A stimulating feeder consists of some sort of obstacle or puzzle your dog must work around to get to their food. There are many benefits to feeding your pup through interactive and mentally stimulating feeders. Mainly, meals last longer, it mentally stimulates the dog’s brain, and it reduces the risk of gastric torsion or bloat.
It is a common sight to see a dog munch down her meal in a matter of minutes. Although this may mean your dog is enjoying their food, unfortunately this rapid consumption may lead to gastric torsion or bloat which is a painful and possibly fatal condition if not taken care of properly. Ultimately, the puzzle feeder gives your dog time to digest while eating because they cannot reach their food instantly and all at once, but instead they must work to get it.
This long lasting meal is not just a benefit to the dog, but to the owners and caregivers as well who as we know definitely deserve a break once in a while. You can sit down and catch up on your favorite T.V show or book while your pup is eating her meal.
The mental stimulation of your dog’s brain is another benefit of the use of puzzle feeders. The constant brain stimulation from completing the exercises to eat their food is exciting for dogs and provides them with easy entertainment. They will they look forward to their meals and the challenges they are faced with at dinner time. This may also help with dogs who are bored of their food because it seems as more of an activity vs a boring repeated and scheduled meal time.
When dog owners hear about puzzle feeders, most automatically associate them with kibble and cross out the idea of raw diets. The truth is raw food works just as well as kibble because as long as you can stuff it or pack it in the toy, you have a working interactive feeder. That being said, the method behind a stimulating feeder is more than just sticking your dog’s food in a section of her toy. There are a few things that need to be considered when designing the perfect feeder for your pup to ensure they are getting the maximum befits of this puzzle.
What to consider when looking for the perfect toy
First it is important to consider the shape and style of the toy. For example you want to look for something that has a variety of holes and divots to stick the food in. This is especially important when working with raw food because you want to make sure your dog can get the food out, but that it actually has a place to hide within the toy. If you find that the food is falling out too easily, which may happen with kibble or mixed food, try sticking peanut butter or some sort of dog friendly food to block the area the kibble seems to be spilling out of.
The size and material of the toy is paramount to consider as well as it varies from dog to dog. Larger, stronger chewing dogs need a toy that is durable, and that they will not swallow. A Kong style is a good example of this and is mostly designed for kibble, dry food and sometimes canned. The “Toppl" is very durable and great for wet and raw foods. For small dogs who may not be the strongest of chewers, look for toys that are soft enough so it wont hurt their jaw or teeth, but strong enough and large enough that the toy will not become a safety hazard. A good option for this would be the “Slow Feed Bowl.”
If your dog has a favorite toy, try looking for something similar that you know they will be interested in and excited to play with.
How to teach your pup to use one of these things
Now comes the important stuff: how to get your dog to use the puzzle feeder.
We know as dog owners sometimes introducing your pup to new things can be a challenge. That is why we recommend starting off with a toy that takes little effort to get the food out. This enables your dog to get a feel for the toy, and get used to the idea of an interactive feeder. A good beginner’s toy would be an “Dispensing Ball”.
It is also helpful to start off using small, loose food bites rather than jumping straight to your dog’s dinner or main meal source. Try sticking some special treats in the toy such as pieces of meat or small biscuits that you know your pup will show an interest in.
After she gets used to the concept, you can start introducing more difficult toys, and stuff them with larger pieces of food, or pack the food more tightly in the toy. This will create more of a challenge for your dog because the pieces will not fall out as easily, which will take them more time to solve the puzzle. Eventually once your pup gets the hang of that, you can move on to their main meals. Don’t forget you can use things like peanut butter and yogurt to help create more of a challenge. It’s all about working with your pup and playing around with different toys and combinations of food.
Some helpful tips
Always keeps an eye on your pup when they are using their interactive feeder. We know how sneaky they can be when it comes to chewing apart or making a mess of their toy. You want to be sure your dog is safe and that they do not have a risk of choking on or swallowing something that could potentially make them sick.
It is especially important to keep an eye on them when dealing with more than one dog as feeders can be a source of conflict. Although interactive feeders are a fun way for your pup to enjoy their meals, you have to remember they are still animals who can get competitive and protective over their food.
Another helpful tip is to make your own handmade feeder. This not only saves you money, but allows you to customize the toy to your dog’s likes and needs. For example, we suggest using an old muffin tin to place the food in and then some tennis balls or old cardboard egg cartons filled with food. The downside to this method is it can get a little bit messy however we do sell a shag feeding rug which can be used like a snuffle mat. It comes with a rubber back, looks stylish and is washable.
As mentioned above, interactive feeders can be a messy process. When it comes to cleaning up the area your dog eats it may be as simple as vacuuming or just picking up a few missed pieces of kibble. Although that may be easy, it is important to remember to safely wash your dogs puzzle, and food surface especially if it holds raw meat and wet food. We recommend buying rubber toys that are easy to clean and dishwasher safe. Also look for puzzles that can be cleaned using water and soap, and are easy for your sponge to reach. If you can’t reach or clean all of the divots and holes in your dog’s toy, it may be best to switch to something easier to wash, that way you know there will be no bacteria or gross residue brewing on the surface.
Check out some of our other Interactive Feeders.
Written by Natasha Zelinski