6 Fantastic Dog Food Dispensing Toys for Mental Stimulation and Food-Scarfers
Mental stimulation is an important part of enriching your pets’ lives. Veterinarians even agree that daily enrichment and mental stimulation is a key to overall health. It's especially important for diabetic pets or overweight pets, as any amount of movement and enrichment can keep their energy up and their weight under control. But most people don't realize that there are plenty of activity toys that can utilize your own healthy dog food, rather than fatty bones, treats, and peanut butter style filling.
Beyond good exercise and great nutrition, your pets crave activity that puts more than just their senses of smell and taste to work. It's even said that 10 minutes of mental stimulation can be as significant as 30 minutes of physical exercise for your pet.
Let’s face it, lounging on your sofa all day may sound like a dream life to most of us, but some dogs can develop real behavior problems if they are bored.
After all, wild dogs and wolves have rotating scenery, new sights and sounds, smells to investigate, and packmates to play with.
Does your home environment and daily routine provide enough stimulation for your dog’s biological needs?
Here are some signs that your dog needs more mental stimulation in his/her routine:
- Digging excessively
- Gaining weight
- Following you everywhere
- Excessive chewing on everything in the house
- Barking all day (just ask your neighbors if you’re not sure)
- Getting into the garbage constantly
These are common behavior issues that bored dogs develop. Canine behaviorists and trainers agree that it’s so much easier to prevent behavior issues than to un-train them. By providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, many behavior issues can be prevented.
Thanks to research with captive animals in zoos and in dog training studies, here are some keys to keep in mind about your dog’s life at home:
- Destructive behaviors drop as much at 90% in animals who have daily enrichment. This study specifically observed behaviors like pacing, chewing on things other than food or treats, licking obsessively, and over-grooming themselves or mates.
- Dogs with daily enrichment including a treat-dispensing toy are less hyperactive. Studies with shelter dogs revealed that dogs who were enriched with short training sessions twice a day and a treat-dispensing toy jumped less, barked less, and initiated “polite” social behaviors more frequently with their humans (like sitting and lying down).
- Got an anxious dog? Dogs with regular mental stimulation are more adaptable to change and stress. This includes aggression to passers-by, separation anxiety, or stress during fireworks & thunderstorms.
- Mental stimulation raises the heart rate and increases exercise in dogs, leading them to be less overweight than other dogs. Veterinarians give mental stimulation two thumbs up for helping our dogs stay healthy and fit.
So, What are Some Fun Brain Teasers for Dogs?
Treat dispensers are an easy favorite! There are two ways you can utilize these types of products. By putting your pup’s regular healthy dog food in a dispenser, it takes them more time and mental exertion to figure out how to get at their everyday food. Or, by adding special treats in the dispensers, your pup can enjoy a mid-day snack with a bit of brain engagement at the same time. Much better than yet another nap on the couch while you’re at work!
Scroll down for our 6 favorite food-dispensing toys for mental stimulation any time of day.
What About Food Scarfers?
Dogs that scarf their food are fairly common. However, there are some health and behavior concerns to take note of if your pooch practically inhales every meal in 3 seconds flat.
Dogs that eat too fast don’t chew their kibble. That’s why the most obvious concerns include dogs choking or gagging on their food. They can also induce vomiting with a belly full of dry food chunks.
Worse, dogs can develop gastric dilation, sometimes referred to as canine bloat. As they scarf food, air gets trapped in their belly. Their stomach and gut twist and turns and traps the air further, which expands their stomach. This can be fatal for a dog, if the bloat causes a loss of circulation to vital organs!
These food-dispensers and toys are a great way to ensure your pooch slows down, chews, and enjoys their tasty meals! And when your dietetic friendly dog food is as tasty as Spring Naturals, they'll definitely want to savor every bite.
6 Fabulous Healthy Dog Food-Dispensing Bowls & Treats for Mental Stimulation & Food Scarfers
Let me introduce you to the amazing world of enrichment tools for pets we have these days! There are tons of new, safe, toys on the market that allow you to offer kibble and treats in a whole new way! And many of them are perfectly compatible with the healthy dog food you already feed your dog, so you don't need to worry about additional calories from treats.
Gone are the days of simply deciding which color bowl you prefer – now there are hundreds of puzzles and dispensers to make food time fun for everyone.
Each of these products can either replace your dog’s regular food bowl or simply serve as a fun toy to use sporadically for mental stimulation.
Here are our top 6 favorites:
1. Slow feeders are uniquely shaped bowls with plenty of dividers, nooks and crannies. By breaking up the surface area of the usual bowl, a dog must slow down and root around a bit more to get to the food. This is great for preventing dogs from gulping and gasping down their food in two or three bites.
There are many versions of this style of feeder, so you can find one that suits your pooch’s snout size.
(Available from Outward Hound)
2. Here’s another variation on the slow-feeder theme. This bowl is set on a round, weighted bottom that rocks a bit when nudged, making it impossible for your pooch to simply push his face to the bottom of the bowl and eat all at once. It also has raised edges to prevent food from spilling out as the bowl rocks around, as well as the divided basin as in the previous examples.
(Available from DH Gate)
3. These puzzle toys require a bit more investigation on your dog’s part. They have covered compartments that food can be stored in, and your pup only gets to eat once he roots around with his nose and pushes the covers open.
(Available on Amazon.com)
4. The Dog Twister is another puzzle that requires some pawing and nosing to pop open the food compartments.
(Available on Amazon.com)
5. Treat dispensing balls are relatively easy for dogs to figure out, but they require time and perseverance to earn a whole meal. As they roll the ball around the floor, kibble spills out of the strategically placed holes. Ideally, it should take 6-15 minutes for Fido to retrieve all of his breakfast.
(Available from Our Pets on Amazon.com)
6. Snuffle Mats are fun for dogs who don’t shred fabric toys to pieces. This is a cloth mat with layers of fabric and folds. You’d simply sprinkle your dog’s food or treats around among the folds and let him enjoy his time rooting and snuffling to forage.
After a few supervised playtimes with one of these dispensers, you can leave it for the day in your dog’s restricted day area when you go to school or work to give him something to work on while you’re away.
A Note About Food Aggression
If your dog regularly scarfs his food, watch for signs of food aggression. Some dogs eat their food very quickly out of fear that another dog may come between him and his meal.
If you or other pets can’t be near your pet while he/she is eating without the dog growling, snarling, or snapping at you, it’s important to contact a professional to help nip the food aggression in the bud.
Food aggression with dogs can be common, but it exists in a wide variety of intensity. It may be funny to see a tiny dog growling and protecting her bowl, but it can easily lead to much more dangerous issues. It doesn’t matter how big or small your dog is, either.
You would never want your dog to bite and injure a family member, guest, or another pet.
What does food aggression look like?
- Your dog growls while eating if someone comes near or walks by
- Your dog growls if another dog comes near or tries to share the food or treat
- Your dog guards or stands watchful over treats and food bowls, freezes, or stares out of the side of his eyes if anyone is near
- Your dog growls when eating bones and treats
- Your dog lunges if you take away the food or a treat
- Your dog raises his hairs (hackles) if anyone or another dog walks by while he’s eating
- Your dog bites you or anyone who pets him while he’s eating
If you see any of these signs from your dog, please contact your veterinarian or trainer for advice!
What Are the Best Healthy Dog Foods for Treat Dispensers and Mental Stimulation Toys?
To keep your treat dispensers clean and prevent clogging, only use dry kibble and small, dry treats. You can take your enrichment a step further, too, by ensuring your dog’s food contains DHA. DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty that boosts brain development in young dogs. Studies have shown that puppies who were fed meals high in DHA performed best in training session.
Salmon is rich in Omega 3 and DHA fatty acids, so consider Spring Naturals Salmon Grain Free Salmon dinner to keep your pup’s brain healthy. Additionally, salmon can decrease inflammation and is often a great protein alternative for dogs allergic to other common proteins.
Spring Naturals Salmon Dinner is the original low-glycemic, healthy dog food kibble crafted to be the most nutritionally balanced meal available for your best friend. That’s why we call it dinner.
The Spring Naturals Difference
- Only all-natural salmon and eggs – no meat-meal.
- Whole, grain-free, market-fresh vegetables and fruit, no starches.
- Superfoods like blueberries, cranberries and spinach.
Meta‐analytic review of the effects of enrichment on stereotypic behavior in zoo mammals. Amanda Shyne. Zoo Biology, 2006.
Environmental Enrichment Confers Stress Resiliency to Social Defeat through an Infralimbic Cortex-Dependent Neuroanatomical Pathway. Michael L. Lehmann and Miles Herkenham. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/16/6159.short
Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid–rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age. Steven C. Zicker, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN; Dennis E. Jewell, PhD; Ryan M. Yamka, PhD; Norton W. Milgram, PhD. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
September 1, 2012