Will Food Puzzles Work for My Finicky Pets?

Challenging Your Pets

How will you know if your pets like their food puzzles? They’ll tell you: Watch for behaviors that indicate anticipation when you get out the puzzles. Depending upon the animal, this could vary from a cat meowing and rubbing against your legs to a dog leaping excitedly and licking his lips when he sees the puzzle. Another good sign is an intense focus on the puzzle. A willingness to work for the food, whether it takes five minutes or five hours, is a positive sign the animal is enticed and engaged.

Once your pets get used to their food puzzles, you can increase the challenge by rotating food puzzles, dividing food between multiple puzzles or linking compatible pieces together to form more complex puzzles. Puzzles can also be hidden — your animals will need to find them before they can eat. For particularly puzzle-savvy pets, you can purchase genius-level puzzles with various turns and pieces that need to be removed before kibble can be released.


The way you stuff a puzzle can also make it more difficult. Fill cavity toys, like Kongs, in layers; alternate hard treats or kibble with soft filling, like peanut butter, cream cheese or canned dog or cat food. Freeze the puzzle for added difficulty.

Caring for Your Food Puzzles

Food puzzles should be cleaned regularly. For those filled with loose treats or kibble, rinsing with water or gentle soap is adequate. Cavity toys, like Kongs, that are stuffed with softer filling should be washed after every use, as saliva and food particles can become trapped inside.


The best way to clean puzzles is by soaking them in warm, soapy dishwater — some puzzles are labeled as dishwasher safe, but repeated dishwasher cleaning can weaken the material and shorten the life of the puzzle.

Some animals are very sensitive to smells. For that reason, I recommend a neutral-smelling, noncitrus soap to avoid a lingering scent. Use a scrub brush, such as a baby bottle cleaner or toothbrush, on hard-to-reach areas.


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