Puzzle toys and interactive feeders are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog and encourage her to work for her food. But are they okay to use with raw diets?
Exercising your dog’s mind is very important. She needs daily doses of mentally challenging exercise to help keep her happy and well-adjusted. Stuffing food into interactive feeders and puzzle toys is a wonderful way to give her brain a workout while she enjoys her daily meals. But what if you feed your dog a raw diet? Aren’t interactive feeders and puzzle toys designed for kibble only? Not necessarily. If your dog eats it, you can stuff it into a toy or feeder! You just need to choose the right product, and know how to fill and clean it properly.
1. Choosing it
When selecting an interactive feeder or puzzle toy for a raw diet, look for something that features holes and crevices you can easily stuff the food into. It’s also very important to pick something that’s going to be easy to clean properly. I recommend products such as Kong rubber toys, Outward Hound puzzle bowls(see image above), the Starmark Pickle rubber toy, and Nina Ottosson brain games. Regardless of your dog’s chewing style, she will love these durable toys!
Be sure to buy something that can’t completely fit inside your dog’s mouth. If your dog is a power chewer, a natural rubber toy with large cavities made for food is a good choice; they’re tough yet flexible, and able to withstand repeated chewing.
Other ideas for interactive raw feeding include stuffing food into hollowed-out marrow bones. Or take a muffin tin, form the raw food into the cups (like pushing piecrust into a pan) and let you dog work it out under your supervision. For quick puzzle solvers, you can change things up by turning the muffin tin upside down and forming the food over the outsides of the cups.
Whether you buy a toy or feeder, or create your own, always keep your dog’s safety in mind. You don’t want her to chew off and ingest foreign objects. My own dogs enjoy their food puzzles under the kitchen table while we eat dinner; this keeps them busy yet close enough for us to supervise.
2. Filling it
If you’re giving your dog a frozen raw food diet, simply put it inside the toy or feeder the way you would canned food. If you give your dog freeze-dried raw food, put a few large chunks of fruit, such as pear or apple, into the feeder or toy along with the food, to prevent the latter from falling out too quickly. With dehydrated raw food mixes, prepare her meals per the label instructions and put the food into the toy; plug holes with peanut butter to prevent it from leaking out.
In the beginning, make the challenge easy to solve by loosely stuffing the food into the cavities or crevices of the toy or feeder. This means the food will come out easily with slight movement, and teaches your dog that moving the toy or feeder around makes the food appear.
Once she learns this, make it a bit tougher each time by packing the food more tightly into the toy or feeder, so it takes more effort to remove it. When your dog gets really good at solving these food puzzles — meaning she can get the food out within five to ten minutes – try freezing the food-stuffed toy overnight. Plastic and rubber toys and feeders do well in the freezer. If you’re freezing a toy stuffed with freeze-dried food, you’ll need to add a bit of moisture so it will stay frozen; put a bit of water or broth inside the toy along with the food, and plug holes with peanut butter before tossing it in the freezer. Once frozen, your dog must lick away at the food until it melts, then figure out how to remove the semi-frozen chunks from inside the toy.
3. Cleaning it
Thoroughly cleaning up after handling raw meat is a must. This applies to your dog’s interactive feeders and puzzle toys as well as the surfaces he eats from. When giving your dog toys or feeders filled with raw food, confine her to an area of easy-to-wash flooring, or have her eat outdoors (weather permitting, and with your supervision). The toy or puzzle itself also needs to be washed thoroughly after each meal, which is why it’s so important to look for a product that is easy to clean. Rubber toys clean well in the dishwasher; clean plastic feeder puzzles in hot soapy water.
So there’s no need to give up your dog’s raw diet in favor of some mental stimulation at dinnertime. Give some thought to choosing, filling and cleaning an interactive feeder or puzzle toy, and you can easily use it with a raw food!