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A variety of puzzles are available for dogs and cats, including food puzzles. Pets that must entertain themselves for long periods of the day can be fed entirely from such puzzles, which stimulate their minds as well as their bodies. My colleagues and I find that puzzles are very popular with the clients in our veterinary practice, most of whom have pets that live indoors. There are so many puzzles available that we usually invite clients to go to a pet store and choose one they think will work for their pet, or to type “food puzzle” and "dog" or "cat" (depending on their pet) into an Internet search engine and click on the image tab to get ideas. We then recommend that they introduce whatever puzzle they choose on a nonwork day by placing it next to the pet's food bowl at mealtime with some of the pet's usual food in the puzzle. Once the pet understands that the puzzle is a food dispenser, the bowl can be withdrawn. Food puzzles provide the stimulation of activity without teaching begging and permit us to interact with our pets in a positive way.
For some pets and owners, active play is not possible, but that does not mean that pleasant interactions that don’t include food can’t still be enjoyed. Animals can be groomed, including with brushing and nail trims, and petted, which can be fulfilling for both of you without being filling for your pet. For pets not used to such activities, introduce the interactions slowly and patiently until the animal understands that they are safe and pleasant. Most will find such interactions enjoyable.
There are many ways to treat our pets well without overdoing it on treats or inadvertently teaching them to beg for snacks. Our animals thrive on interaction with us, as we do with them. We will enjoy each other longer and better when our interactions are fun, contribute to a healthy weight for our pets and promote activity.
Tony Buffington, DVM, M.S., Ph.D., Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, is a professor of clinical sciences and adjunct professor of urology at the Ohio State University. One of his primary areas of interest is the role of stress and disease in companional animals and humans. His interests have also led him to study clinical nutrition in small animal patients as well as lower urinary tract disease in cats.
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