Wow. What a category! So many options and things to choose from out there. You may wonder, “Why would you make a blog about toys? You buy them and give them to your pet, end of story”. Well, I am here to let you know a wide range of toys are available for different purposes. Let’s break it down.
Meeting a dog’s needs makes for a happy, healthy dog! Providing mental enrichment for your pet can help them feel more content and less stressed. It also increases exercise and burns energy. Did you know mental enrichment is four times more exhausting than physical activity? Working breeds especially tend to act out and present undesired behaviors when they do not have a job or something to keep them occupied. There are many different animal puzzles and toys to help them think. The main goal is to get their mind working.
Most puzzles use food or treats the animal needs to find using their nose and/or paws. They also make some hide-a-toys where the animal needs to get toys out instead of treats! Notice the “Hide-A-Squirrel” and “Hide-A-Raccoon” in the picture on the right. This enrichment is perfect for some pets; others need more or something different. The pet decides what enrichment is, based on their interest and activity level. If used a lot, some puzzles become like muscle memory and no longer count as enrichment, so they must be made more difficult by altering the activity or alternating with other forms of enrichment. The activity should never be too hard, so they get frustrated, or too easy, so they get bored. A book called Canine Enrichment for the Real World changed my life regarding thinking and learning about enrichment, It is available on Dogwise and Amazon, and I highly recommend checking it out!
Bones and chews:
Everyone is familiar with these. But did you know many bones and chews can be dangerous in multiple ways? Antlers and some nylabone-type toys can be too hard and break teeth. The best test to see if a toy is too hard is to imprint it with your fingernail. If you can indent it, it’s good; if there is no mark or your nail does not go into it, it is too hard. Some real animal bones can splinter, causing damage inside the mouth and intestines.
Bones with knots in them can be choking hazards when they chew the rest of it off, and it becomes only the knotted ball part left. Unfortunately, even rawhides can be tough on the stomach and another choking hazard. My dog spent a great deal of time making a rawhide-type treat as soft as possible so she could swallow it whole, which was terrifying to witness and also caused me guilt that I could not get it away from her before she did that. Even chews that are great for your pet can be a choking hazard, so it is always best to supervise them while they enjoy their treat.
So, what can you give your pet? We LOVE Oravet treats because they do the best job of keeping their teeth clean. These “filled bones” from Redbarn are appropriate and would be a great time-consuming activity. Other great options for chewing are the Pig Ears, Bully sticks, or high-quality Yak Cheese (we like these items from Nature Gnaws or Bully Bunches). It is best to get a completely digestible chew and easy on the stomach if digested.
Soft and Plushy:
Ahh, yes, the potential fluff explosion! Soft and plushy toys or stuffed animals can be super adorable and fun, but usually at a cost. These are typically your least durable option as far as toys go. If your pet is a destroyer of all toys, this may be a fun activity! Just make sure you watch them, especially with an activity like this. They can destroy but not ingest! Foreign body surgeries are expensive and usually avoidable with supervision. Pet-specific soft/plushy toys are generally more durable and costly. If you want something for them to shred, your local thrift store may have some great options! I get three stuffed animals for $2 at the one I visit. We ensure they consist of regular stuffing, not beads/sand or contain anything hard. My dog does not typically destroy them but always needs a toy in her mouth to carry around. She can never have enough toys, so this is an excellent option for us!
*Pictures of my dog, Asuna with some of her many toys.
The favorite of all toys! For a good reason, the Kong brand is a staple in animal behavior and pet households. There are so many beautiful options with Kong. They make some fantastic toys, specifically, the original Kong, which I want to touch on.
A well-stuffed kong can take 30-45 minutes for your pet to go through! Imagine your rambunctious puppy doing that instead of needing to play with you when you need to do something at home! Puppies 6 months and younger should use the puppy-specific version not to break any baby teeth. Your super chewer should use the Black Kong since it is tougher and not as easily torn apart. I love the fun stuffing recipes Kong offers on its website and many other recipes in general. Be careful with some of those fattier ingredients, especially if you want to give your pet a kong regularly. Part, if not all, of your pet’s regular meal makes for the best stuffing!
Kong Stuffing Suggestions:
Many people’s Kong stuffing efforts consist of inserting a few dog cookies. This is scratching the surface of the creativity you can cook up for your dog. Here are a few pointers and principles to bump your Kong stuffing prowess up to the next level:
- The difficulty level should be appropriate to the dog’s experience level and temperament – is he very food motivated or a “giver-upper?” Any increases in difficulty level should be done gradually so the dog succeeds while developing interest. In other words, start easy and then make it more challenging.
- Easy stuffing: loose, small, easy-to-fall-out pieces.
- More difficult stuffings are: tighter, with some big pieces that take concerted effort and hole-squishing to get in (and thus will be difficult to extract)
- You use a mixture (unsalted peanut butter, pure canned pumpkin, canned dog food, unsweetened applesauce) as a “binder” to hold the smaller bits in and give the dog side-polishing challenges.
- Give them all of their food this way or in some interactive feeding apparatus, especially if they are a particularly energetic dog.
- Stuff unseasoned meat, unsalted mashed potatoes, etc., in it and freeze. Or, plug the small hole with unsalted peanut butter and fill the cavity with broth, then freeze this to make a “Kongsicle” (note: this can be messy – best to give it to your dog outside!)
Facebook has a group called “Canine Enrichment.” This group is fantastic! With 500k members posting their pet’s enrichment, they get lots of fun DIY posts. I HIGHLY recommend that you check it out. A couple of common DIY activities include:
- Take an empty paper towel or toilet paper roll. Fold the ends so they are closed, and cut kibble-sized holes in the side. Add food and let them toss it around to get their food out.
- Feeding meals out of cupcake tins. Start with putting their food in the cup spots, then increase the difficulty by flipping it upside down or placing tennis balls or other objects on top that they need to move to get to their food.
- Feeding kibble meals in the grass or spread on the floor. Start with smaller amounts that are easier to find at first. Once they get their foraging down, throw their food in the backyard and watch them sniff it all out!
Cats like toys too! Cats typically like the chase of their meal. These little hunters do great with food coming from something they need to bat or chase around. The article “Food puzzles For Cats Feeding for Physical and emotional wellbeing” from the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery is everything I would like to talk about with cat enrichment and more! Check it out by clicking the link that follows. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1098612X16643753
*Disclaimer: All toys/chews should be supervised while your pet enjoys them.
What a journey toys and enrichment can be! This blog has not even scratched the surface of what is out there. But it may be a great starting point for you and your companion! Every pet is an individual, and exploring what they enjoy can be a fantastic bonding experience for you and your kiddo. As always, we are here to help as much as possible and are so happy you are taking the time to learn what can benefit your pet. Happy chasing and chewing!
Please enjoy more pictures of AAAC staff pets with their toys below. 🙂