How to Make Your Pet Work for Food
One effect of animal domestication is that by providing our pets with easy access to food and shelter, we have altered their ability to engage in their natural repertoire of behaviors. Meaning, while trying to be good pet parents, we are in a sense denying our pets one of the most primal activities of any living creature: working for food.
Eating meals out of a bowl two to three times a day does not allow your dog or cat to engage in normal food acquisition behaviors, such as exploring, scavenging and hunting. All of these activities consume calories and account for a large part of an animal’s daily activity in the wild. But with our pets, I believe the lack of these activities may contribute to many undesirable behaviors, such as attention seeking, play biting, separation anxiety, inappropriate chewing and other destructive behavior.
Some dogs—and especially cats—don’t get enough physical activity on a daily basis. So, I propose using feeding time as an opportunity to engage our pets both physically and mentally.
One of the best ways to do this is by using toys or feeding devices that force pets to work harder for their meal. For instance, the FunKitty line by Premier is a food delivery system that is meant to enrich the lives of cats by engaging them in a mental and physical activity as they try to get the food out of the toy. A similar system exists for dogs, called the BusyBuddy line. We keep some of these toys at the Worth Street Veterinary Center for our in-hospital cases, and you can find them at premier.com.
With dogs in particular, it makes sense to use these devices once you have finished house training and established a urination/defecation schedule. As a suggestion, you could start by feeding the morning meal out of a toy, and continuing to feed the evening meal as you normally would, out of a bowl. However, before putting the food down, it may be a good idea to go through a basic command routine.
For our feline friends, I recommend feeding them wet food exclusively. A small amount of the meal can be replaced with dry food, though, as long as we feed them with the toy. The benefit of the physical and mental activity outweighs the negative impact of dry kibble.
Feel free to contact me at worthstreetvet.com or directly through the blog if you would like to discuss this further.