribute significantly to the mental well-being and enrichment of the animals in our care. Otto Environmental understands that your time is valuable. It takes up valuable time hunting down chewable scrap materials that are safe for your animals. That is why we have sourced trusted chewable products that are easy to incorporate into your small animal enrichment program. If you have any questions or special needs for your animal care program, give us a call. We are happy to help you find solutions for all of your enrichment needs.

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Enhancing Small Animal Diets: The Nutritional Powerhouse of Dried Fruits, Nuts, and Insects


As caretakers of small animals, whether as pets or in zoo and laboratory environments, maintaining optimal health and well-being is a top priority. While traditional commercial diets have a balanced formula of fat, protein, and fiber, a growing body of research suggests that a complete and varied-ingredient diet can offer a myriad of benefits. In this blog post, we’ll explore how these supplemental foods can elevate the nutritional profile of small animal diets and enhance environmental enrichment at the same time.


Dried Fruits and Vegetables

Dried fruits, when added in moderation, can be a tasty and nutritious component of small animal and bird diets. Rich in natural sugars, vitamins, and antioxidants, dried fruits offer a burst of energy while promoting overall health. The fiber content in dried fruits and vegetables aids in digestion, contributing to a well-functioning gastrointestinal system for small animals. Additionally, the variety of flavors and textures will stimulate the animal’s senses, encouraging natural foraging behaviors. The Utica Zoo, for example, supplements their Hyacinth Macaw diet with dried cranberries. Our Fruit and Veggie Tarts are 100% natural and pre-portioned for small animals.  Each tart is individually packaged. Made from timothy hay, apples, carrots, and potatoes, they are ideal for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and other small animals! Be sure to check out these Apple Sticks. They are a favorite with many small mammals like guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, degus, and prairie dogs.

Fruit and Veggie Tarts

Apple Sticks

Nuts and Seeds: Power Packed With Protein and Healthy Fats

Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses, providing essential proteins, healthy fats, and a range of vitamins and minerals. For small animals, which may have specific dietary requirements, incorporating nuts as treats enhances the daily feeding regimen. Nuts are particularly beneficial for species that require higher protein levels, supporting muscle development and overall growth. The healthy fats found in nuts contribute to coat health and can be crucial for animals with specialized fur or feathers. However, it’s important to note that nuts should be offered in moderation due to their calorie density. Yum Balls! Rodent Munchies are a treat option for squirrels, chinchillas, rats, hamsters, and other small rodents. Packed with nuts, fruits, and veggies, Yum Balls provide a protein and stimulate the animal’s natural urge to forage for food.

Yum Balls! Rodent Munchies

Insects: A Protein-Rich Delicacy

Insects are a natural and protein-rich food source that can mimic the diet of small animals in the wild. They are particularly beneficial for insectivorous species, such as certain birds, reptiles, and mammals. Insects provide essential amino acids for muscle development. Additionally, the exoskeleton of insects can contribute to the formation of strong jaws and beaks. This Brookfield Zoo video demonstrates enrichment with insects. We have a variety of canned insects that have been pre-cooked to soften the exoskeleton. The canned insects maintain their natural nutritional value, flavor, and aroma. Use them sparingly as a treat. They are an ideal supplemental food source for sugar gliders, hedgehogs, skunks, squirrels, birds, opossums, turtles, tropical fish, reptiles, and amphibians.


Balancing Act: Ensuring Optimal Nutrition

While the benefits of dried fruits, nuts, and insects in small animal diets are clear, it’s crucial to strike a balance. The key lies in creating a well-rounded and species-specific diet that considers the nutritional needs of each individual animal. Develop feeding plans that incorporate a variety of food sources while monitoring the animals’ health and adjusting diets accordingly.

Using Treats for Enrichment

As this video from Lincoln Park Zoo explains, varying the presentation of food and treats is vital to stimulating the animals. Puzzle feeders and other treat feeders, like the Forage Globe, engage the animal’s curiosity and senses. Use these special treats with puzzle and forage feeders to stimulate cognitive and physical activity while providing a fragrant, nutritious, and tasty treat.

Doors & Drawers Treat Forager

Forage Globe


Supplementing small animal diets with dried fruits, nuts, and insects opens up a world of nutritional possibilities for pet owners and zoo staff. By carefully considering the specific needs of each species, incorporating these natural and diverse food sources can enhance the overall health, well-being, and enrichment of the animals under our care.



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Caring for Sugar Gliders in the Zoo Environment

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are small, nocturnal marsupials that are native to Australia and parts of Indonesia.

They are called sugar gliders because of their predilection for sugary foods such as sap and nectar. They are also known as lesser gliding possums. They have a distinctive anatomical feature called a patagium. It is a soft membrane extending between its wrists and ankles. This specialized membrane enables the sugar glider to execute controlled gliding maneuvers, akin to a parachute, as it navigates between trees. Sugar gliders can traverse considerable distances through the air, covering spans of nearly 110 meters. The San Diego Zoo reports that while sugar gliders live about five years in the wild, with good care the animals can live up to 15 years in captivity.

Sugar Glider Behavior

Sugar gliders usually nest in social groups of between two and seven animals but are also known to nest alone. The sugar glider has an intricate communication system based on scents.  Males use frontal, sternal, and urogenital glands. Females use pouch and urogenital glands for scents. Each animal has its own unique scent, which is used for identification in the social group. In addition, the dominant male marks his group members with his saliva. Sugar gliders are diligent boundary setters. The animals mark their territory using urine and secretions from various glands acting as “fences,” signaling to other gliders that this patch of woodland is already claimed.


Sugar Glider Care in Captivity

Sugar gliders should be kept in groups. Experience has shown that a lone animal can become depressed. The animals will form a strong bond with a caretaker. Approximately two hours per day of direct handling and interaction is recommended. Their enclosure must be large enough for them to play and explore while still having room for a nesting box. Branches provide climbing and perching areas. Avoid potentially toxic wood such as almond, apricot, black walnut, cherry, and peach branches. The Coconut Cup with perch is ideal for a feeding station. Cozy Sling Hammocks provide a feeling of safety for your sugar gliders.

Coconut Cup with Perch

Sling Hammock

Environmental enrichment

Sugar Gliders enjoy small swings or chew toys. The Barrel Roller and Rope Swing are designed for small animals like Sugar Gliders. Since Sugar Gliders are nocturnal and like to snuggle up in a secluded area, the hanging Cozy Cube can serve as a soft, darkened hide-away for multiple animals. This video from the American Museum of Natural History, explains how the staff cares for their sugar gliders.


Barrel Roller Toy

Rope Swing


Cozy Cube

Sugar Glider Diet

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has a fact sheet on the dietary requirements of sugar gliders. The diet consists of the sap of Eucalyptus, Acacia gum, nectar, pollen, and insects. Replicating this varied diet in captivity can be challenging. Veterinarians and keepers have found that the animals will also eat fruits, vegetables, and eggs. A variety of formulas can be found here. Prepared Sugar Glider foods, such as those from Exotic Nutrition, are ideal for creating a varied and balanced diet plan. Nectar Pods are available in variety of scents and flavors. Our Canned Insects are ready to feed.




Otto Environmental recognizes the vital role zoo professionals play in the care and conservation of sugar gliders. Understanding of the intricacies of their behavior, social needs, and dietary requirements is essential for their well-being in captivity. Your diligent work greatly contributes to their conservation and offers visitors a glimpse into the captivating world of sugar gliders.

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The Joys and Challenges of Keeping Squirrels as Pets

Squirrels are fascinating creatures that often captivate our attention with their acrobatic antics and bushy tails.

But have you ever considered keeping one as a pet or at your petting farm or zoo? While it may sound like an unusual choice, some people have successfully made squirrels part of their families. In this blog, we’ll explore the joys and challenges of keeping squirrels as pets.


Why We Love Squirrels

Aside from raiding our bird feeders, squirrels are just plain fun. Here are a few reasons we love to watch them and get as close as possible to these engaging animals.

Adorable Companions: Squirrels are undeniably cute with their bright eyes, bushy tails, and playful nature. Many squirrel enthusiasts find them endearing and enjoy the companionship they provide.

Educational Experience: Owning a pet squirrel can be an educational opportunity for both adults and children. It allows you to learn about wildlife behavior and the natural world up close.

Entertainment: Squirrels are highly entertaining animals. Their agility and curiosity make them excellent playmates, and they can provide hours of amusement as they scamper and explore their environment.

Bonding: Developing a bond with a pet squirrel is possible as this video demonstrates.  It can be a unique and rewarding experience. While they are not as affectionate as dogs or cats, many squirrel owners report a special connection with their furry friends.


Tips Keeping Squirrels as Pets

Specialized Diet: Squirrels have specific dietary needs. Maintaining their nutritional requirements can be more challenging than feeding traditional pets. There is some confusion about a proper diet. While squirrels do eat sunflower seeds and will gnaw on the head of a sunflower, they are not good for the animals. Think of sunflower seeds as junk food. The seeds lack a full complement of amino acids and can interfere with calcium uptake. Sunflower seeds and peanuts should be restricted to occasional treats. Squirrels require a diet rich in fruits like our Rose Hips, vegetables, nuts, and our high-quality rodent blocks. Did you know squirrels eat insects? Don’t worry, we have protein-rich pre-cooked dried insects so you don’t have to catch your own!

Enclosure and Space: Squirrels are active animals that need their space to thrive. Building a suitable enclosure with climbing structures and nesting areas is important. Our Nest Boxes are designed for small animals like squirrels and feature a hinge for easy access for easy cleaning and to view or remove your squirrel. We also offer a complete squirrel starter kit complete with a nesting box and other essentials like a water bottle. If you prefer a cage enclosure for keeping your squirrel contained while you are away, consider the Casablanca Small Animal Cage.


Nest Boxes

Squirrel Starter Kit

Casablanca Small Animal Cage

Wild Instincts: Squirrels have strong wild instincts, which means they need to climb, chew, and explore as this video from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center demonstrates. Without adequate environmental enrichment, they can become stressed in captivity, leading to health issues or behavioral problems. That is why we make a variety of enrichment products for smaller animals like squirrels. The Grass Ball Trio is made from all-natural grasses that can be rolled, gnawed, and eaten by squirrels. The PVC Forager makes any cage or enclosure fun for squirrels.

Grass Ball Trio

PVC Forager

Dental Health: Squirrels’ teeth, like those of all rodents, grow continuously throughout their lives. Chewing on various objects helps them naturally wear down their teeth, preventing them from becoming overgrown. Overgrown teeth can cause serious health issues, including difficulty eating and potential dental problems. The Willow Bundle and Antler Chews are ideal for squirrels!

Willow Bundle

Antler Chews

Final Thoughts on Squirrels as Pets

A squirrel can live up to 15 years. It is a long-term commitment to understanding the somewhat specialized care a squirrel will need. At Otto Environmental we make it easy to get the enrichment and squirrel care products you need. Still wondering what all the fuss is about pet squirrels? Take a look at this squirrel rescue video to understand one person’s amazing journey with a rescued squirrel.

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Enhancing the Lives of Captive Lizards: The Importance of Environmental Enrichment


Caring for lizards such as monitors, tegus, and iguanas in a zoo setting may seem like a challenging responsibility. Yet providing these reptiles with a healthy and stimulating environment is essential for their physical and psychological well-being. One may wonder if environmental enrichment is even necessary for reptiles. In this blog, we’ll explore the significance of environmental enrichment for captive lizards and discuss practical strategies that zoo staff can implement to ensure the best quality of life for these fascinating creatures.

Rationale for Lizard Enrichment

In the past, there was a prevailing belief that reptiles lacked the cognitive complexity to derive benefits from enrichment practices. However, recent studies have provided evidence suggesting that enrichment can lead to improvements in the well-being of captive reptiles. Research into lizard enrichment is limited but the recent findings indicate enrichment is beneficial.

One recent study conducted at the Chester Zoo showed that hanging feeders increased exploratory behavior in three varanid species (Komodo dragon, emerald tree monitor and crocodile monitor). Another study from the University of Life Sciences in Poland, tested environmental enrichment with captive leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius). Results demonstrated all the lizards were interested in enrichment devices that allowed for climbing and hiding.

A 2002 study using Argentine black and white tegus focused on enhancing the structural elements of the enclosure. This included introducing various logs, a pool, and a sandbox. Surprisingly, the animals exhibited a preference for basking on the shelter’s roof. Initially, the logs piqued their curiosity, leading them to investigate by sniffing and scratching at the loose bark. The pool only seemed to catch their interest during exceptionally hot days. On the contrary, the sandbox served a practical purpose as they used it to conceal food and return to dig it out.

Defining Lizard Environmental Enrichment

Environmental enrichment refers to the process of enhancing the living conditions of animals in captivity, stimulating their natural behaviors, and promoting physical and mental health. For captive lizards, this involves replicating, as closely as possible, their natural habitat within the confines of their enclosure. This involves not only building the basic enclosure but adding special enrichment devices that satisfy species-specific instincts such as foraging for food, exploring new areas, soaking in water, and other sensory and cognitive stimulation.

The Benefits of Environmental Enrichment

Psychological Well-being: Lizards are not just static ornaments in an enclosure; they have complex behaviors and require mental stimulation. Enrichment activities can alleviate boredom, reduce stress, and enhance cognitive development. This, in turn, helps prevent stereotypical behaviors often seen in captivity.


Physical Health: Providing opportunities for lizards to exercise, hunt, and explore their environment promotes physical health. It can prevent obesity, muscle atrophy, and other health issues that can arise from a sedentary lifestyle.

Natural Behaviors: Many species of lizards are territorial, and they exhibit hunting, basking, and burrowing behaviors in the wild. Environmental enrichment allows them to express these natural behaviors in captivity, promoting their overall well-being.


Practical Strategies for Lizard Environmental Enrichment


  • Habitat Mimicry: Research each species’ natural habitat and strive to replicate it as closely as possible within the enclosure. This might involve providing appropriate substrates, logs, rocks, plants, and even the introduction of insects for hunting.
  • Diverse Diet: Vary their diet by including a wide range of species-specific insects, vegetables, fruits, and meats. This not only provides the necessary nutrients but also adds a degree of mental stimulation as they seek out and capture their food.
  • Opportunity to Explore: Create obstacle courses or mazes in the enclosure. This encourages lizards to explore, climb, and exercise while providing an opportunity for problem-solving. Observe and see what your reptile species enjoys.
  • Socialization: Some species can be housed together in appropriate groupings, promoting natural social interactions. However, ensure that individuals are compatible and provide hiding spots to reduce stress. The Turtle Hut and Granite Stone Hideaway are ideal for small lizards.
  • Novelty: Change the layout and items in their enclosure regularly to introduce new challenges. Lizards are curious creatures, and the introduction of new items or rearrangement of their space can be quite stimulating. The Komodo Dragon Tug is a favorite with large lizards.
  • Sensory Stimulation: Utilize different textures and scents within their environment. This can be achieved through the introduction of a variety of substrates, live plants, live prey, and other reptile-safe materials.
  • Puzzle Feeders: Implement puzzle feeders that require lizards to manipulate objects to access their food. This engages their cognitive skills and provides a challenge. Our Lickin’ Layers puzzle feeder works well with a variety of foods.

Turtle Hut

Granite Stone Hideaway

Komodo Dragon Tug

Lickin’ Layers Puzzle Feeder


Monitoring and Adaptation

Consistent observation is important for success. Pay attention to how the lizards interact with their enriched environment and adapt your strategies accordingly. Not all lizards will respond the same way, so being attuned to their individual needs is essential.


Caring for captive lizards is a responsibility that extends beyond providing food and shelter. Environmental enrichment plays a critical role in ensuring the physical and psychological well-being of these reptiles. By mimicking their natural habitat, providing diverse experiences, and promoting physical and mental health, you can enhance the lives of captive lizards, contributing to their overall health and happiness. Need more convincing? Take a look at the world’s first video showing play behavior in Komodo Dragons. If the big lizards like to play, we’re sure smaller species will enjoy some toys too!







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Enhancing Equine Well-being: Environmental Enrichment Techniques for Horses

Introduction to Equine Enrichment

Horses have an innate need for physical and mental stimulation. In the wild, they graze for hours, roam expansive landscapes, and engage in social interactions. Domesticated horses have the same desires. To ensure the well-being of our equine companions, it’s crucial to implement environmental enrichment techniques.

 Key Benefits to Equine Enrichment

  • Enhanced mental well-being, leading to decreased levels of anxiety and aggression.
  • Diminished occurrence of undesirable behaviors, stereotypical actions, compulsive tendencies, and bad habits.
  • Enhanced gastrointestinal health.
  • Improved physical condition.
  • Enhanced safety during both handling and rides.

Unfortunately, some horses are not given the same opportunities for mental and physical enrichment. Enrichment not only keeps horses physically and mentally healthy, but it also reduces stress and prevents negative behavior. The good news is you can provide meaningful equine enrichment for one or many horses in your care.  In this blog, we’ll explore some of the most effective environmental enrichment techniques for horses.

Pasture Turnout

Allowing horses access to pastures is one of the most natural and effective forms of environmental enrichment. In a pasture, they can graze, move freely, and interact with other horses. The open-air terrain, vegetation, and social interactions contribute to their mental and physical well-being. Ensure pastures are safe and adequately maintained to prevent injuries and overgrazing. Dr Susan McDonnell at the New Bolton Center  notes “People sometimes put their horses in a smaller space until they get used to each other, thinking that then they’ll be able to catch them if there’s a problem ,but that can create more problems.” Open space helps reduce aggression.

Social Interaction

Horses are inherently social animals, and they thrive on interaction with their herd mates. Isolation can lead to stress and behavioral issues. Whenever possible, house horses in pairs or groups to provide them with companionship. Socialization allows them to groom each other, play, and establish hierarchies, which is essential for their mental health.


Human Interaction

The human-horse bond spans all cultures. For millennia people have had close relationships with their horses. Ongoing research confirms there is a definite positive mutual relationship between horse and caregiver. Research suggests horses can remember human interactions, facial responses, and even discriminate between vocal expressions. One study suggests horses can identify humans by their scent and even tell if the caregiver is stressed or fearful. Human touch can be very beneficial to horses as this seminar (video) from the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare explains.


Enrichment Toys and Treats

Provide your horses with toys designed for equine enrichment. Our Jolly Balls are intended for large animals like horses. As this YouTube video demonstrates, horses love to play with the Jolly Mega Ball. The Jolly Tug and Toss is another equine favorite (video). Treat-dispensing enrichment also keep horses engaged and mentally stimulated.

Horses Need to Forage

It is well-established that horses have a strong instinct to forage. In nature, horses have up to 50 different types of herbs and grasses to browse on. One study suggested that varying forage especially helps individually housed horses. Slow hay feeders, like the Horseman’s Pride Jolly Hay Ball are easily stuffed with hay, fragrant herbs, and vegetables as this video demonstrates. The slow-feeder can be hung with a rope or simply tossed into the paddock.

Sensory Stimulation

Horses rely heavily on their senses, particularly their sense of smell. Providing different scents in their environment, such as hanging up herbs or aromatic grasses, will engage their olfactory senses. A large Hayball Feeder stuffed with grasses and hay will serve as a stimulating “sensory station” where horses gather and interact. The Itchin’ Post is a safe and effective way for your horses to rub and scratch without getting splinters and skin abrasions. See it in action in this video.

Hayball Feeder

Itchin’ Post Scratcher

Equine Playtime

Allow horses to engage in playtime with each other or even with you. Playful interactions can relieve stress, encourage exercise, and foster a bond between you and your horse (video). Simple games like fetch (video) or hide-and-seek can be adapted to suit equine interests.



It is no secret that the well-being of your horses goes beyond providing food and shelter. Environmental enrichment techniques are essential for keeping them mentally and physically healthy. By incorporating these strategies into your horse’s daily routine, you can help prevent boredom, reduce stress, and create a happier, content horse. Your efforts will not only benefit their quality of life but also strengthen the bond between you and your equine friend.





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Enhancing the Well-being of Laboratory Guinea Pigs through Environmental Enrichment

In the realm of scientific research, laboratory animals play a crucial role in advancing our understanding of various aspects of biology, medicine, and behavior.

Among these animals, guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) have long been valued for their contributions to studies on genetics, physiology, and disease. However, ethical concerns surrounding the welfare of laboratory animals have prompted researchers to explore innovative ways to enhance the quality of life for these creatures. One such approach is through the implementation of environmental enrichment strategies for laboratory guinea pigs.

Why Use Guinea Pigs in Research?

Guinea pigs are used in research for several reasons, primarily due to their biological, physiological, and genetic characteristics that make them valuable models for specific types of studies. Here are some of the key reasons why guinea pigs are used in research:

Similarity to Humans

Guinea pigs share some physiological similarities with humans, making them suitable models for certain medical and biological studies. For instance, their cardiovascular and respiratory systems are relatively similar to those of humans, making them useful for research related to heart and lung diseases. Did you know vitamin C was discovered with the help of guinea pigs?

Reproductive Characteristics

Guinea pigs have a short reproductive cycle, and they produce relatively large litters. This characteristic makes them valuable for reproductive and developmental studies.


Guinea pigs are known for their susceptibility to certain infections and their ability to produce antibodies quickly. They have been used in research related to vaccines and immunology.

Allergy Research

Guinea pigs are used to study allergic responses, as they can develop allergies to various substances. This is important for understanding the mechanisms of allergic reactions and testing potential treatments.

Behavioral Research

Their social and behavioral characteristics make guinea pigs suitable for studies related to psychology and behavior, including studies on stress, anxiety, and social interactions.

Pharmacology and Drug Testing

Guinea pigs are used in pharmaceutical research to test the effectiveness and safety of drugs. They can help researchers understand drug interactions, dosages, and potential side effects.

Ethical Treatment of Laboratory Animals

It’s important to note that while guinea pigs are valuable models for research, their use is subject to ethical guidelines and regulations aimed at ensuring their humane treatment and minimizing any potential harm. This brings us to the importance of environmental enrichment.

The Importance of Enrichment for Laboratory Guinea Pigs

Laboratory guinea pigs, like their wild counterparts, are social and curious animals with a range of natural behaviors. In the wild, guinea pigs are accustomed to activities like exploring their surroundings, foraging for food, and engaging in social interactions within their groups. When these animals are placed in an old-fashioned laboratory setting, they can experience stress and behavioral abnormalities due to the relatively barren and monotonous environment. Environmental enrichment mitigates these issues and improves the animals’ overall well-being. Enrichment can lead to reduced stress, decreased stereotypic behaviors (repetitive and seemingly purposeless actions), and enhanced cognitive and physical health in laboratory guinea pigs.


Types of Environmental Enrichment for Guinea Pigs

There are various ways to enrich the environment for laboratory guinea pigs. Otto Environmental has curated and developed some of the most effective enrichment products for the laboratory housing of guinea pigs.


Physical Structures

Adding tunnels, ramps, platforms, and hiding spots to the cage can encourage exploration and physical activity. Research indicates hiding spots for “retreat” reduces stress and improves well-being. The Tree Trunk Hideout and Walk Up Barn are recommended for reducing stress.


JW Pet Walk Up Barn gallery on white background
Walk Up Barn
Tree Trunk Hideout

Social Interaction

Housing guinea pigs in pairs or groups allows them to engage in natural social behaviors, reducing isolation-related stress. An “open-air” play area has been suggested as a model for enrichment.


Food Enrichment

Introducing puzzles, foraging opportunities, and novel food items stimulates the animals’ natural instincts and keeps them mentally engaged. The Bead Forager is a stainless-steel tunnel with beads that rattle. Stuff the forager with treats or grasses. The Chew Stack provides endless opportunities to sniff, touch, and gnaw a safe, interesting mix of natural fiber and wood.

bead forager

Bead Forager

Toys and Manipulatives

Chew toys, balls, and other items for manipulation can engage the guinea pigs’ senses and promote play. The Critter Totter provides exercise and excitement. Our 1” Pine Balls are natural and designed to be chewed, rolled, and gnawed.

Critter Totter

Enrichment Benefits Research Projects

Beyond the ethical reasons for implementing environmental enrichment, there are benefits to the scientific research itself. Animals that experience less stress and exhibit more natural behaviors yield more reliable and relevant research results. Stress can trigger physiological responses that impact experimental outcomes, and behaviors influenced by stress can also confound data interpretation. Therefore, by prioritizing the well-being of laboratory guinea pigs through enrichment, researchers are not only demonstrating their commitment to ethical treatment but also increasing the rigor of their research.


At Otto Environmental we believe environmental enrichment is a holistic approach to animal welfare that acknowledges the inherent needs of laboratory animals like guinea pigs. By creating environments that cater to their natural behaviors and mental stimulation, researchers are not only improving the animals’ well-being but also potentially enhancing the quality and reliability of their scientific studies. As the scientific community continues to evolve in its understanding of animal welfare, embracing enrichment for laboratory guinea pigs exemplifies a compassionate and responsible approach to animal research. We provide rodent laboratory equipment to research centers around the world. Please contact us to discuss your laboratory’s enrichment needs.

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The Fascinating World of Crows: Nature’s Misunderstood Geniuses

Crows, with their sleek black feathers and sharp intelligence, have long been a subject of fascination for humans.

Crows are often portrayed as omens of doom in folklore and mythology. However, beneath their mysterious and dark exterior lies a world of complexity and intelligence that is truly awe-inspiring. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of crows and explore the many reasons why these birds deserve our admiration and respect.

The Genius of Crows

Crows are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Their brain-to-body ratio is comparable to that of some non-human primates and humans according to researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

Absolute brain size is not the whole story. We found that corvid birds performed as well as great apes, despite having much smaller brains,” says Can Kabadayi, doctoral student in Cognitive Science.

Crows have even demonstrated problem-solving abilities that rival those of a young child. One of the most famous experiments showcasing their intelligence is the New Caledonian crow’s use of tools. These crows have been observed fashioning sticks into hooks to extract insects from tree bark, a feat that demonstrates not only their ability to solve problems but also their capacity for forward-thinking and planning.

Complex Social Structures

Crows are highly social birds that live in close-knit family groups. They form strong bonds with their family members and often engage in cooperative behaviors, such as hunting together and defending their territory. These social structures are not unlike those of humans, and they communicate through a wide range of vocalizations and body language. Studies have even shown that crows can recognize individual human faces, remembering those who have been kind to them and those who pose a threat.

The Importance of Crow Enrichment

Captive crows need lots of interesting things to do. Enrichment combats boredom and stereotypic behavior in intelligent animals.  As pets, they recognize family members, their habits, and even the other pets in the home. Enrichment activities are essential for captive crows, such as those in aviaries or rehabilitation centers. Enrichment not only improves the quality of life for crows but also helps prevent boredom and encourages natural behaviors. Here are some common methods and ideas for crow enrichment.

Food Puzzles and Foraging Opportunities

Provide the birds with puzzles and foraging opportunities that stimulate their problem-solving abilities. You can hide food in the hanging Catwalk Treat Dispenser.  Crows will roll the Small Tube Feeder as they forage for treats. Take a look at this crow puzzle-feeder video from the St. Louis Zoo.

Crows Like Novel Objects

Crows are attracted to new and interesting objects. You can place shiny or colorful objects in their environment to pique their curiosity. Ensure that these objects are safe and non-toxic. We recommend these avian enrichment products for crows:

  • The Big Box hanging puzzle gives birds a challenge. Figure out how to remove the marbles.
  • The Hanging Lattice Balls are colorful open-weave balls, each with a bell inside. They provide hours of manipulative and audible enrichment.
  • The Ribbon bird toy can be stuffed with grasses, paper, or string. The bell rings as the bird explores the folds.

Mirror Play

Crows need visual stimulation (video).  The birds are fascinated by mirrors and find interactions with their own reflections intriguing. Providing mirrors, like the Looking Bowl, in their enclosure can lead to engaging and curious behavior! Our Reflective Sensory Balls are sure to give your crow a mental and physical workout!

Reflective Sensory Balls
bird looking at mirror bowl
Looking Bowl

Problem-Solving Challenges

Provide puzzles or challenges that require crows to use their problem-solving skills. This could involve unlocking containers, navigating through mazes, or manipulating objects to obtain rewards. The Gears and Rings toy has bright colors, varied textures, and allows the birds to peck and shred the “birdie bagels”.  The Fuzzy Buddy Bunk is an enrichment device that will be pecked, rolled, and explored by curious crows. It comes pre-stuffed with bedding material. You can refill it with paper, fabric, grasses, etc.

Gear Rings
Fuzzy Buddy Bunk

Final Thoughts on Crow Enrichment

Monitor the crows’ reactions to enrichment activities and adjust them accordingly. What engages one crow may not interest another, so it’s important to tailor enrichment to the individual birds’ preferences and needs. Regularly changing and rotating enrichment items and activities can help keep crows mentally and physically stimulated. Crows are not just birds of mystery and myth; they are intelligent, social, and ecologically significant creatures that deserve our respect and admiration. Next time you see a crow, take a moment to marvel at the genius hidden behind those black feathers and watchful eyes!

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Zoo News From Around the World

Welcome to the latest updates from the world of zoos and animal parks, where every week unfolds newsworthy events within the realm of animal conservation.

From the births of new additions to significant animal milestones, zoos remain a vital hub of activity. In this article, we’ll bring you the latest international developments and highlights, offering a glimpse into the ongoing efforts of dedicated professionals and the compelling stories of the animals under their care.

Don’t lick the taxidermy!

Controversy is brewing over at the Delbridge Museum of Natural History. For years visitors to the museum had been greeted by a taxidermy display of an elephant, lion, tiger, and polar bear. The animals are part of a 150-piece collection donated to the museum years ago. Many museums have older collections like this one. But recently the animals were tested and found to contain arsenic. Arsenic and mercury were used in taxidermy before the 1960s as a preservative. Heavy metals were slowly phased out but still remain in older specimens. Some at Delbridge want to get rid of the collection while others say there is limited risk.

“Just don’t lick the taxidermy,” says Fran Ritchie, the chair of the conservation committee of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC). “You’ll be fine.”

WPHI Pittsburg

World’s loneliest lion freed!

A 15-year-old lion named Ruben was living at a private zoo in Armenia. When the owner passed away all the animals except Ruben were transferred to a new home. The lion lived alone for 5 years until Animal Defenders International stepped in. Ruben was sedated and temporarily moved to a bear sanctuary. Once clearances were approved, the lion was flown to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. You can see his 5,200-mile journey in this video.

High-risk giraffe birth a success

The Detroit Zoo continues to celebrate the birth and continued development of Juhudi. He had trouble nursing and did not receive the vital nutrition he needed during his first 12 hours of life.  He seemed unsure of his mom, which made nursing difficult. Zoo staff put Juhudi under 24/7 care and now the 7-foot youngster is nursing and appears to be in good health. “All their hard work and creative thinking paid off,” officials said.

Detroit Zoo


Rare giraffe born in Tennessee zoo

Brights Zoo is celebrating the unique birth of a “patternless” reticulated giraffe. The last one like it was born in 1972. “Giraffe experts believe she is the only solid-colored reticulated giraffe living anywhere on the planet,” Brights Zoo stated in a release.

“From day one we’ve been in contact with zoo professionals all over the country,” said Brights Zoo director, David Bright. “And especially the old timers, that have been around for a long time, ‘Hey, have you seen this? What’s your thoughts?’ And nobody’s seen it.”

Fred Bercovitch, a wildlife conservation biologist at Kyoto University and executive director of the nonprofit Save the Giraffes, says the animal’s color is likely due to a specific genetic mutation.



Basil the rescued opossum

Basil came to the National Zoo from City Wildlife, a local rescue. He was injured by another animal and was considered non-releasable. Basil lost an eye in the attack. Fortunately, Basil found a safe home in the Small Mammal House. Zoo staff says he interacts with keepers and explores his exhibit at night. Basil spends most of his day sleeping since he is nocturnal (Video).

“We’ve learned that he is curious, mellow and very much enjoys being cozy! Basil especially loves his fleece blankets and finding a spot in his logs to get curled up.”

At Otto Environmental we understand that many animals love to lounge and snuggle in a cozy spot. That is why we offer hammocks for just about any animal from ferrets to bears.


Rare two-headed snake on display in Texas

The Cameron Park Zoo recently returned a two-headed rat snake to the  public display area. The snake was originally discovered in a backyard. But two-headed snakes have difficulty avoiding predators and moving through brush. Zoo staff said “He had a wound on his left neck so we took him off exhibit to heal”. “Our veterinary and reptile teams worked hard to keep the wound bandaged and clean. It took until June last year for the wound to fully heal”.

Cameron Park Zoo

Otto Environmental is committed to supporting your facility’s work in animal care, enrichment, and conservation initiatives. We recognize the tireless work of dedicated animal care professionals to safeguard and preserve the physical and mental health of all animals large and small. If there is anything we can assist with to help you meet your organization’s animal care goals, please do not hesitate to contact us!



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Advancements In Bear Environmental Enrichment

Everyone Loves Bears

Bears, with their captivating presence and intriguing behaviors, have earned a special place in the hearts of zoo and animal park visitors around the world. Their popularity can be attributed to their charismatic appearance and complex behaviors. From the massive polar bears of the Arctic to the elusive giant pandas of China, each bear species possesses its own unique charm. And let us not forget that bears stand as iconic symbols of the wild.

Greater Respect for Bears

It is hard to believe that the Greeks and Romans used bears and other animals in gruesome fighting matches with other animals and humans. Bear baiting, as it became to be known, continued into 17th century until it fell from public approval. Fortunately, captive bears today are treated to a much better life through caring keepers and well-designed exhibits. Our understanding of bear behavior and their environmental enrichment needs has greatly improved their living conditions and well-being. Here is the most current perspective regarding environmental enrichment for bears.

Understanding Bear Environmental Enrichment

Environmental enrichment is a proactive approach that recognizes the fundamental need for bears to engage in behaviors that they would normally perform in the wild. Bears, known for their intelligence and inquisitiveness, need enrichment strategies focused on diversifying their daily routines and surroundings. By doing so, bears are less likely to display stereotypical behaviors like pacing or self-mutilation – actions that can be signs of distress in captivity. Here is the current perspective on effective bear enrichment techniques.

Creating a Natural Playground

One of the primary objectives of environmental enrichment is to simulate the conditions of the animals’ natural habitats as closely as possible. For bears, this means offering various elements that mirror their native environment – from rocks, logs, and pools to trees and hiding spots. These features encourage exploration, climbing, digging, and foraging, which are integral to a bear’s behavioral repertoire. By promoting such activities, zoos not only improve the bears’ mental health but also contribute to their physical fitness. The USDA (APHIS) has a fact sheet on captive bear habitat design. 

Intellectual Stimulation

Bears possess a high level of intelligence that is sometimes underestimated. They can even learn how to open car doors as this video demonstrates. Environmental enrichment strategies tap into this intelligence by introducing puzzles, interactive toys, and novel objects into their enclosures. These items encourage problem-solving, curiosity, and mental engagement. Puzzle feeders, for instance, require bears to manipulate objects to access their food, mimicking the challenges they would face when foraging in the wild. As research shows, such activities keep the bears mentally alert and stave off boredom.

Recommended Feeding Enrichment Products

  • The Bear Feeder provides a feeding challenge that works with bear’s natural desire to forage and retrieve food. We all know bears love taking on bear-proof garbage cans (video). The Bear Feeder provides a safe and controlled method that allows bears to retrieve treats from a bin.
  • The Amazing Graze feeder is stuffed with treats and scents and can be rolled, bit, and grasped by curious bears.
bear feeder
Bear Feeder
Amazing Graze

Sensory Experiences

In the wild, bears are constantly exposed to a wide range of sensory stimuli – rustling of leaves, scents, the sound of flowing water. Zoos aim to recreate these experiences by introducing novel scents, sounds, and textures into the bears’ environments. These stimuli not only evoke natural behaviors but also offer sensory diversity that enriches their lives. The New England Zoo offers this video on bear sensory enrichment.

Recommended Sensory Enrichment Products

  • Bears love to lounge in a comfortable environment (video). The Sun Bear Hammock is a sturdy webbed hammock that enhances the bear’s environment. Tough enough for the largest black and brown bears, the hammock provides an interesting lounging spot to relax.
  • The Panda Bear Snack Pack can be stuffed with treats or scented plant material. The ball is attached to a firehose section and has an internal rattle for auditory stimulation.

Social Interaction

Bears are not solitary creatures by nature; they engage in social interactions with conspecifics in the wild. The Kilham Bear Center recently published this interesting report on bear population hierarchy. Evidence suggests bears learn behavior by watching and socializing with other bears. Keepers provide opportunities for bears to interact with each other, whether through shared enclosures or scheduled playtimes with enrichment items. Socialization prevents loneliness and develops social skills crucial to a bear’s life. Keepers at the John Ball Zoo made this video about their bear enrichment methods and the need to change products often.

Recommended Social Enrichment Products

  • Our Iceberg Float is especially popular with polar bears. Bears love to bite, push, and float on this fun toy.
  • Bears enjoy nosing and pushing Boomer Balls and Bobbins around their habitat. These rugged products provide physical activity and a chance for joint play among bears.
Bear with Boomer Ball Bobbin
Boomer Ball Bobbin
Otto Iceberg Float

Final Thoughts on Bear Enrichment

Providing captive bears with an environment that nurtures their natural behaviors and intellectual capacities is a testament to your commitment to their well-being. At Otto Environmental we partner with zoos and keepers to develop the best enrichment products for bears. It’s a collaborative effort that allows bears to thrive in captivity and aids in conservation efforts worldwide. If you would like to discuss bear enrichment, please contact us for helpful advice.