Blog By Mark Webster of Dog Food Heaven
Stuck at Home?
Now that the pandemic has us all locked down, your pup is probably super happy to have you home all of the time. But what to do with all of your time? If your finances are tight because of reduced work hours, but your family and pets are all crammed in the house together anyway, you're not alone. But fear not, because there are some eco-friendly (and pet-friendly) DIY dog toys that you can make at home that will keep both of you busy for a while. Of course, always be careful not to give your dog any toys that are falling apart, broken, or have small pieces that she could possibly choke on or ingest. We’ll start with combining some things that you probably have lying around the house.
First, you may not know about the benefits of food-dispensing toys. Food dispensing toys are fun for your dog, time consuming, and can benefit her health as well. For instance, when a dog has to take the time to figure out a puzzle before she can get to the treat, she eats more slowly, which can reduce problems like regurgitation and indigestion.
Benefits to Your Dog’s Physical Health
More importantly, eating slowly forces your dog to swallow much less air, vastly reducing her chance of getting bloat, or Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), which has the potential to be fatal. Bloat is a condition that is more common in deep-chested, high-waisted dogs (think--Great Dane/Doberman Pinscher/giant breeds), and is thought to have a hereditary component. In these dogs, the chance of swallowing air is much greater, and in some cases, the stomach fills rapidly with air and then twists on itself, trapping the gas inside and dooming the dog to a painful death without rapid life-saving surgery. The mortality rate in GDV cases is nearly 50 percent, and even in dogs that get emergency treatment, as many as one-third die anyway. In order to educate yourself to recognize the signs of bloat quickly, watch out for these symptoms:
l Unproductive retching, especially within 2-3 hours of eating a meal. This is where the dog gags and retches, but nothing comes out of her mouth.
l A swollen, firm abdomen.
l Labored breathing, collapse for an unknown reason.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from bloat, transport them to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately. Treatment is surgical, and involves rotating the stomach back into its proper place. Some veterinarians go so far as to “tack,” or permanently attach, the stomach to the abdominal wall, preventing a future bloat.
Another important way that food-dispensing toys support your dog’s physical health is that they support weight-loss. According to a survey done in 2018 that was cited by the New York Times, pet owners said that about 56 percent of their dogs in America were overweight or obese by their standards. Food puzzles can help because they make the dog eat a smaller meal in a longer period of time, which decreases frustration and hunger in the dog. These toys also encourage exercise, with the dog often having to push the toy around a lot to get the food out of it.
And remember, we are big fans of the raw food diet, which also encourages a more natural diet and promotes a healthy weight. There’s no reason you can’t replace kibble with raw, sustainably sourced foods for your pet’s health.
Benefits to Your Dog’s Mental Health
A bored dog is a destructive dog. Food dispensing toys are especially useful if you crate your dog when you leave the house, or you have a teething puppy at home. It will save you from having to replace your furniture and door frames. A good dog is a tired dog, and these toys encourage your dog to play on her own for extended periods of time without having to be entertained to prevent destructive behaviors. If it is helpful, you can divide two meals per day into multiple meals with several different food dispensing toys to keep things interesting for your dog.
If you have a working dog, food-dispensing toys give your dog a job to prevent boredom. Working dogs were bred to work--for instance herding breeds like Australian Shepherd dogs and Border Collies. To prevent them from herding small children, other animals, or your family, keep them mentally and physically exercised to prevent misbehavior due to pent up energy.
Further, a study published in Neurobiological Aging in the January 2008 issue showed that enrichment reduces neuron loss in the brains of dogs, proving that mental stimulation can ward off dementia in your senior dog.
The last reason that food-dispensing toys are good for your dog is that they are just plain fun! This is something that your dog will look forward to and stay busy with, improving moods all around!
So let’s jump right in with the toys:
1. DIY Snuffle Mat
A snuffle mat is basically a rubber mat with fleece strips threaded through holes in the mat sticking out, with food hidden inside. You will need:
l Rubber Sink Mat--Generally, a 12” by 15” mat is perfect for any sized dog.
l Approximately 1.5 yards of Fleece Material--You’ll be chopping it all up anyway, so get the cheaper, ugly stuff--the heavy fleece will be hard to knot when cut into short strips.
Now just cut the fleece into strips about an inch wide and six inches long, knot them in the middle, and thread them through your rubber mat. Then, just add the treats! Your dog will have to snuffle and dig around in the mat to find the treats, providing her with hours of fun with a reward at the end. These are called scenting games, where your dog has to follow the scent to find the reward.
Make sure you remove the Snuffle Mat after your dog is finished playing with it, because it will smell like food, and you don’t want your dog to chew the felt and ingest it.
2. Obstacle Course
This next toy is fairly easy, and you will only need:
l A dog feeding bowl
l A few large rocks
For this toy, simply put the rocks in the bowl, and then put some food or treats in between the rock, so that your dog has to push the rocks around to get to the treats. Remember that you can utilize the raw food diet while you are playing this game, for the benefit of the health of your dog.
3. Toilet Roll Tube Puzzle Food Toy
This toy is pretty self-explanatory, and all you will need is:
l Toilet paper tube with all of the toilet paper removed
For this easy, fast puzzle food toy, all you need to do is to put some raw treat foods inside of a toilet paper tube and smash the ends shut. Your dog will have fun trying to get the ends open, and small amounts of the toilet paper tube, if ingested, will not cause your dog any harm.
4. Rolled Up Towel Food Dispenser
This one’s pretty easy too, and only involves:
l One bath towel
This one is also quick and easy, and you will just need to hide some treats in a rolled up towel.
5. PVC Food Toy
If you have any of this material lying around the house, you can drill some small holes in it of various sizes so that your dog can figure out how to get the treats out of the middle, providing hours of fun and stimulation.
l PVC Piping
l Power Drill
Non-Food Dispensing DIY Toys
Your dog can have plenty of fun with non-food dispensing toys as well. Here are some toys that you can make from common household items.
1. T-Shirt-Wrapped Water Bottle
Some dogs enjoy the crinkley sound a water bottle makes when crushed, so if you wrap a T-shirt around a plain water bottle, you’ll have the perfect toy for your dog--one that she won’t be able to readily tear apart.
2. Tennis Ball and T-shirt Toss Toy
For this toy, all you need is an old T-shirt, a tennis ball, and some scissors. First, cut the T-shirt into strips that you will braid together. Then, cut two holes in the tennis ball across from each other that you can thread the braided T-shirt through. Then toss and have your dog fetch for hours of fun!
3. Tennis Ball Treat Puzzle
For this one, all you need is a tennis ball, some scissors, and your treats. Just cut some odd shaped, different sized holes in a tennis ball, put some treats inside, and toss to your dog.
4. Cereal Box Treat Puzzle
This is the same idea as the tennis ball--cut some holes in a cereal box, pop some treats inside, tape it shut, and voila! A fun, destructible treat puzzle that is non-toxic and pooch-friendly.
5. Frozen Knotted Sock
For our last idea, simply knot an old sock that you don’t want anymore, then pop it in the freezer for a couple hours. Dogs love feet!
Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun with your pooch. Try out these fun, simple DIY toy ideas for hours of bonding and fun with your bestie.