Feeding most dogs is a pretty straightforward affair. There’s food, there’s a bowl, and there’s a dog that’s just dying to get their paws on that delicious meal.
But not all canine companions are the same! Depending on their health, age and temperament, you might need to introduce some variety and mental stimulation to your pets’ mealtimes. Puzzle feeders come in a variety of shapes, sizes and complexity. They might introduce a ton of enrichment in your dogs’ lives.
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These types of food challenges can help solve problems as varied as:
- My senior dog doesn’t like eating anymore;
- My dog eats too fast and keeps throwing up;
- My dog gets bored and tends to be destructive;
- My dog is at risk of bloat or gastric volvulus issues;
- My dog is overweight/obese and needs to move more;
- My dog is recovering and can’t go for walks.
Does this sound familiar? If this is you, keep reading to see how puzzle feeders work and how to choose the best ones for your pet.
Do puzzle feeders really work?
Experts consistently recommend food puzzles as one of the best toys for dogs. This is because they combine the effectiveness of treat-motivated training with the mental stimulation of an excellent challenge.
Dogs have been our friends for over 10,000 years as they were the first species to undergo domestication. So they are well accustomed to the cosy home life. However, their instincts as predators have never really disappeared, and puzzle feeders tap with great effect into this often unused need to hunt for food.
Not all dogs will like all styles of food puzzles. It might take a while to find the right combination of toys to keep them entertained, but they are a worthwhile investment.
How does my dog benefit from a puzzle feeder?
Food toys have an astounding number of applications and benefits, some of which might not be obvious at first glance. Fun and entertainment are just two of the benefits of introducing food toys.
Boredom is a difficult situation for any dog! Being home alone, without anything to do, and no way to fix that can lead to behavioural problems. Some dogs may turn to destructive or aggressive behaviours if they find themselves understimulated.
Puzzle feeders can help with this as they challenge your dog to open lids, snuffle around or unlock sections so they can get to those tasty treats. This has been shown to have a tremendous effect in reducing stress levels and keeping boredom at bay.
If, for whatever reason, your dog isn’t moving as much anymore, be it old age, bad weather or veterinary recommendations during recovery, a toy feeder can do wonders to motivate them to be more active. Even though long walks or vigorous exercise are not possible, increasing the activity level during feeding time can help a lot.
They can also be used as part of weight-loss strategies for overweight or obese pets, particularly toys that need to be moved around to dispense food.
Helps stave off dementia:
Cognitive decline in pets as they enter their senior years is an unfortunate reality. The precise mechanisms for why this happens are not well understood yet, but we know that keeping your dog active and mentally stimulated can help reduce the severity of dementia.
Puzzle feeders vary in complexity, with some of them really challenging your pet by having several steps that need to be performed before they dispense food. Introducing this type of challenge to your dog gives them the chance to exercise their cognitive skills, keeping their brain active and healthy for as long as possible.
Reduces the chance of gastric problems:
“My dog eats too fast!” is a common complaint, mainly because dogs that hoover up their food in record time often have issues with throwing it up right after. Some breeds are prone to gastric torsion or bloat. Animals that eat too much and too fast can put themselves at risk of having serious gastric issues.
Simpler food puzzles increase the time your pet spends eating their meals by putting in obstacles that force them to slow down and eat less food at a time. This, in turn, reduces the air they ingest and improves digestion, helping avoid vomiting and bloat.
What’s the best puzzle feeder for my dog?
As we’ve mentioned, there are many styles of puzzle feeders with different levels of complexity and design.
Simple food puzzles:
Examples of these feeders are spiral dishes, snuffle mats, or bowls with physical barriers to stop voracious eating. They are great for dogs that are new to puzzle toys or for animals that primarily need to be slowed down while they eat as they are easy to figure out but still very entertaining.
Complex food puzzles:
These toys can feature some pretty good challenges. Such as removing cups, rotating pieces, or even performing more than one task in the correct order to be awarded treats. Your pet might need to work with more straightforward puzzles before getting to the really tough ones. But they will flex those brain muscles like no other!
The best one for your dog will depend on their needs, personality and lifestyle. It might take a bit of time to figure out the ones that really get your canine companion going, and don’t forget to switch them around so the challenge is always exciting.
Even if your dogs have no particular health or behaviour problems, it’s still a good idea to give puzzle feeders a go. If you’re looking to enhance their mealtime experience or to help keep them active and with a well-enriched home, we are sure there is the perfect toy and treat combination for your pets out there!