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Fussy cat, speed eating dog? Try a food dispensing toy to also feed the brain!

Posted in Client Service @ Sep 18th 2014 - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager, Director Pets Need A Life Too
Food Dispensing Toys Are Food For The Brain

Part 2 of a series of Guest Blog Posts from Gillian Shippen (Pets Need A Life Too) on the value of using food dispensing toys for your fussy cat and speed eating dog..

Throwing away the food bowl may seem radical but it can be lots of fun for your pet.

In my last blog I talked about disposing of the food bowl on most occasions when it comes to feeding our pets (Why it might be time to get rid of that food bowl for your dog, cat or bird!).

Now as mentioned in the last blog post, throwing away the food bowl may seem highly radical but it is actually a really fun thing for your pet. I know my MOTH (Man Of The House) always thought I was radical about using the food dispensing toys for the pets instead of simply feeding them from the bowl. It seemed so much easier just dumping the food in the bowl and, in his mind, the pets were happier. Then he began to see the benefits of the toys. For a start it takes longer for the food to be consumed and he could see the animals genuinely enjoy using them.

I wonder if people get stuck in the idea that an animal must really enjoy the food if it is scoffed down in 30 seconds?

Our second Rottweiler, Chevy, was a dog with low confidence but we were able to see the joy and his confidence grow when he was able to use the toys. As I mentioned in the first blog – enabling and teaching the animal to problem solve and building their confidence can feasibly help the animal to cope better with certain situations. Whenever I bring a new animal into our home, they often have trouble settling initially so I use a food dispensing toy to help them work off a bit of that anxious energy and occupy their mind elsewhere away from the anxiety.

I've found that often it is the owners who are reluctant to use food dispensing toys because they feel they are depriving their pet of love! Yes that’s right; people feel their pet may not feel loved if it has to “work” for its food. The whole “working” for the food is a difficult thing for pet owners to come to grips with; it makes the owner feel bad.

Then we also have the owners that complain their dog is always hungry (it’s usually the overweight ones) and can never be satisfied. We all know most dogs are opportunistic and will eat something fresh if it is given – these same types are also the ones that won’t eat bones because they are simply not hungry enough and it requires too much effort…..far better to wait for that yummy scotch fillet steak mum cooks up for us every night!

Then what about the cat that is “always demanding” food from the owner and then turns it’s nose up when given something – or just eats a couple of bites and walks off? These ones are usually labelled as fussy as the owner then tries various other types of food to temp kitty. I know my cat does this with unsuspecting people in the house, purely because he can….it’s something to do and a way for him to solicit attention. He doesn’t do it because he is hungry as he always just looks at the food and then walks away. If he does this to me, I give him the attention and play he is looking for and then he is satisfied

My argument with these types of situations is that by making feed time last longer through the use of Slow Feeders, Food Dispensing Toys and even Intelligent Interactive toys (not to be used without supervision) it can actually make animals feel more satisfied and/or provide them with an occupation that is rewarding in so many ways.

So what is my recommendation to start off those reluctant owners?  Simple is always best.

Start off easy by scattering dry food around the garden for dogs; let them watch what is being done so they can work out what the game is all about. There are even some moist foods that can be done this way. You can create great obstacle courses for cats, enabling them to jump up onto high places to find their “prey”.

There are also so many disposable household items that can be used as simple food dispensing toys. The humble used toilet roll or paper towel rolls can be used as food dispensers. So too can empty plastic bottles and yoghurt cups.

See this link for a YouTube video of creative toy making: Bella's Bottle Game

Both the pictures in this post were sent to me by someone in Finland after she heard I was writing a book on enrichment ideas for cats....she sent me a total of 46 photos of various toys she had made for her cats and for cats at a rather special shelter she volunteers at (the cat shelter is a Barge!)

These ideas would make great school holiday projects for parents to do with the children…..or volunteers of shelters could create some of these for animals in shelter or foster care.

So today I leave you with this little starter……….my next blog I will show you what is available commercially.

If you have any questions about environmental enrichment toys for pets or behavioural issues you may be seeing in your practice, just ask Gillian in the comments section below.

If you would like to know more check out Gillian's other blog posts in the series:

Part 1: Why it might be time to get rid of that food bowl for your dog, cat or bird!

Part 3: No time to DIY? Interactive food toys to enrich your pet's life


Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.

Gillian is also currently studying 'Veterinary Behaviour Medicine' at CVE Sydney with Dr Kersti Seksel.

Click here to visit the 'Pets Need A Life Too' Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory





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