At Sabino Veterinary Care, we spend a fair amount of time talking about diet choices for dogs and cats, and trying to guide our pet owners towards better choices of dog and cat food brands.
We wrote about this a few years ago in this article. We also talk a little about feeding strategies. For many dogs and cats using some form of a food puzzle makes sense for several reasons. A food puzzle is basically some device that encourages the pet to use their foraging skills and behavior to “work” for their food. These devices can be as simple as a plastic yogurt container with a small hole cut for slow dispersal of dry cat food, to highly challenging devises that can occupy a clever dog for long periods of time. There are several reasons for food puzzles and benefits for the pet at many stages of life. For a new puppy, introducing a food puzzle for playtime can help save our shoes and belts from destructive chewing, and can provide a mental challenge to decrease boredom or separation anxiety while crate training. For an active young adult, food puzzles can slow the gulping of food for really aggressive eaters to reduce the risk of regurgitation, bloat, or other digestive issues. For an overweight pet, food puzzles prolong the mealtime and can help satisfy food cravings when we are restricting calories and dry food volume.
I am a big proponent for using food puzzles for cats, as well. In my opinion the best way to feed a cat is to feed a good quality high protein low carb wet food daily, and then offer a small amount of high protein dry food in a food puzzle. At our clinic we have started carrying the Eggsersizer which is a small plastic oval that can hold almost a cup of dry food and has adjustable opening to allow you to increase the challenge to your cat as needed. This allows our indoor cats to “hunt”, or at least “gather” their food over a longer period of time. Studies have shown that our pets don’t reach a feeling of fullness or satiety while eating unless we get out 15-20 minutes, so the longer we can prolong the meal time the better able we are to satisfy our pets, particularly when limiting food amounts.
The most common food puzzle is probably a Kong toy. This tough rubber device can hold dry or wet food, or treats, and can even be frozen to increase the level of difficulty. This is a great way to provide entertainment and food or treats to a new and inquisitive puppy. We carry the “Magic Mushroom” food puzzle for small to medium dogs at the clinic. Another great resource is the clever food puzzles made in Sweden by Nina Ottoson. These would challenge the cleverest pet, and I believe are good preparation for a career as a bank robber or watch repairman.