What You Need to Know About Food Toys

Toy Transition Tips

Each of these types may require some teaching, though chewing-type toys don’t seem to require as much figuring out. Pets, especially dogs, just seem to know what to do with them. Regardless of which type you are trying, when you’re first introducing a food-dispensing toy, start just before a regular meal and show your pet how it works. Some pets may need you to just hold a dispenser-type toy so that food comes out easily, or for you to help them manipulate the feeding station, so they can see that it is a new food source. For toys where the difficulty of access can be adjusted, start with the easiest setting and gradually provide less help. If your pet has difficulty with the transition, give him some time with the toy and then offer his usual meal (minus the portion that he’s already eaten) so that he doesn’t associate the toy with being hungry and frustrated. Make sure to reduce the bowl meal’s size as your pet gets more experienced with the toy. Here are a few other things to think about as you transition from bowl to toy:

  • As you can imagine, these toys see a lot of nose poking, licking and rolling on the floor, so getting them clean is important, especially if you’re using canned or frozen food. Pick a toy that can be disassembled and/or washed thoroughly, since crusty old food isn’t in your pet’s best interest (and you don’t want ants). Make sure the food is consumed before it can spoil. Canned or frozen food should be eaten within a few hours, while uneaten dry food should be thrown out at the end of the day.
  • Supervise your pets with these toys, at least until they (and you) know what to expect. Pets can also knock toys under furniture where they can’t reach them, which is frustrating and will leave them hungry. It also means that there’s food lying around waiting to spoil. If it’s a problem, either block access to that room or block off any areas under the furniture where the toys could get stuck.
  • If you have multiple pets, use the toys when they are separated to avoid having a more dominant pet hoard or monopolize the toy or station. This can lead to weight loss in one pet and gain in the other, as well as fights between them.
  • Chewing-type toys are constructed of more flexible material and, if they are broken or improperly sized, can pinch the soft tissues of the mouth, get stuck over teeth, or be swallowed and cause obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract. This is rare, but when it happens, it’s dramatic. Consequences can be serious, so make sure any toy you offer your pet can’t get stuck in his teeth or throat and that there are no cracks or tears in the material. Discard broken toys and avoid any toy that your pet can chew aggressively enough to tear or break.
  • If your goal is to help prevent boredom, don’t use the same toy for every meal. In this case, use several in rotation, preferably different types or toys that require different manipulations to work, so that your pet stays mentally engaged. Some feeding stations are available with interchangeable modules so that the pet can have different tasks to perform for each meal.
  • Monitor your pet to make sure he is using the toy. If you’re still finding food in it at the end of the day, or your pet loses weight (unintentionally) after changing to food-dispensing toys, do some investigation. Make sure the food you put in the toy actually fits through the dispenser opening and that the device is working properly. It’s been reported that some pets associate the toy with anxiety and being left alone, so they avoid it. If you suspect this is the case or you have questions or concerns about using food-dispensing toys, talk with your veterinarian.

By putting some thought into it and taking a few extra steps, you can use feeding time as one way to provide more for your pet than just food!
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