Recovering dogs soon get bored, so you’ll need to have a few toys ready as a distraction. It’s best not to give all the toys to your dog at once but to offer them in rotation. That way, they’ll seem more interesting.
Though some dogs do enjoy soft toys, crated dogs particularly enjoy playing with objects that they can lick, chew, or get food out of. Most dogs love to work for food. Hollow Kongs, maze feeders, Lickimats, snuffle rugs and puzzle feeders are designed to release food gradually during play.
Before filling these toys, do check how much your dog is allowed to eat per day. Many dogs need to eat less than usual per day during recovery (otherwise they’ll put on weight), so check with your vet if you’re not sure.
Measure the total ration out, setting some aside for later in the day. If your dog is bored and needs plenty to do, then you could offer the total daily food ration from food-dispensing toys (Kongs or maze or puzzle-type feeders). Or you may prefer to divide the daily ration between toys and meals fed from a bowl.
Above and below: When Bella was recovering from a cruciate operation, her owner stuffed Classic Kongs and put them into her recovery pen. They were filled with a measured amount of low-calorie Hills r/d food because she was trying to lose weight.
Kongs can be filled with kibble and/or tinned dog food. To avoid your dog chasing after pieces of scattered dry food, it’s best to first soak the kibble in water for 30 minutes. You may also like to smear some of your dog’s tinned food over the opening of the Kong to seal in the filling.
For a bit of variety, carrot sticks or apple chunks can be hidden inside Kongs, or consider boiling or microwaving carrot, apple or sweet potato to make a tasty puree with which to seal up your dog’s Kongs. There’s no need to add milk, sugar or anything else. NB: Fruit or vegetables should only be added to the diet very gradually, and be aware that some foods, including grapes, are unsafe for dogs and must not be fed.
To create a dog ice lolly, fill the Kong with your choice of kibble, moist dog food and/or vegetables, then seal it in a plastic bag and put it into the freezer for at least two hours. Remove the filled Kong from the bag, wipe it’s surface briefly with a warm damp cloth (this is to prevent freezer burn) then offer it to your dog as a long-lasting treat.
Maze or puzzle-type feeders are usually designed to be filled with dog kibble. For the more complex puzzle feeders, you may need to help your dog initially by showing them how to release the food.
Above: A Nina Ottoson maze feeder releases kibble when tipped or turned over. This is excellent for some recovering dogs but may make a few dogs over-excited. Keep an eye on your dog to start with, and check how they use the toy.
Don’t be tempted to use peanut butter, cheese or other high calorie foods inside the food-dispensing toys. These are too fattening and may also lead to digestive upsets. If you want to add something extra to your dog’s diet, then ask your vet to recommend suitable low-calorie dog treats. Rawhide and other chews are further options for keeping your dog occupied. But be aware that all chews, including simple rawhide, contain plenty of calories, so they need to be factored into the dog’s diet.
Above: There are many types of food-dispensing toys available. This is a Kong Jump’N Jack. Like all toys, it’s best filled with dog food or vegetable paste, not with cheese or peanut butter.
Above and below: Smeared with food, the Lickimat can be placed on the floor or secured to a vertical surface for your dog to enjoy. Many thanks to Darcy Dolittle the dachshund for demonstrating how it’s done. Darcy was first offered the Lickimat after spinal surgery for IVDD. Darcy’s family got organised and batch-froze vegetable puree to smear onto the Lickimat. Fixed vertically, the Lickimat can encourage the recovering dog to hold a “sit” or “stand” position.
Above: It’s a race! Pippa and Jesse enjoying their Lickimats. Many thanks to D.Foster for sharing this video.
Above: Helen the dachshund having a great time with the Dog Tornado puzzle feeder from Nina Ottosen. This is one of a range of interactive dog toys and is designed to be used under close supervision. Many thanks to Pat Endersby of Mowbray Dachshunds for this photo.
Above: Take care when choosing toys for dogs with very powerful jaws or destructive habits. Kong do an “extreme” range that tends to be safe for these dogs. Most other toys will be quickly pulled apart.
For more information…
Try the following links for more advice on caring for your recovering dog: