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.  Kongs, maze feeders, lick mats, snuffle mats and puzzle feeders are designed to release food gradually during play. 

Before filling these toys, check with your vet how much your dog is allowed to eat per day. Their calorie intake may need to be reduced during a period of rest and recovery. 

Measure the total ration out, setting some aside for later in the day. If your dog is bored and needs plenty to do, you could offer the total daily food ration from food-dispensing toys. 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, soak the kibble in water for 30 minutes first. 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 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.

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. Pureed vegetables or wet dog food are better options. 

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. 

Choose hard-wearing toys designed for the size of your dog.
Avoid toys with squeakers or loose parts, in case your dog swallows or inhales these.
Dispose of damaged or broken toys promptly.
Avoid balls and other bouncing toys, as these are likely to cause leaping and chasing behaviour.
Avoid rolling food-dispensers until very late in recovery as dogs like to chase these.
Every time that you offer a new type of toy, watch your dog closely to start with to check that he or she is playing safely. If your dog starts to leap about with the toy or to chase it, then remove the toy until a later stage in recovery.


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:

Choosing a recovery crate or pen
Staying positive during your dog’s recovery
Crate rest: Daily routine for the recovering dog
Crate rest: Flooring for recovering dogs
Room rest: Daily routine for the recovering dog
Room rest: Flooring for recovering dogs
Quiet games to play with recovering dogs

Special care for dogs with back or neck issues, e.g. IVDD

For a complete and practical guide to home care, we recommend The IVDD Handbook. This is a comprehensive home care guide for dogs with IVDD (disc extrusion or ‘slipped disc’). It’s also suitable for those with certain other back or neck problems including FCE and traumatic disc. Use this book in conjunction with talking to your own vet. It contains:

  • clear practical guidelines for each stage of recovery
  • illustrated how-to guides for everything from sling-walking to home exercises
  • notes on when to contact your vet
  • an illustrated guide to understanding your dog’s surgical report
  • advice on keeping your recovering dog happy and content
  • a section on maintaining your own wellbeing while caring for your own dog
  • example daily routines suitable for dogs at each stage of recovery
  • hundreds of colour photos showing what to look for and how to help your dog
  • an index, glossary and colour-coded chapter to help you find information fast

How to get your copy

Click here to buy or look inside The IVDD Handbook.

The above link should redirect you to your country’s Amazon site.

Order the book to be delivered to you from the US if you live in Australia, New Zealand or Singapore. For further details, click here

Links to the book on this page are provided as part of the Amazon Associates program. Buying the book after clicking on one of these links will earn the author a small commission, thus contributing to the ongoing running of this website. 

Booking an appointment

For bespoke supervision of your own dog’s recovery, you are welcome to contact me to arrange a video consultation appointment. To book an appointment, use the contact form here or email me at [email protected]. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Please note that these contact details are for appointments only. I offer home visit appointments, when appropriate, for dogs and cats living near me in North Herts, UK. Video consultations are available for both local and distant patients. 


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