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How to use Kong toys: A vet’s guide

how to use Kong toys
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you truly familiar with how to use Kong toys? They rank highly in any list of the best dog toys, and have a wide variety of uses that make them an excellent choice for many dogs. Kongs are hollow rubber toys that can be stuffed with a variety of dog treats or food items for your dog to enjoy, then cleaned in the dishwasher. Kong toys are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from extra-small sizes for toy breeds, to extra-extra-large sizes for very large dogs. Some are designed to be soft for teething puppies, while others are specifically designed for heavy chewers. Fortunately, there’s a Kong toy to fit nearly any dog. 

Benefits of using a Kong toy 

Kong toys are excellent for keeping your dog busy and mentally stimulated. While all dogs love walks and interactive games, like fetch and tug-of-war, the reality is that we aren’t always available to play with our dogs. Not only do we all need to leave our homes occasionally, but we’re often busy and unavailable even while we are at home. As I’m writing this article, my dog is enjoying a nap – but what if he wanted to play instead?

Taking a few minutes to stuff a Kong toy with food or treats can occupy your dog for a few minutes, or even a few hours. As your dog works to remove food or treats, he’s expending excess energy. This can help alleviate boredom and anxiety. In some dogs with mild separation anxiety, a Kong toy can even prevent destructive behavior when the dog is left alone. 

While the ability to entertain a dog that is left alone is a major benefit of a Kong toy, it isn’t the only benefit. Some dog owners use a Kong toy, instead of a food bowl, to feed all of their dog’s meals. This is an easy way to add more activity and excitement to your dog’s day. 

Safety considerations when using Kong toys

Many people give their dog a treat-filled Kong when they leave their home to go to work or run an errand. These toys are designed to be strong and relatively indestructible, so this is safe for most dogs. However, it’s not entirely without risk. Although it’s rare, some dogs do manage to chew off fragments of Kong toys and ingest them, requiring emergency surgery. 

Before leaving your dog alone with a Kong toy, consider your dog’s personality. Is your dog a vigorous chewer with a reputation for destroying toys? In that case, don’t allow access to any toys, including Kong toys, while he is unattended. If your dog is an average chewer, however, you probably have little reason for concern.

Next, consider the size and shape of your Kong toy. Is it large enough for your dog? If a large dog is given a Kong toy designed for small dogs, the risk of ingestion goes up significantly. An appropriately-sized Kong toy, however, would be very difficult to swallow.

Finally, check the toy every day. If you begin to see cracks in the rubber, or other signs of aging, it’s time to replace it. Any that is beginning to break down heightens the risk of your dog tearing off a bit of the toy and swallowing it. 

Tasty treats to use inside of a Kong toy

There are countless options for stuffing your dog’s Kong toy. Some dog owners wedge hard treats into the toy, so it must be bounced or jostled to dispense treats. Others use a soft or sticky food inside of the Kong, requiring the dog to use their tongue to lick the toy clean. Experiment with your dog and see what he prefers! 

There are a number of treats that are specifically designed for use in Kong toys. These include both hard treats, such as KONG Ziggies and soft or creamy treats, such as KONG Easy Treat. However, you aren’t limited to only using these products. Any crunchy treat can be placed in a Kong toy, including dog biscuits or even chunks of non-toxic fruits or vegetables.  When it comes to soft or creamy treats for spreading, you also have a number of options: 

  • Peanut butter (avoid sugar-free peanut butter, because it may contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs)
  • Yogurt
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Canned dog food 

You can even freeze liquid inside a Kong toy for a special treat during the hot summer months. (You will definitely want your dog to enjoy this treat outside, though!) Use peanut butter to plug the small hole in your dog’s Kong toy. Next, turn the Kong upside down, and place it in a cup. Add some dog food or small treats to the Kong, then pour chicken or beef broth into the toy. Seal the larger hole with peanut butter, and place the whole toy into the freezer overnight. The next day, your dog will have his own pup-sicle! 

how to use Kong toys

(Image credit: Kong)

Calories count, even when delivered in a Kong toy! 

As you experiment with treats and foods in your dog’s Kong toy, try to keep your dog’s overall daily caloric intake relatively constant. You don’t want your new enrichment to make your dog obese!

If you’re adding kibble to the Kong toy, be sure to remove that kibble from your dog’s daily food allotment. If you are adding dog treats or other items, it can be a bit trickier. The best option is to calculate the number of calories that you are giving as treats and decrease your dog’s food correspondingly (based on the caloric density of your dog’s food). If those calculations aren’t realistic for you, try to give a set, limited quantity of treats daily while also scaling your dog’s meals back a bit (by approximately 10%). Monitor your dog’s weight closely in the following weeks, to be sure that this decrease accurately compensates for the treats. With a bit of trial and error, you should be able to find a balance that allows your dog to maintain a healthy weight. 

Keep in mind that at least 90% of your dog’s calories should come from a well-balanced dog food. This will ensure that your dog avoids dietary deficiencies that can accompany a treat-heavy diet.

Be flexible and experiment

Now that you know how to use Kong toys, it’s time to try one out with your canine companion! Using an appropriate Kong toy for your dog, try out different treats and Kong fillings to see what is the most enticing for your dog. Does your dog prefer hard, crunchy treats that he can remove by bouncing and tossing the Kong toy, or sticky treats that he can lick from the toy? If you try a variety of options, your dog should let you know their preference!

Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette received both her Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida. She’s an experienced writer, educator, and veterinarian, with a passion for making scientific and medical information accessible to public and professional audiences.