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Enriching your pet's life

Environmental enrichment for pets

What does your pet do all day? Sleep? Eat? Run around? Chew the furniture?

Our pets are designed to be busy. 80% of hunts for cats in the wild are unsuccessful; dump-living village dogs (from where our pet dogs originate) spend most of their day foraging for scraps in the village rubbish dump. In a modern pet household we feed our animals scientifically formulated, well balanced, easy to digest food in a bowl – this is great for their health – but how long does it take them to eat it – ten minutes, five minutes, if they’re like some of our dogs maybe thirty seconds?

So then what do they do with the rest of their time in the day?

What can we do?

One of the easiest ways we can offer environmental enrichment to our pets is by feeding them differently – using feeding toys.

Feeding toys are items which the cat or dog has to manipulate to obtain food; some are suitable for dry food, some for wet.

There are many different feeding toys on the market for both dogs and cats – “Kong”, “Kong Wobbler”, “Busy Buddy”, “Buster Cube” to name a few.

The ball based toys such as the treat balls and Buster Cube are designed to be filled with dry food and the dog rolls them around with either their nose or paws and as they roll round the food drops out. The Kong Wobbler is weighted at the bottom so every time it is knocked over it rights itself – dogs knock them over with their paws to tip small amounts of dry food out at a time.

These active feeding toys are great mental stimulation for dogs:

  • they have to work out how to get the food, use their brain, problem solve – doing this has been shown to slow brain ageing
  • they help to slow down dogs who eat too fast and bolt their food
  • teaches dogs to learn to deal with low levels of frustration – they can’t have what they want immediately but have to work out how to get it – a useful lesson for other areas of life.

Dog's feeding toy

But I don't want to buy a feeding toy...

A very simple way of feeding your dog without using toys, especially for those breeds such as the gundogs who like to use their noses, is to scatter feed them. Find a clear area of lawn and scatter your dog’s normal dry food meal around the area – they have to use their nose to search and find the food.

My dog's food is wet, what shall i do?

Feeding toys for wet food are also great for dogs – Kong or Busy Buddy Twist & Treat can both be filled with wet food (or soaked dry food). The dog then has to lick and chew to gain the food. This form of feeding is more relaxing that the active dry food feeding toys – the licking and chewing action causes release of endorphins (“feel good” chemicals in the brain) and helps relaxation. These types of toys are great for teething puppies, teaching crate training or for some settled “down time” for your dog.

Are there any dogs that feeding toys won't benefit?

Take care using these toys with dogs who have a tendency to guard their food or toys – these toys can sometimes worsen this behaviour as it makes the item more valuable to the dog. Some dogs cannot deal with the frustration (however mild) these toys cause and can become aggressive with the toy itself. If you are in any doubt if these toys would suit your dog then give the Behaviour Services team a call at the surgery and we can help you find a method of feeding that would suit your dog best.

Informative image: available from TrixieHow about cats?

Cats tend to use their paws for accessing food more than their noses or heads. There are many cat feeding toys on the market too – Trixie Cat Activity Fun Board, Trixie Turnaround, treat balls – all of which are designed to allow cats to use their paws to scoop or push the food out of the toy.

You can make several good feeding toys for cats at home - one of the easiest to make is a collection of empty toilet rolls taped together side by side then turned on their side for the cat to scoop the food from. Or some empty yoghurt pots in a tray with small amounts of dry food in each one for the cat to scoop the food from.

Watch our video of Rolo enjoying her feeding toy!

Rolo's feeding toy

Informative image: Avalable from SavicRabbits need boredom busters too!

Rabbits need stimulation and exercise and are far too often left in small hitches with nothing to do. Feeding toys such as this one will help to pass the time but rabbits shoud also have free access to a hutch with tunnels and other toys. There is lots more information on the correct environment for rabbits here on the RAWF site.

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