How do we keep animals mentally stimulated and more active? Food puzzles. [Podcast]
Today, dogs and cats are members of the family and may not be ‘working’ as the species or breed was intended. For example, dogs may not be herding cattle or sheep, and cats may not be utilized to keep the population of mice to a minimum. Dogs and cats in 2016 are often companions and family members. However, unlike human family members who are going to work and school, dogs and cats get bored, lonely, and potentially destructive. Sedentary pets are at risk for obesity. How do we keep them mentally stimulated and more active? Food puzzles.
Understand feeding puzzles and their use in pet environments
Demonstrate Understanding of enrichment and the role it plays in keeping pets healthy
Recognize various types of feeding puzzles for various species and cognitive interaction
Feeding puzzles mentally stimulate indoor pets
Feeding puzzles help to satiate the hunting instinct of cats
Owners can provide the RER/DER for the pet through feeding puzzles
No matter the pets’ food preference, feeing puzzles can be utilized
Feeding puzzles range from easily made to store purchased
Q: What are feeding puzzles?
A: A feeding puzzle can be any toy or object that can contain food and requires the pet to work to find a way to get to that food. The goal of feeding puzzles is to slowly release the food, with some effort on the animal’s part – thus having the pet ‘work’ for food and mentally stimulate the pet. Cognitively the pet needs to figure out how the puzzle works to successfully get the food.
Q: We consider wild cats as hunters, but not our pet cats, right?
A: The felines’ hunting instinct does not disappear because they live indoor. Owners provide toys for cats, such as fuzzy mice, thus allowing them to ‘hunt’ or play. So it is counterintuitive for cats to be presented with a full bowl of food. Toys and feeding puzzles provide exercise, mental stimulation and if you interact with them, social interaction. Full bowls of food provide – easy calories! A feeding puzzle works well with the way cats prefer to eat, multiple small meals daily.
Q: Do dogs and cats become bored – as humans do?
A: Yes. Both species need mental and physical stimulation. When dogs and cats are not given enough mental stimulation, they can get bored, and boredom often leads to trouble! This boredom can express itself in the form of aggression to housemates and owners, destruction of furniture and other household items and anxiety related issues. Boredom related eating could result in obesity, especially when combined with decreased activity levels.
Yes they can! A boring environment can contribute to problems such as destructive behavior, aggression, depression and anxiety. Under-stimulated cats and dogs are at risk of developing boredom-related or stress-relieving behaviors such as over-grooming, chewing inappropriate items, picking on companion pets, retreating into isolation, over-eating, self-mutilation, compulsive behavior, and loss of appetite.
Q: What is environmental enrichment?
A: Proper enrichment makes the environment more physically, socially, and cognitively complex by increasing novelty and the opportunity to engage in species-typical behavior. Enrichment should include visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and structural stimuli, and be based on the daily activities of cat or dog.
Q: How do feeding puzzles maintain a health weight?
A: Food puzzles, or enrichment toys, come in many shapes, sizes, and prices. You can even make your own. What they all have in common is that they require an animal to exercise his mind and body before being rewarded with a small bit of food. This cuts into the time he could be getting into trouble and helps him maintain a healthy weight. For many animals feeding puzzles can be used to provide ALL of their food, not just treats. Also feeding puzzles help to encourage a cat to eat slowly, provide a little added exercise, provide healthier options to free feeding, and aid in weight control.
Q: Pets are made for action and interaction!
A: Cats have finely tuned senses. Cat ears can move independently and cats and dogs hear sounds that humans cannot. Pets can pinpoint sound location with amazing accuracy. Cats have binocular vision, which allows for excellent low-light ability and can see in conditions humans consider totally dark. Cats and dogs can detect odors that humans cannot and their olfactory sense is highly tuned
Cats and dogs that are unstimulated will create stimulation for themselves. Cats and dogs were not meant to be sedentary and eat mountains of food. They were born for action.
Q: What if my pet eats canned food?
A: If you feed wet food you can also set up puzzle feeders. Something as simple as a muffin tin makes a great wet food puzzle feeder. Put a drop of wet food in each compartment. For pets that eat too quickly, smoosh the food down a bit so they have to work a little harder for the reward. You can also put wet food in a mug placed on its side so the cat can use their paw to reach for it.
Q: How do you introduce feeding puzzles to your animals?
A: It is easier to introduce these if the pet is hungry, and start with the simpler toys first. It is best to introduce the toy gradually, supervised, and insure they recognize that there is food in the puzzle. For those over achieving pets there are some that are quite difficult to challenge even a herding dogs’ brain. As the pet perfects the technique involved in getting the treats out, slowly switch out placing food in the puzzle instead of the bowl. For this method to work, portion control is important. Determine what the desired volume of food is per day, and divide this into 2-3 smaller feedings dispensed in one or multiple puzzles. You may need to get increasingly more difficult puzzles for some animals, or you can increase the difficulty of the puzzle by closing off or narrowing the openings.
Q: Do I have to buy feeding puzzles for my pets?
A: Although you can purchase feeding puzzles – you can also make them inexpensively at home. There are a wide variety of feeding puzzles ranging from simply scattering the food so that it has to be ‘hunted’; to complex, expensive ones available at pet stores and on-line. It is also fairly easy to DIY many of these toys, keeping both you and your pet engaged. Muffin tins, egg cartons, Kong toys, training devices, dividing the cat’s DER and feeding in multiple places in the home, hiding food under furniture and rugs, providing ways to satisfy the need to chew (e.g., beef jerky, cat-safe grass), and feeding from food toys (e.g., IQ Treat Ball, ourpets.com; Kitty Kong, kongcompany.com).
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