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

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Nov 27th 2014 - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager, Director Pets Need A Life Too
Harry using the Kong Satellite

Part 3 in a series of Guest Blog Posts from Gillian Shippen (Pets Need A Life Too) on the value of using food dispensing toys to slow down your speed eating pet while also speeding up their brain.

In my last blog post (Fussy cat, speed eating dog? Try a food dispensing toy to also feed the brain) I discussed a range of fun, interactive food dispensing type toys that pet owners could make on a budget. This blog post will discuss what is available commercially for those without the time or inclination to DIY.

Humans love their animals and the way so many pet owners show that love is by giving food – now we need to convince people that their pet really wants to have something to do and the best way is by making feed time fun!

I place food toys in three categories:

1)      Slow feeders

2)      Food dispensing toys

3)      Intelligent interactive toys

It is important to know what the three do in order to advise the owner on the correct choice after determining the needs of both the owner and the pet.


Slow Feeders are just that – a bowl replacement designed to slow down the consumption of food at meal times.  Technically they are not TOYS however they are often mistaken as a toy as we're now saying animals SHOULD play with their food!

A Slow Feeder promotes natural eating habits by requiring the animal to forage for their feasts. Moreover, by prolonging feeding times they also reduce the risks of bloat, regurgitation, and obesity. Pets quickly learn to 'chase' their food through a maze of ridges and valleys or paw through crevices, making dinnertime feel more like a hunt. And because slow feeders 'reward' their play with bits of food, furry friends become more and more engaged as the meal goes on.

Particularly with canines, Slow Feeders should be used with supervision.  You don’t necessarily have to stand over the animal whilst they are using it but you do need to make sure the dog doesn’t attempt to use it as a toy.  There are many different types of products in this category for all sorts of pets but for the purpose of this post, I will concentrate on cats & dogs.

Many cat owners complain to me that their cat is “always asking them for food and then just has a sniff or one mouthful and walks away” prompting the owner to think the cat is fussy. Sydney Cat Vet Dr Kim Kendall once told me cats are not fussy by nature. Our discussion led us to the conclusion that cat owners are misinterpreting their kitties demands and the owners are potentially creating a fussy feline, albeit inadvertently. The reality is, most of the “food demanding” kitties are really just looking for something to do!

For cats there is the SmartCat Tiger Diner bowl, the Catit Food Maze and the Aikiou (pronounced IQ) Stimulo, just to start with (what I have in stock anyway). There are some dog toys that can be used for cats as well which I will mention as I go along.

All three cat slow feeders are suitable for dry food and encourage the cat to investigate and use its paws.  For cats who already like to pick up their food with their paws, you may be able to use moist/wet food in the Stimulo and it can also work quite well for some cats as  multi-cat feeder. The health benefits include reduced regurgitation/vomiting and obesity.  Click on the image above to watch a video of Momo using the Tiger Diner:

Below is my cat Normie with 1) The Catit Food Maze  and 2) The Aikiou Stimulo


These are three of my favourite Slow Feeders for cats but they are just the tip of the iceberg – there are plenty more available.

Now for dogs the range at Pets Need A Life Too  includes the Buster Food Maze, the Akikiou (both the regular and junior), The Green and the Dog Games Slo-Bowls Range. These are awesome for slowing down those 'piggy' eaters who just seem to inhale their food in 10 seconds flat.  You know the ones – owners spend more time preparing the meal than they do consuming it! The awesome thing with the slow feeders is they can be used with moist food and dry food and even better – they are easy to clean with many of them being dishwasher friendly as long as they’re put on the top shelf.

Slow Feeders are also great for patients that require strict rest.  The photo on the left is of my late dog Chevy not long after he had a leg amputation, using the Dog Games Slo Bowl Daisy.

One happy user of The Green is a staffy cross called Bundee (image on the right) who used to gobble her food really quickly and then muscle in on the other family dog’s dinner.  To fix this problem we used a few different options to slow down her eating to give the other dog a chance to finish. One of the slow feeders used was The Green; apparently it is really good with baked beans or spaghetti!

Another regular client was amazed at how long it took her dog to finish its meal using the Buster Food Maze……… may look really simple, but it does require a bit of work for the dogs to get the food – Gracie, the Rhodesian Ridgeback (see below), is very used to food dispensing toys and puzzles but the food maze kept her busy for much longer than expected and I know it can take my dogs up to 30 mins to finish their dinners using the Slow feeders.


The next category is Food Dispensing Toys (FDT) which are generally what they say they are – food dispensing toys!

Most of them are purely for dry food (a little disappointing) but there are two products which can be used with both moist/wet & dry food. The original and the best (and in my humble opinion so terribly underutilised) is the original Kong®. Stuffed correctly the Kong® is an awesome FDT.  I get so disappointed when I hear people say “oh we just put peanut butter in ours” as I feel it’s such a waste and the Kong® is worthy of so more than that. You can feed an entire meal from a Kong® – they are simply that awesome.

Visit the Kong® website to find awesome resources that include a number of great recipes to try with the Kong®. I have access to one of the early brochures as a PDF if anyone wishes to have a copy, which gives the owner stuffing techniques and recipes as well – just shoot me an email and I will be happy to forward it on to you.

The only other FDT that can be used with moist food as well as dry is the Busy Buddy Twist N Treat – another toy that does not get the recognition I feel it deserves. It can be adjusted to make it easy or screwed on tighter to make it more challenging.

The Twist N Treat comes in three sizes and yes that is a Greyhound using the Twist N Treat on the left!  Who says Greyhounds can’t use FDT’s?  I have many happy customers courtesy of the Greyhound Adoption Program SA and not just for my FDT’s either! 

Not all pets are the same

I don’t like to just sell toys, it is important to me that the pet gets the right toy for them. Every animal is an individual and I have found that out most aptly with my animals.  It is important to find out how an animal likes to interact with things and even play.

I have had Rottweilers over the last 15 years and each one has been quite different in how they have interacted with the toys.

Cole (my lovely most missed boy who was the inspiration behind it all) was raised on environmental enrichment toys and loved anything new and challenging. He was quite physical with toys, happy to pick them up with his mouth, throw them around and kick them with his paws. He was rough but he never destroyed his toys – they were just well used!  His two most favouritist (is there such a word?) games in the whole wide world were Chase and Tug! Cole's favourite toys (other the Kong) were: Aussie Dog Home Alone, Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble, Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom, Kong Wobbler or the similar Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramid, Busy Buddy Tug A Jug , Bob A Lot and the Buster Food Cube (just to name a few).  Below is a photo of Cole with his very own toy box! 


My next dog Chevy was quite an anxious boy and lacked in confidence. He would not try anything unless Cole did it first. He was not at all physical with toys (he was so soft mouthed he couldn’t make squeaky toys squeak……there was always a great palaver if he accidently managed to make one squeak!). Chevy did not like anything too challenging, did not pick things up in his mouth especially if they were hard objects (which most FDT’s are) nor would he use his paws and tug frightened him. Chevy, a gentle soul who was a lover not a fighter, was a nose guy through & through.  By this I mean he would nudge things around with his nose and because of his lack of confidence I had to be sure the toys were easy for him to use otherwise he would lose interest and confidence. Chevy’s favourite toys were: Starmark (formally Triple Crown) Everlasting Fun Ball (now known as the Chewball), Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble, Bob A Lot (on the easy setting), the Buster Food Cube (on the easy setting) and the Kitty Kong Wobbler (yes he preferred the Kitty Wobbler, not the dog one!)

When we adopted Diesel at 10 years of age I couldn’t be sure he had ever had any FDT’s before but I used them to balance his anxiety issues at the end of the day. He would be quite wound up when we got home at night and it would take him a while to settle down, so I introduced him to FDT’s which helped to calm him down. Diesel likes to lie down with the toys and just chew and work on them to get the food out. For dogs like Diesel I recommend most of the Starmark FDT’s such as the Beanie Ball, Everlasting Treat Ball, Fireplug (see photo on the left) and the Busy Buddy Twist N Treat. He will also use the Kong Wobbler and the Kong Leo Canine Genius.

Our latest ‘tornado’ (another Rottweiler) is like no other I have ever had or even seen before. I am used to quiet, lazy, short blast of energy dogs but this one only has two speeds – full blast and stop – oh and the bliss when he stops! But he has turned into an awesome toy tester.

Busta (aptly named by his previous owner) goes at everything in life like a bull at a gate. He kicks, bashes, picks up, throws, thrashes – everything you can name he does it. He needs sturdy, solid toys to cope with his rambunctiousness. Busta type dogs are happy with toys like the Aussie Dog Tucker Ball, Kong Wobbler, Kong Satellite, Bob A Lot, Kibble Nibble, Kong Leo Canine Genius, and the very new but not yet in full release, Foobler!

So you can see from the descriptions of just these four dogs, how important it is to determine an animal’s ‘pawsonality’ before recommending a particular toy.

Some dogs are physical with their toys and need hard wearing ones, others don’t like noise and need soft rubber ones, some don’t like to pick them up with the teeth and others love to throw them around.

This also applies to cats - some cats like to swat at things that are dangling down, others love to chase, whilst others like to pop their paws into little hidey spaces to find out what is in there. Some are quite energetic, whilst others are lazy (or have they been encouraged to be lazy!)

When my cat Normie was younger, he loved to steal the dog’s toys and he liked ball type FDT’s (here he is using the Catit Food Ball on the left) and has now graduated to the more serene slow feeders (due to a back issue and because it is hard for him to play with his toys unheeded by two food obsessed dogs!)

Some cats have a bit more bulk behind them, so the Kitty Kong Wobbler is ideal for them (cats like the Main Coon and the Bengals would benefit well from this type) but I also find that many of the Intelligent Interactive Toys (they are the next item on the list) work very well for many cats. Cats love to investigate and there are some great investigatory toys available that also act as FDT’s for cats (and even birds, ferrets, mice, rats etc)

There are also FDT’s available for Domestic Hoof Stock – Aussie Dog Products have a few great toys available but you just have to think outside the square sometimes – I recently saw a video of a horse using the Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble! Below is a horse using Aussie Dog Horse Jiggy Snack Pack



These are not toys that you can generally leave a dog alone with although you can with cats and smaller animals. The aim of these toys is to encourage intelligent interaction between the owner and the animal. They are for those super intelligent dogs that need much more mental stimulation than the average bear! They are also super for those days when it is way too hot (or too cold) to take the dog for a walk.

The old adage that mental stimulation is far better at tiring than physical works so well with these toys. They are also awesome at creating a bond between owner and pet because you have to work together to solve a puzzle. Another good use for Intelligent Interactives is for those animals in enforced rest or cage rest that need to be mentally stimulated.

My current range includes Nina Ottosson, Dog Games and Trixie (at present I am the only one in Australia with the Trixie Range).  Many of these toys can be used for all sorts of animals. For example the ferrets on the left are using the Smartcat Peek A Prize and the dog on the right is playing with the Trixie Strategy Game to Win.


My recommendations with the intelligent interactive ranges when it comes to use with dogs or hard beaked birds (and I remind you these are for supervised play only – not to be left alone with) are as follows:

Dog Games

These are made from a fine plastic they are more suited as a puppy starter or for dogs that are gentle / soft mouthed with their toys - the price would also be more suitable for those concerned about whether or not their pet would use something like this.

The Nina Ottosson Range

Nina Ottosson is the original intelligent interactive toy maker who developed this range after having a child and realising she wasn’t giving her dogs as much time as she used to. This range of mind stimulating toys also had the added bonus of providing stimulation for days when they would get snowed in and were unable to walk anyway. The range is made of a more durable plastic (there is a wooden range as well but most people like the plastic) and the price reflects the quality.  They are suitable for those animals that are harder on their toys and for those owners that will be more dedicated to using this type of product because they know the animal needs that mental stimulation. There are only two from the NO range that I stock that I would be happy to say can be used unsupervised and those are the Pyramid and the Treat Maze.

The Trixie Range

I was really impressed when I had this range delivered, the packaging is a little underwhelming but that is because all the finances obviously goes on the toy range itself rather than impressive packaging.  Made of both a melamine 'wood' and a durable plastic, the price reflects the quality and they are suitable for everyone but particularly for the animals that might be harder on their toys.

Interestingly, owners may sometimes be reluctant to purchase these types of toys as they fear their pet may not be intelligent enough to use them – but this is the whole point.

If you are interested in considering these types of toys as a way to improve the lives of your patients and their owners I am more than happy to communicate with people via email or telephone to discuss what would be an approriate behaviour enrichment programme for their pet.

Pets Need A Life Too is not just about food related toys – I have other awesome fun toys and I also encourage people to look into organised activities for their pets.

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 enjoyed this post and would like to know more check out Gillian's other blog posts in the series:

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

Part 2: Fussy cat, speed eating dog?  Try a food dispensing toy to also feed the brain!


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.

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


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