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How to provide enrichment for your pets. Benefits & Types of puzzles we recommend!

Like most pet owners, we all want the best thing for our pets. They depend on us to meet their daily needs and provide environmental enrichment to keep their minds busy. Animals were designed to hunt, scavenge and work for their food. Puzzles and interactive toys are some of the most important tools to help our pets adapt to a largely sedentary modern lifestyle. They would need to work to get food to come out of the toy by shaking, pawing, rolling, nibbling or licking the toy.

A huge improvement to pet care has been the investment that companies have made in the creation of puzzles for our little ones to enjoy. One of the big perks includes the variety of puzzles available on the market to satisfy the minds of many different species, breeds and ages. Make sure to keep an eye on your pets while they play to ensure they are safely having fun!

There are several benefits to providing our companions with puzzles for activity including:

  • Environmental enrichment

  • Satisfying natural instincts

  • Training & mental Stimulation

  • Helping with boredom/ separation anxiety

  • Help calm during high stress times

  • Help with Overeating or slowing down eating

  • Reduce throwing up & flatulence from eating too fast

A couple types of activities to try at home!

Scatter feeding:

Scatter feeding can be a helpful (and fun!) way to encourage your pet to eat.

For dogs and cats, scatter feeding is also a great way to encourage your four-legged buddy to use their nose and "seek out" their food. Try this at home!

· For your pups, try a “Nina Ottosson Smart Dog Puzzle”! It challenges your dog to discover treats through problem solving and exciting hidden rewards!

· For you kitties, try the Catit Senses 2.0 Digger encourages cats to work for their food/treats in a fun and natural manner. As cats are true hunters, they need to be able to search and locate food in different locations around the house. The Senses 2.0 Digger incorporates this idea as part of the Senses 2.0 vision, with a smart design that activates your cat's natural pawing behavior during playtime. Hiding kibble or treats in the Digger's multiple tubes plays on a cat's instincts to sniff and paw out smaller portions of food, which stimulates activity.

Tip: "Scatter" a small handful of dry kibbles across the floor. This can encourage pets use their nose and "seek out" their food and to eat more slowly than they typically would by eating directly out of a bowl

Slow Feeding:

Pet parents know how excited most of our furry friends can get at just the sight or smell of food! While we want them to be happy and enjoy mealtime, we also need to make sure that their eating habits aren’t detrimental to their health and well-being. If your pet is known to inhale their food when mealtime rolls around, a slow feeder can help prevent health risks caused by eating too quickly.

· Try slow feeder bowls! They are specially designed to turn your pets meal into a challenging game. The desired amount of food is put into the bowl or mat and it is up to your pet to push and get the food out. Slow feeders prolong eating time significantly and reduces the risk of gulping and bloat. The result is a happier and healthier pet. It can contain both dry and wet food.

· Another option to try would be KONGs Cat Gyro, it is the ideal food and treat dispenser that has a roll and spin action that, engages cats’ in a mentally stimulating food puzzle. When batted, it flips over, sparking cats’ stalking and pouncing instincts. Infused with potent KONG Catnip oil, it also features a bell in the outer ring both combining to extend play sessions. Its removable middle container is easy to fill and clean. Holds 1/3 cup of food, making it an ideal bowl replacement.

Tip: Feeding several small meals or the use of a slow feeder like in the pictures above, can prevent “gulping” and can reduce the occurrence of vomiting from over ingestion too quickly, as well as decrease flatulence and the discomfort of gas in our little ones.

Food smearing:

Smear wet food into a dish with divots/crannies. Your pet will have to work at the dish to get the prize, keeping pets occupied and focused on a goal for a period of time. This is great way to distract or comfort your dog during a high stress time like Thunderstorms, or fireworks, or those scary nail trims! We do this in clinic for food-motivated pets who like to explore during their doctor appointments!

· Give KONGs Canine or KONGs Kitty a try! You can stuff KONGs with almost any kind of food your pet likes. Feed him his meals in a KONG by mixing his regular kibble with a little canned food, cottage cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, canned pumpkin or mashed banana. (Whatever they like) After spooning the mixture into the KONG, you can use a bit of cream cheese or peanut butter to seal everything in. You can also fill the KONGs with special snacks to supplement their diet.

Tip: You can freeze peanut butter, cheese whiz, yogurt or whatever your pets favorite food is in the Kong to keep them occupied for longer!

Separation Anxiety or Lots of Mental Stimulation needed:

Puzzle toys can help to keep your pet busy and distract them during the day. They can also give your pet a sense of purpose. Whether they have separation anxiety, nervous energy, or needs a job to do, a puzzle toy can help.

· Try the Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder, it is a complete bowl replacement for one cat. Instead of filling the bowl twice a day, fill and hide the three Mice morning and night. Your cat will hunt, catch and play with many small meals day and night, as nature intended. Helps keeps them busy all day which will decrease anxiety, and end early wake up calls from a hungry cat.

· Give the Spot Seek N Treat a try! It challenges dogs to find treats while providing mental stimulation by hiding treats inside, dogs can hone their sense of smell and stay entertained for long periods of time. Consider it the best alternative to chasing their own tail.

Tip: Separation anxiety peaks during the first 20 minutes after a pet is alone. Giving your pet a special treat each time you leave (like a puzzle toy stuffed with their food or favourite treat) will help them associate being left alone with good things, alleviating those anxiety peaks.

Environmental enrichment: birds, pocket pets:

We can't forget about our flying friends and pocket pets! Providing them with puzzles allows them to experience and thrive by kicking in their natural instincts such as exploring, playing, hiding, chewing, and keep their brain working. Stimulation through enrichment encourages our smaller friends to perform natural foraging behaviours.

Things to try:

  • Adding perches/ledges

  • Moving items around in their cages

  • Hiding food in the grass or in shreds of paper / Scatter Mats

  • Providing cardboard for pets to chew at

  • Food dispensing toys

  • Using training and rewards to motivate and bond with you

Give some of these products a try!

Tip: Enriching your pet's daily life starts with supporting natural behaviors, these products are designed with the natural behaviors in mind and is constructed from 100% pet-safe materials, allowing you to nurture your pet's mind and body in safe and fun ways every day.

Features: Innovatively designed to meet key instinctual needs of small pets • Encourages mental and physical enrichment. Comes in a wide assortment of items provides fun and stimulating play.

Seniors/post-operative recovery:

As our pets age, they often become less active and less motivated to play or explore. Ageing doesn't mean that our pets don't necessarily want to play though. We can keep our older pets just as satisfied by offering them puzzles and activities that are adjusted to their needs. It is also a great way to keep your dog occupied after a surgery, injury or spay/neuter when physical activity must be limited.

· For your senior pup, try a stuffer toy! KONGs Quest delivers a new challenge. Each toy can be stuffed with your dogs favorite treats or kibble to simulate natural foraging behaviors and extend treat time.

· For your kitties, try the Senses 2.0 Food Tree. Cats are required to move the kibble or treats from the top to the bottom of the tree by pawing at it through the side openings. The kibble ends up in the whisker-stress free bowl, which prevents spillage. The Catit Senses 2.0 Food Tree can be set to various levels of difficulty by rotating the middle disc and adjusting the opening sizes. As cats are true hunters, they need to be able to search and locate food in different locations around the house. The Senses 2.0 Food Tree incorporates this idea as part of the Senses 2.0 vision, with a smart design that activates your cat's natural pawing behavior during playtime.

Tip: This can also be helpful in pets during post-operation recovery! Play Hide and seek with your pets favourite toy or treat, it provides stimulation for pets with mobility issues. A good way to do this is by hiding treats/a toy inside layers of a blanket. This allows the pets to sniff out their prize!

Mouthing in puppies/kittens:

Kittens and puppies have a natural desire to chew and bite at things- a habit that most pet owners struggle with during their early stages of life. This behaviour (although frustrating), is entirely normal and often requires training to help eliminate unacceptable "mouthing" behaviour.

· Try a ball with a treat dispenser! You can add their favorite kibbles or treats to keep them busy all day long.

Tip: Treat dispensers help foster natural “hunting” and “food-seeking” behaviors without biting/mouthing, as well they help prevent destructive boredom behaviors. These can be used with portions from your pets regular meal to turn mealtime into playtime!


Before starting any food enrichment activity, be sure that you have a list of foods that are not safe to feed. Read all ingredients lists and consult your list before using any new food type or new product brand.


Chocolate Grapes & Raisins Macadamia nuts Yeast dough ANYTHING containing Xylitol

The addition of puzzles is not only beneficial to brain function but may also be able to help pets with encouraging your pet to play on its own, anxiety, boredom and bonding with you! Puzzles can be helpful with reducing our pets' overall stress levels by switching their minds to a different focal point.

If you have any other questions, want to know how to introduce puzzle feeders or see which one we would recommend for your pet, book a consultation with one of vets.

All the food puzzle in this blog can be found on our online store.


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Erindale Animal Hospital in the News

Follow the link to watch the CTV News Report

Carla Shynkaruk

Multi-Skilled Journalist CTV News Saskatoon

Updated Aug. 23, 2023 10:59 a.m. PDT

Published Aug. 22, 2023 5:43 p.m. PDT

There’s a natural hazard lurking in the weeds in Saskatoon this time of year that dog owners should be aware of because it could mean costly vet bills or even losing your pet.

Foxtails have been seen more over the past five years and pet owners should be on the lookout.

Sophie is a Shih Tzu Pomeranian, and in her 10 years, her owner Hannah Carswell has never had to deal with a foxtail encounter- until this month.

“Sophie was on the deck of my condo, and she started skittering around and I didn’t know what was wrong with her. She was coughing, and choking and hacking,” Carswell told CTV News.

It was nighttime and her vet wasn’t open, so she waited until the morning. That’s when the vet confirmed it was foxtail, a potentially deadly weed according to Veterinarian Miranda Wallace at the Erindale Animal Hospital.

“It is a bigger deal than people would suspect,” Wallace says.

The grassy weed is topped with a sharp needle which can get stuck in a pet’s coat, paws, or worse if ingested.

“Sometimes it can migrate to places, that can cause issues. Granulomas or abscesses in lungs and chest and migrate into sinuses,” according to Wallace. 

Nicole German experienced foxtails with her previous dog and faced $5000 in vet bills.

“She ate them, so we went through two really serious bouts removing hundreds of foxtails under anaesthesia. Removing them from her throat, mouth, esophagus, we almost lost her,” German told CTV News.

Her new dog is only nine months old and hasn’t had a run-in with foxtails, mostly because the family is diligent and watches for them, according to German. She’s also taken to Facebook to warn other dog owners, so they don’t have to endure what she did.

At the Erindale clinic they’re prepared for numerous cases in the summer with foxtail case numbers on the rise over the past five years.

“We’ve had a few cases come in already. We actually have a case coming in today for foxtails.”

Wallace wants pet owners to watch their dogs and closely monitor what they are eating.

“If you notice that your dog is sniffing around in the grass and then starts pawing at their face, sneezing or coughing that could be an indication that they have a foxtail,” she said.

Tent signs have been put up in various locations around the city, in parks and green spaces.

The signs provide little consolation for Carswell and Sophie.

“It was a really scary. I’m paranoid. I will not take her to the dog parks. The small dog park has them.”

The City of Saskatoon said in an email it is currently managing problem foxtail areas.

“(In) 2021, the City began its educational efforts on foxtail, including information on prevention and control techniques for foxtail barley (foxtail) for developers and landowners.”

For more information and to download a copy of the guide, visit

For more information about the amazing product OutFox Field Guard, please check out their website

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