How Puzzle Toys Can Combat Pet Cabin Fever

By: Jamie CuccinelliUpdated:

Dog Puzzle Toys
Chewy Studios

How Puzzle Toys Can Combat Pet Cabin Fever

As winter sets in, so does cabin fever—that restless, stir-crazy feeling that often comes with the season. With cold weather driving us all indoors, our pets may be experiencing those winter blahs, as well. So what’s a pet parent to do? Steal some inspiration from your own hobbies and consider cat and dog puzzle toys for your pet.

According to NPR, one of the largest producers of jigsaw puzzles in the U.S. saw sales soar over 300 percent in March 2020, as people looked to the puzzle pastime for entertainment. Similarly, cat and dog puzzle toys can help combat cabin fever in pets by stimulating their brains and providing a way to burn off excess energy.

Ready to banish boredom from your home? Here’s how these interactive toys can help your fur family.


Back up…What even are cat and dog puzzle toys?

A pet puzzle toy is an interactive game that provides a task a pet must solve in order to get a reward—usually either treats or other, smaller toys hidden inside the puzzle.

Take the Trixie Brain Mover Activity Strategy Cat Toy for example: It contains various compartments you can stash your cat’s favorite treats inside, leaving your kitty to channel their energy and brain power into accessing them.

Meanwhile, inside the Frisco Hide and Seek Plush Chewy Box Puzzle Dog Toy are three unique toys for your pup to figure out how to retrieve.

So, how do these types of toys help pets?

As a veterinarian, I always tell pet parents that their animals need to exercise their brains and expend excess energy to stay mentally and physically fit. If they don’t get a chance to engage their mental abilities and discharge that pent-up energy, pets can become bored and, as a result, develop destructive behavioral problems (such as chewing shoes and other no-no items) and even experience depression and anxiety. (Yes, really.)

During the winter months when you’re less likely to be able to spend a ton of time at the dog park or take long walks, puzzle toys are a great way to meet these needs by providing a fun and rewarding task that’ll engage both their mind and body.

And in case you needed another reason to start shopping for a puzzle toy STAT, studies show that keeping older pets’ brains engaged in problem solving can actually help slow down cognitive decline and dementia, and puzzle toys are an easy way to do this.

Can Puzzles Help Human Brains, Too?

According to Peter Bailey, MD, family practitioner in the California Bay Area and expert contributor for Test Prep Insight, puzzles can provide significant cognitive benefits to humans, too, such as improved memory and problem-solving skills, and they may even help stave off degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. How? These diseases are caused by the degeneration of brain cells, but solving puzzles can actually help to promote growth of new healthy cells in the brain through mental stimulation. The practice is even backed by a study in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, also recommends puzzles to her patients as they’ve been clinically shown to improve mood and manage stress.

This is because, she explains, puzzles cause a dual activation of the mind's alpha and beta states. While the beta state of alertness is activated when you are engaged in intellectual activity, the alpha state is experienced when you are fully present in the moment and clear minded. The shift between activation of these two states helps promote relaxation, and breaking out a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to trigger it. No wonder seemingly everyone was getting their puzzle on during quarantine!

Sounds great! What are the best puzzle toys for pets?

Ready to stimulate your fur family’s brain and body? Consider snagging these vet-approved puzzle toys.

Dog Puzzle Toys

Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound

All of the food puzzle games in this line of toys challenge a dog’s brain to problem solve and have fun at the same time! One of my favorites is the Tornado Puzzle Game Dog Toy: With varying degrees of difficulty, it features layered compartments in which you can hide treats for your dog to uncover by rotating the discs with their nose or paws.

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Dog Puzzle Toys

Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Puzzle Dog Toy

This puzzle sphere features a pliable exterior and an interior food maze on the inside, making for brain-teasing fun. Durable and easy-to-clean (just fill it with hot water, shake and rinse), it’s designed for long-lasting play.

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Dog Puzzle Toys

Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Treat Dispenser Toy

While this is a more compact, smaller toy, it still packs all the puzzle power. Pet parents can adjust the Treat Meter and make it easier or harder for their dog to get to the goods. This is a good option for a smaller dog or flat-faced dog who can’t get their mouth around larger toys.

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Cat Puzzle Toys

Cat Amazing Interactive Treat Maze & Puzzle Cat Toy

This food puzzle is made for cats and engages their natural curiosity and need to explore. Just hide the treats inside the compartments, and you can increase the level of difficulty as your kitty’s skills improve. It’s also made from 30 percent recycled cardboard and is 100 percent recyclable, making it a sustainable choice.

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Cat Puzzle Toys

Petstages Grass Patch Hunting Box Cat Scratcher Toy

This pick combines the benefits of a pet puzzle and a scratching toy. While your kitty can exercise their scratching instincts, you can hide treats inside the slots, and there are also jingling bells to provide more hunting and pouncing opportunities.

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Time to get your game on!

So there you have it! Doctor and veterinarian approved, look to puzzles and pet puzzle toys to combat the winter blues and benefit your and your pet’s brains. Have fun!

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By: Jamie CuccinelliUpdated:

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