Pets love to play, and we love to play with them! They also adore treats, which come in handy as rewards or just to show our love for them. But what are the best treats and toys for your pet?
Choosing the Best Pet Treats
Treats are helpful when you’re training your pet or teaching them new tricks. And sometimes it's hard not to toss them a yummy surprise on special occasions, like their birthday, after you’ve been out of the house for a while, or when they give you that pleading look with those big loving eyes.
Treats are fine for pets as long as they're given in moderation. They should make up only 5% or less of your pet's daily food intake according to our strategic partner The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®). The rest of their diet should consist of a nutritionally complete pet food.
When you buy treats, read the ingredient lists so you can make smart choices for your pet. Look for treats that are low in unhealthy fats and sugar, which contribute to obesity and lead to issues from joint pain to heart disease.
You can also whip up homemade pet treats. It’s easier than you think! Check out these recipes for cats and these for dogs. Additionally, you can offer your pet-safe fruits and veggies, like cut up apples, sweet potatoes, or banana.
If you want to cut back on pet treats, you can use alternative ways of rewarding your pet. For instance, hide a new or favorite toy behind your back and offer it to them when they comply with your command. Pets are people pleasers so showering them with praise and love without any other reward may sometimes work too. Additionally, you can try clicker training where you make a clicking sound to acknowledge good behavior in lieu of a treat.
Benefits of Pet Toys
Pets love toys almost as much as they love treats. And giving them safe and entertaining toys is part of being a responsible pet parent. Toys have all sorts of benefits for your pet including:
- Mental stimulation: Pets need to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. Stimulating their minds with engaging toys helps prevent feelings of boredom and anxiety that can lead to undesired behaviors, such as destructive scratching or chewing. It also supports brain health, which can help keep their minds sharp and avoid mental decline as they get older.
- Keeping them busy: If your pet is sitting around staring at the walls, they’ll be more likely to get into trouble especially if they're home alone. An interactive toy can keep them engaged so they won't be tempted to entertain themselves by going through the garbage or batting things off of your shelves.
- Exercise: Toys that promote activity are a great way to give your pet a healthy dose of exercise in a fun way. If your pet is generally resistant to exercise, a toy or interactive game may be just what they need to get moving.
- Bonding: Games you play together, such as fetch or chase, give you and your pet quality bonding time that helps strengthen your relationship.
Choosing the Best Pet Toys
Shopping for pet toys online or wandering the toy aisle in a pet store can feel overwhelming. There are so many choices! Here are a few things to consider as you shop.
Any toy you offer your pet should be sturdy and well-constructed. If it gets torn apart, your pet could choke on or swallow the pieces, which can obstruct your pet’s digestive system.
Look for trusted brands or toy manufacturers with reliable reputations. If a toy has small or added parts, like strings, feathers, or plastic eyeballs, make sure they're securely attached, so they don't come off during playtime.
Intestinal blockages are a common pet injury that can be expensive to treat, especially if surgery is needed. Pet insurance can help you cover those costs.
You'll want to purchase toys big enough that your pet won't choke on or swallow them. You also don't want toys that can get stuck in your pet's mouth, which can be painful and restrict your pet's breathing. Also, if you try to pull the toy out, you could end up fracturing your pet’s teeth or injuring their gums and soft tissues of the mouth.
Of course, a safe size for toys is relative to the size of your pet. For instance, a Chihuahua will be able to play safely with smaller toys than a Labrador Retriever. Some toy packages include guidelines on appropriate pet sizes. If you’re not sure if a toy is safe for your pet, you can ask a knowledgeable pet store employee or speak with your veterinarian.
Toys that are too hard for your pet can injure your pet's teeth, gums, and mouth. To judge the hardness of a toy, you’ll need to consider your pet's size, age, and health. Larger pets will have stronger teeth and jaws than smaller ones. Puppies and kittens should be given softer toys than adult pets since they're still developing. The same goes for senior pets or pets with health conditions who could hurt themselves if they chew on a hard toy.
You should also think about your pet's personality and how they like to play. Is your pet a rough-houser who enjoys ripping things apart? In this case, you'll need to provide extra sturdy toys that can withstand tough play. Or is your pet more of a snuggler who likes to cuddle up with their toys? Then your pet may do fine with and even prefer softer options.
Pet toys can get pretty icky, especially if they're well loved. You'll need to clean them regularly to prevent bacteria from building up. Toys that can be safely tossed in the dishwasher or washing machine can be more convenient than those that need handwashing. In any case, be sure to throw toys out when they start to look like they may fall apart.
Best Dog Toys
There are plenty of fun dog toys available, including ones you can play together and others that can help keep your pup busy when you're not available.
- Rubber chews – These come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are hollow so you can put something tasty inside, like wet dog food or peanut butter. If you use peanut butter, make sure it is not sweetened with Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
- Puzzle toys – You can hide treats inside of these toys to keep your dog entertained for long periods of time.
- Fetch toys – From flying discs to rubber balls, there are all sorts of toys you can use to play fetch. You can even buy rubber sticks to throw for your dog, which can be safer than the real thing since it won't splinter or break.
- Edible chews – Edible chews are fairly inexpensive although they typically don't last very long. Some are designed to promote healthy teeth by minimizing plaque build-up. Keep in mind they do add calories to your dog's diet. Additionally, you should supervise your dog when you give them a new chew to make sure they don't bite it apart in chunks, which can cause choking.
- Rawhides – Rawhides are made from the hides of animals and come in different sizes, shapes, and flavors. Like edible chews, they can be pretty cheap, but dogs tend to go through them fast, and they can pose a choking hazard or cause digestive upset for some dogs.
- Plush toys – Use caution with plush toys since they can be torn apart more easily than other toys. Choose plushies with dog-safe stuffing and supervise your four-legged friend when they're interacting with them. You should also train your dog not to take plushies that don't belong to them.
- Tug toys – Tug-of-war is a fun, bonding activity that helps strengthen your dog's jaws. Choose tug toys carefully making sure they’re sturdy and won't rip apart during use. You should also put them away when you're done playing so your dog can't chew on it unsupervised.
Tug Toys and Dog Aggression
Some people worry that playing tug-of-war with your dog can encourage aggressive behavior. However, this is not the case as long as you manage the game properly and set safe boundaries.
For instance, if your dog gets over-excited, calmly end the session and put the tug toy away. Also, be sure you don't act too aggressive during the game to avoid modeling bad behavior. Plus, you could injure your dog if you rip the toy out of their mouth.
Games like tug-of-war can actually be a useful training tool for your dog. It can help teach them self-control and reinforce commands like "stop" and "drop it." "Drop it" is an especially useful command that can come in handy when they pick something up in their mouths that was better off left on the ground.
Best Toys for Cats
You'll find cat toys made of wool, fur, fleece, or plastic. Toys that make sounds, such as electronic chirps, jingly bells, or crinkly noises. Toys that light up or move around. And of course, lots of toys with catnip. You can experiment with different types of toys to see which ones your cat likes best.
- Catnip toys – Most cats go crazy for toys with catnip. My senior cat, who generally doesn’t like to play, runs around like a kitten when I toss her a toy mouse or ball stuffed with catnip. If your cat isn’t affected by catnip, you can try honeysuckle, which has a similar effect.
- Balls – Balls are a great toy for cats since it plays on their natural feline instincts to stalk and pounce. You can toss them balls designed for cats, ping-pong balls, or even wadded up paper. Purchase sponge balls for quieter playtime. Those other balls can get noisy!
- Plush toys – You can buy all sorts of little faux critters for your cat, including mice, birds, and fish. Throw them across the room to play fetch or leave them out for your cat to bat around when they’re bored. Some cats like to carry their “prey” around in their mouths after a good hunt.
- Wands – Wand toys can help your cat get some exercise. You can lead them around the house and have them jump up to grab it (be careful you don't make them jump so high they get hurt). Put wand toys away when after playtime so your cat won’t be tempted rip them apart. This also helps keep them new and fresh for your cat.
- Interactive toys – Battery-operated toys that use lights or moving parts can help keep your cat entertained even when you're not home. Make sure they're safely designed without any pieces that could come off and injure your cat.
- Food dispensing toys – These toys really play on your cat's hunting instincts. They can stalk and catch their "prey" and then enjoy a nice meal afterward. Just be mindful of your cat's calorie intake if you're using these toys.
DIY Pet Toys
You don't need to break the bank on pet toys. In fact, you can make some fun and inexpensive ones from items around your house. Here are some examples:
- Cat fish – Cut various sized holes in the top of a clear, plastic container. Place some fun but safe playthings inside like crumpled paper, a toy mouse, treats, and a ping-pong ball. Give it to your cat so they can bat around and fish out the items.
- Pet treat dispenser – For cats or smaller dogs, cut slightly larger than treat-sized holes in the side of a plastic bottle. For larger dogs, you can drill holes in the sides of a piece of PVC pipe, which is sturdier than a plastic bottle. Add treats and replace the bottle top or use PVC caps to seal the ends. Then let your pet have fun trying to get the treats out.
- Dog rope and ball toy – Cut or drill a hole in each side of a tennis ball just large enough for the rope to slide through. Put the ball in the center of a sturdy piece of rope and tie knots to keep it in place. Now you're ready for an energetic game of tug-of-war!
- Cat treat rattle – Clean off a paper towel or toilet paper tube of any excess paper. Squeeze the ends, so they close loosely. Throw in a few treats, refold the ends, and let your cat figure it out.
- Dog tennis ball puzzle – This one is really easy. All you need is a muffin tin, treats, and tennis balls. Place some treats in the tin and cover them with tennis balls. Then let your dog try to find the treats and get them out of the tin.
- Pet playground – For cats, you can set up paper bags and boxes for them to dart in and out of around the room. For dogs, you can create an obstacle course and lead them through with a treat in hand.
Now go and have some fun with your pet! It's one of the best parts of being a pet parent.
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.