Do Animals Get Bored? (Answered By Zoologist)

red panda showing signs of boredom

With today’s modern technology and digital advances at our very fingertips, it’s hard to imagine a world in which we could ever get bored.

But humans do get bored.

And we’re not alone. So do animals get bored?

Yes, many animal species can suffer from boredom. Because they have many of their needs taken care of and have limited space to explore, pets and zoo animals are more likely to be bored than wild animals. However, wild animals with high intelligence, such as apes, can be more likely to be bored as well. 

Whilst boredom doesn’t sound particularly dangerous, the effects that it can have on animals can be quite detrimental.

Read on to discover more about how boredom affects animals.

What Exactly Is Boredom?

Uh oh!

A recent storm has caused the power to drop.

No lights. No television. And worst of all, no WiFi.

A real life horror story.

What are you supposed to do now? Talk to your parents? Your roommate? Your partner.

No way – this isn’t the stone age! You need your daily dose of Instagram, TikTok and the likes. You can’t even surf the web for your favourite nature articles…

Surely, this is what boredom feels like?

Well, a modern-day boredom, if you like. You’re not receiving stimulation, even if it is from the mindless screen of technology.

Boredom is a signal of dissatisfaction. It can be perceived as a negative emotion, as it suggests that surroundings may not be stimulating.

In large doses, boredom can be dangerous.

It is well documented that humans suffer from boredom. Tasks become mundane and you do not derive satisfaction from certain aspects of life. You become disinterested in things and you struggle to achieve a purpose. Sometimes, we feel tired. Other times, we feel irritated.

Deep, I know.

But, we’re not here to talk about humans. You want to know whether animals suffer from boredom?

The short answer is yes. Animals can suffer from boredom.

But, to understand this in greater detail, we need to delve deeper into the different types of animals we share our planet with: pets, zoo animals and wild animals.

Can Pets Suffer From Boredom?

There is no denying that we humans love our pets. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that over 66% of households own pets.

It is no secret that we often find ourselves more attached to our furry friends over own own partners at times. But hey, no shame in that. I’m certainly guilty of it.

But, without the right care and attention, pets are susceptible to boredom. And with boredom, comes a whole range of health risks; most notably, depression and anxiety.

There are, however, certain behaviours you can look out for that may suggest your pet is bored.

Behaviours Of A Bored Pet

1. Destroyed Furniture

We all know younger animals are renowned for a bit of playtime destruction every now and then.

A chewed up TV remote here, a dismembered shoe there.

At one point or another, a puppy or kitten owner can expect a piece of furniture to be destroyed.

But what about older, or should I say mature, pets? Pets that have outgrown their younger mischievousness?

Well, if your otherwise trained pet starts destroying furniture, for no obvious reason, this could be a sign of boredom.

Excessive chewing on chair legs. The scratching of the couch over and over. Destroying pillows and upholstery. Unexpected, and unexplainable, destruction could be brought on by the simplicity of boredom.

2. Repetitive Behaviour

Whilst repetitive scratching or chewing could be a sign of boredom, this is by no means the only form of repetitive behaviour that could identify boredom.

Bored pets may develop stereotypic behaviours – behaviours that are repetitive and abnormal, serving no real function or purpose.

In pets, these behaviours have been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), much in the same way humans develop OCD.

In dogs, repetitive behaviours such as tail chasing, shadow chasing or spinning may look cute and funny, however, they shine a light on the negative mental wellbeing of these mammals.

3. Excessive Sleeping

Cats sleep a lot. Like, a lot a lot. It isn’t uncommon for a cat to sleep up to 16 hours in a day.

Puppies also sleep a lot. Sometimes up to 18 hours.

Long periods of sleep can be expected for some individuals.

However, long periods of sleep isn’t always the norm. Healthy, adult pets that appear lethargic or fatigued, and sleeping for most the day, may be suffering from boredom.

But then again, this is no different from humans. Sometimes, when we are bored, we have no real desire to get out of bed. It’s the same for pets.

4. Attention Seeking

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good snuggle with any pet. When I’m down in the dumps, it’s an instant serotonin lifter.

But, excessive nudging with paws or snouts, whining and crying or begging may be other behaviours associated with boredom.

Your pet is trying to communicate with you. They are wanting something more.

More attention!

But, fear not! If your pets are displaying any of these behaviours, there are some simple tricks you can deploy.

How To Avoid Boredom In Pets

1. Toys

Easy, simple and cheap, toys are a great way to keep your pets entertained.

There are a wide range of toys, for a range of different animal pets, all with different sensory or tactile experiences, designed to engage with your pets senses.

Toys can be comforting as well as puzzling. Some, such as kongs, stimulate the minds of pets for long periods of time, as your pet tries to work out how to get to the treats within.

2. Active Lifestyle

Pets such as dogs need regular exercise. This could be in the form of daily walks in the local park, or a simple game of ball throwing.

Whilst out on walks, aim to switch trails and locations. The same walk everyday will become monotonous and boring after a while. Dogs need to experience new places to gather a range of sensory information, mental stimulation, and, most importantly, socialisation from other dogs.

This will keep your dog (and you) fit and healthy.

3. Avoid Punishment

Yes, it can be infuriating when your pet acts up. Perhaps they’ve peed on your new carpet. Maybe they destroyed your favourite pair of shoes.

Owning a pet is no simple task, and accidents will occur.

Do not use physical punishment to discipline your pet, as this will encourage fearful and anxious behaviours, leading to your pet becoming withdrawn. Their reluctance to move from their bed due to fearfulness may lead your pet to develop boredom.

Instead, use positive reinforcement. Reward your pet with treats if they pee outside. Praise them. Pat them. Experiment with different methods to get a positive response from your pet.

4. Avoid Long Lone Periods

Leaving your pet for long periods of time may cause them to become bored.

Dogs are incredibly social animals, capable of forming deep emotional bonds with their owners. Without social interaction, from either humans and other animals, dogs may become bored and restless.

This encourages bad behaviour, such as the destruction of furniture, as they try to relive their boredom.

5. Attention

Most importantly, you need to give your pet ample attention.

This can be in the form of physical or emotional attention. Play with your pets. Talk to them. Go out with them.

You mean as much to them as they do to you.

If you cannot provide lots of attention, you should not consider getting a pet. Pets are an investment, not a thing to be bought on a whim.

Can Zoo Animals Suffer From Boredom?

Animals in captivity are extremely susceptible to boredom.

But, this shouldn’t come as such a shock, should it?

Wild animals have evolved and adapted to landscapes over thousands, if not millions, of years. As such, their physical, behavioural and physiological traits  have adapted.

A polar bear, for example, has evolved not just one, but two layers of thick fur, to help them survive in the frigid arctic temperatures. They use their excellent sense of smell and the plentiful sea ice to ambush their prey.

So, what happens when you take a polar bear out of its natural habitat?

Well, without a stimulating environment of sea ice to practice hunting instincts, a polar bear may become bored and disinterested. They may start pacing back and forth in their enclosures and engage in self-mutilation.

This can be applied for a range of social animals too.

Elephants, the largest extant terrestrial animal, are highly social and roam vast distances in family herds, often led by a matriarch.

Confined in a small enclosure, with nothing but its own company, an elephant will start to get bored very quickly. Boredom can lead to zoochosis – a form of psychosis that can lead to stereotypic behaviours. This can be fatal.

Elephants that can be seen swaying from side to side may be suffering from boredom and zoochosis.

Mammals are not the only group of species that can suffer the effects from boredom.

Many bird species, especially parrots and corvids, are incredibly intelligent and social. They have effective ways of communication and can solve complex puzzles.

Strip this away from a bird, and they will become heavily depressed. They may start plucking out their own feathers, causing infections.

Can Wild Animals Suffer From Boredom?

Is it possible that wild animals can also get bored?

Probably not.

In the wild, animals have to actively decide where to invest their resources to stay alive.

Do they invest energy into defense, to evade predators and defend themselves against pathogenic attacks?

Do they invest in mating strategies to ensure they pass on their genes to the next generation?

Or do they simply invest all their resources into finding food, water and shelter?

Well, the likelihood is that most wild animals will be doing all three – defending themselves, obtaining mates and staying alive.

In most cases, with all these pressing issues on the forefront of their mind, many animals simply do not get bored.

Wild animals, especially those lower on the food chain, are cautious and vigilant. They never quite let their guard down.

In turn, predatory animals must deploy ingenious ways to outsmart their cautious prey.

Because both predators and prey are trying to get ahead of the other, each species is stimulated. Each species deploys tactics, many of which are behaviours that have been taught and passed on through small populations that are tried and tested.

Take chimpanzees, for example. Some populations of these tree-dwelling primates have developed strategic, albeit gruesome, ways to catch prey.

In Uganda, a small population of chimps have devised a way to hunt the red colobus – another primate species. However, the chimps work as a team to flush the colobus monkeys out of the trees and into a trap, where they are swiftly dismembered and devoured.

This sophisticated method of hunting relies on teamwork and brain power, keeping the chimps occupied and stimulated.

However, without such stimulation, “intelligent” species, such as the great ape species, may suffer boredom in the wild. This is strong speculation and there is no scientific evidence to back it up.

But, it does get you thinking. What about the mountain gorillas of Rwanda? They spend their days foraging for shots, or lounging around in the tall grass. Are they content with their existence? Or do they crave more?

We humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize a lot of things – including animal behaviour. Just because we may find it boring to lounge around in grass all day, this doesn’t mean gorillas find it a boring lifestyle.

In fact, I’m rather envious of their care-free lifestyle (besides the omnipresent risk of illegal poaching).

Final Thoughts

Boredom is not confined to just humans.

In fact, boredom isn’t confined to primates.

A whole range of animals suffer from boredom. From large, herding animals, such as elephants, to social birds, such as parrots.

Boredom can even affect our very own pets.

Without attention and stimulation any animal can become bored.

But there are ways to prevent boredom.

With captive animals, such as those in zoos, enrichment and enclosures high in vegetation promote natural habitats and encourage behaviours typical to what wild animals would deploy.

For pets, ensure you have plenty of time and patience for them. Yes, it can be frustrating when they pee in the wrong part of the house. But it’s all about positive reinforcement and playtime. Provide lots of toys and, above all, fun!

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