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Eight reasons to use a dog feeding puzzle: A vet's view

Dog feeding puzzle
(Image credit: Amy Davies)

There are many different types of dog feeding puzzle on the market. Some take wet dog food, others dry dog food. Some have moving parts, some are mobile and need to be moved, and others just slow your dog’s eating down. Food toys are great for your dog’s mental and physical health and are among the best dog toys. In fact, feeding puzzles have lots of amazing benefits for your dog. We’re going to look at the main benefits of puzzle feeders for dogs.

1. Keeps your dog fuller for longer

Satiety – the feeling of fullness – plays a key role in preventing obesity in dogs. Just like humans, dogs that eat their food too quickly often don’t have time to feel ‘full’. Instead, they’ll spend the next half an hour pestering for more food, even if they don’t really need it – and it can be hard to say no when those big brown eyes look up at you! Slowing down your dog’s eating helps them to feel full, which reduces begging and is important for weight control. Puzzle feeders can be used with a range of different diets (including weight-loss diets) to help your pet slow their eating and increase the feeling of fullness. So if you’re wondering what to do if your dog is overweight, a puzzle feeder might help. 

2. Helps to prevent bloat and GDV

GDV (Gastric-dilation-volvulus) is a serious, often fatal, condition where the stomach bloats and twists. Bloat is the less-serious version where the stomach simply fills with gas, with no twist. In dogs, GDV has been linked to being deep-chested, with dogs like german shepherds and standard poodles more likely to suffer with it. It’s also been linked to types of diet and eating food too fast – aka ‘scarfing’ or ‘gorging’. When your dog eats like this, they swallow a lot of air, which contributes to the bloat. Puzzle feeders slow your dog’s eating down and therefore reduce the chance of your dog suffering from GDV or bloat.

3. Provides mental stimulation for your dog

Your dog is probably more intelligent than you think! After all, they evolved in forests, hunting alongside us. Some dogs have learned over 1000 words and can even infer the names of new objects. Now, when we feed our dogs from a food bowl, it requires no thought and takes no time at all. Feeding using a puzzle toy encourages your dog to use their brain and their puzzle-solving ability to get their reward. Toys that encourage these hunting and foraging instincts are great for your dog’s mental ability!

4. May help reduce problem behaviours

Mental stimulation can help to reduce some problem behaviours in dogs. Dogs that are bored are more likely to be destructive, so giving them something to work for (like a food puzzle) can entertain them and tire them out, reducing the chance of them showing problem behaviours. Food toys are also used by behaviourists as part of a management program for separation anxiety. In fact, food toys are so useful they’re often recommended for any problem behaviour – but you should take care with resource-guarding behaviours and seek professional help if needed.

Dog feeding puzzle

(Image credit: Getty)

5. Can provide entertainment when exercise is limited

Of course, we all know the importance of exercising your dog. But as a vet, we sometimes ask that you don’t walk your dog for a few days or weeks. This is usually after surgery but may also be due to a medical condition. Many owners will look at me like I’m mad when I ask them to restrict exercise for their dog – they’re often worried the dog will be ‘bouncing off the walls’ otherwise. A food puzzle toy can give your dog something to do that doesn’t involve going out for walks- if exercise is severely restricted, try to pick a stationary toy rather than a ball or rolling toy.

6. Can reduce stress in your dog

Many modern dogs are exposed to stressful situations, such as loud noises, busy social situations, being left alone for periods of time, and being handled when they don’t want to be. These tiny stressful situations can add up to anxiety and even cause health problems for your dog. Food toys can help to reduce daily stress for dogs. In fact, environmental enrichment in the form of food puzzles has been shown to decrease barking, pacing, repetitive licking and lip-smacking (a marker of stress) in shelter dogs.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) or ‘doggy dementia’ is a disease caused by degenerative brain changes in older dogs. It’s very similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, and symptoms such as forgetfulness, repetitive behaviours, changes in sleep-wake pattern, and anxiety are common. The good news is that it’s possible to keep the brain active well into older age using a range of brain-training games. Food puzzle toys are a great way to motivate your dog to complete a range of tasks. Some puzzles are even graded on difficulty so you can opt for a toy that suits your dog’s ability.

8. Increases exercise for physical fitness

The canine obesity epidemic is just as bad as the human one. Over 50% of dogs are overweight or obese, and many are suffering with arthritis and joint disease as a consequence. Keeping dogs active with a puzzle feeder is a good way to help them burn calories whilst they’re eating. If your dog is overweight but able to get around, a mobile puzzle toy, such as a treat ball or Kong Wobbler, might be a good idea. You can even increase the difficulty by putting something inside the ball to stop the kibble falling out so quickly, thereby making your dog work harder for their dinner.

Conclusion – Puzzle toys are a no-brainer!

Using a dog feeding puzzle has a whole range of benefits for your dog’s fitness, their weight, their behaviour, and even for their stress levels. It’s a good idea to get several styles so that your dog doesn’t get bored, and make sure you choose a difficulty level that’s suitable for your individual pet.

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

Dr Joanna Woodnutt is an experienced vet with an interest in companion animals. She recently left full-time practice to work as a relief vet and write articles about pets.