What’s a KONG?
The KONG is a nontoxic, dishwasher-safe rubber toy with a hollow center. When stuffed with food, it provides dogs with a healthy outlet for their natural desire to chew and lick. KONGs come in many sizes, from very tiny to extra-large. Some are made for puppies with baby teeth, some are made for regular chewers and some are made for dogs with powerful jaws. There’s a KONG out there for every dog!
Why Give Your Dog a KONG?
Nature made dogs to hunt, forage, scavenge and work for their food—not have it delivered for free in a bowl! One reason dogs develop behavior problems is sheer boredom, resulting from a lack of physical exercise, problem solving and outdoor exploration and investigation. To make your dog’s life more enjoyable, you can give him fun “work” to do when he’s home alone or when you can’t play with him.
Food puzzle toys give dogs a chance to work for their food. These toys are sturdy containers, usually made of hard rubber or plastic, that can hold food or treats. They usually have holes on each end or on the sides. A dog must work to get food to come out by shaking, pawing, rolling, nibbling or licking a puzzle toy. The effort dogs make to get their food from these toys eases boredom, reduces destructive behavior and lessens the anxiety they can feel when alone. In addition to the KONG, here are some of our favorite puzzle toys:
- The Tug-a-Jug™, the Twist ‘n Treat™ and the Squirrel Dude™ by Premier Pet Products
- The Buster® Cube
- The Tricky Treat™ Ball
- The Atomic Treat Ball™
- The TreatStik®
How to Use a KONG
You can stuff KONGs with almost any kind of food your dog likes. Feed him his meals in a KONG by mixing his regular kibble with a little canned dog food, cottage cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, canned pumpkin or mashed banana. 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 your dog’s KONGs with special snacks to supplement his diet. See the recipes below for creative KONG-stuffing ideas.
Start Out Easy
Dogs don’t automatically know how to use food puzzle toys. They need to learn how. When you introduce your dog to the KONG, you’ll need to make it easy for him to empty it so he doesn’t get discouraged and give up. Use small pieces of kibble or treats that will fall out of the KONG easily.
Make It Harder
When your dog learns how to use the KONG and can empty easy KONGs quickly, you can make his job more difficult. He’ll love the challenge!
- Use bigger pieces of food. Wedge chunks of fruits and veggies and larger biscuits inside the opening of the KONG.
- Put a few cubes of cheese inside the KONG. After stuffing it with the cheese and some of your dog’s regular food, put the KONG in the microwave for just five to eight seconds so that the cheese gets sticky and soft. (Be sure that the KONG is completely cool before you give it to your dog.)
- Hide your dog’s KONGs around your home. Dogs love finding hidden food and unpacking stuffed food puzzle toys! Try putting your dog’s breakfast in KONGs and hiding them right before you leave for work in the morning. Your dog will have a great time working for his meal while you’re away. (A word of warning: Some dogs can make a bit of a mess while enjoying KONGs. If a KONG has soft or wet food inside it—or if your dog tends to drool a lot when chewing on things—you might want to give him KONGs only when he’s in his crate, outside or confined in a room with flooring that’s easy to clean, like tile or linoleum.)
- Make a KONGcicle! They’re great for spring and summertime outdoor enjoyment. First, put a dab of peanut butter at the bottom of the KONG to seal the small hole. Then turn the KONG upside down and place it in a cup. Stuff the KONG with kibble, canned food, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, banana or anything else you like. Pour a little chicken broth or gravy into the KONG and freeze it overnight.
KONG Stuffing Recipes
Here are some of our favorite recipes. Give them a try—or make up special recipes of your own! Just be sure to avoid foods that can be dangerous to your dog, like onions, garlic, avocados, macadamia nuts, bread dough, grapes and raisins, moldy foods, artificial sweeteners, fatty cuts of meat and chocolate. If you’re unsure about what’s safe to feed your dog, contact his veterinarian for advice and please see our article, Foods That Are Hazardous to Dogs.
The Basic KONG
- A special treat for “dessert,” like a cube of freeze-dried liver or jerky
- Your dog’s kibble
- Canned dog food
- Sticky sealer (a blob of peanut butter, processed cheese or cream cheese)
Drop the special treat into the bottom of the KONG. Then mix together your dog’s kibble and a few spoonfuls of canned dog food. Spoon the mixture into the KONG. When the KONG is filled, seal all the food inside using a dab of peanut butter, a smear of processed cheese or a little cream cheese. If you find that your dog can lick the KONG clean within just a few minutes, try freezing it overnight before giving it to him to satisfy him longer.
Meat and Potatoes
- Ground turkey, chicken, lean hamburger or cubed chuck steak or roast
- Potatoes, brown rice, cooked oatmeal or crumbled whole wheat bread
- Kidney beans and grated raw or lightly steamed veggies
Combine equal parts meat and potatoes or grain. Stir in a spoonful of beans and a sprinkle of raw grated or steamed and mashed veggies. Freeze the KONG overnight or serve it warm.
- 1 whole chicken or fryer parts (breast and thighs)
- Potatoes or cooked brown rice, oatmeal or millet
- Vegetables: Some that dogs like raw (grated or finely chopped) are parsley, carrots, zucchini, lettuce, bell peppers (green, red, orange and yellow), fresh corn, celery, tomatoes and beets. Some veggies that dogs enjoy steamed are green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, potatoes and hard winter squash.
In a soup kettle, cover the chicken with water, lightly salt and spice to taste, and add chopped veggies—celery, carrots, diced tomato, bell pepper, etc. If you’re using potato, add that to the stew as well. If you’re using grains, cook them separately. When the stew is done, you’re ready to combine everything. Put equal parts of meat and grain or potato in a large bowl, along with a tablespoon or two of the vegetables. (The vegetables should amount to about five percent of your dog’s meal.) Then spoon the mixture into a KONG. If you’re going to freeze the KONG, you can add some broth as well.
Itchy Dog KONG (for dogs with allergies on restricted prescription diets)
Because dogs with food allergies usually can’t have regular treats or chews, it can be challenging to come up with ways to add variety to their diets. Using KONGs to feed your allergic dog can help spice up his life. Just be sure to check with his veterinarian or dermatologist for a list of approved foods before you get started. The following recipe includes ingredients that many dogs with food allergies can eat. You’ll need:
- Your dog’s prescription kibble
- A few spoonfuls of water or prescription canned food
- Grated, steamed or raw asparagus spears, broccoli, zucchini and/or carrots
- A few chunks of apple, banana, watermelon, cantaloupe, a strawberry, some blueberries or a section of orange
- A hypoallergenic biscuit, formulated for dogs with food allergies (ask your dog’s veterinarian about where to find these)
- Baked russet or sweet potato
- Vegetarian refried beans
First drop the fruit into the bottom of the KONG for dessert. Then mix together your dog’s kibble, the wet food or water, and the veggies. Put a spoonful or two of the mixture into the KONG. Then put a chunk or two of potato in. Repeat, layering the mixture and potato until the KONG is almost filled. Finally, cram the biscuit into the end of the KONG. Seal everything in with a dab of the vegetarian refried beans. Serve warm, at room temperature or frozen.
Warm Veggie Delight
- Cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, green beans, tomatoes, peas and/or carrots (use any or all of the above)
- Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Chop the veggies into chunks, grate them or steam and mash them. Put a few veggies into a KONG. Sprinkle in a spoonful of cheese. Repeat, layering the veggies and cheese until the KONG is full. Then microwave the KONG for five to eight seconds, just until the veggies are warm and the cheese is soft. Make sure the veggies and cheese aren’t too hot to eat before giving the KONG to your dog. To challenge him, you can freeze the KONG after stuffing and microwaving it. (The melted cheese will be hard to get out after it’s been frozen with the veggies.)
- One egg
- Bell peppers and tomatoes
Grate the bell peppers or lightly steam them. Chop the tomatoes into chunks. Then scramble one egg with a sprinkle of cheese. Spoon the cheesy egg and the veggies into a KONG. Seal the KONG with a small chunk of cheese. Serve warm.
Fido’s Fruit Salad
- Cottage cheese or yogurt (only use plain or naturally sweetened yogurt—not yogurt with artificial sweeteners, which can be toxic to dogs)
- Apples, banana and melon (any kind)
- One small marshmallow
Cut the fruit into chunks and put them into a KONG until the toy is about two-thirds of the way full. Holding the KONG upside down, spoon cottage cheese or yogurt into the remaining space. Finally, finish by putting a small marshmallow into the KONG. Serve at room temperature or frozen.
- Canned or freshly cooked pureed pumpkin
- Yogurt or cottage cheese (only use plain or naturally sweetened yogurt—not yogurt with artificial sweeteners, which can be toxic to dogs)
- Cooked oatmeal
- Low-fat graham cracker
Put a spoonful of cooked oatmeal at the bottom of the KONG to seal the small hole. Then put two spoonfuls of pumpkin into the KONG. Follow with a spoonful of yogurt or cottage cheese. Repeat, layering the pumpkin and yogurt or cottage cheese until the KONG is almost full. Then cram a few pieces of graham cracker into the end of the KONG. Serve warm or frozen.
The Nutty Monkey
- Half a banana, cut into slices
- Peanut butter
- Roasted peanuts
- Plain, vanilla or strawberry yogurt (only use plain or naturally sweetened yogurt—not yogurt with artificial sweeteners, which can be toxic to dogs)
- A spoonful of wheat germ
Put a blob of peanut butter into an empty KONG to seal the small hole at the bottom. Add a few roasted peanuts. Mix the banana slices with a few spoonfuls of yogurt and the wheat germ. Then spoon the mixture into the KONG. Seal the KONG at the top with another blob of peanut butter. Serve at room temperature or frozen.
Late-for-Work KONGs (As Easy As It Gets)
Running late? If you’re busy and don’t have time to create culinary works of art, you can simply take a few seconds to try the following ideas. This is KONG stuffing at its fastest!
- Keep a stash of halved bananas in your freezer. When you’re on the run, just grab a banana half and slide it into a KONG. Or slice an apple into wedges and insert one or two of those into a KONG.
- Cram a large dog biscuit or two into a KONG. If necessary, squeeze the KONG when inserting the biscuits to change the shape of the hole and fit them in.
- If you feed your dog raw food, try purchasing frozen raw medallions, which easily pop into a KONG. Just turn the KONG upside down on a counter, large hole facing up, and push the medallion into the KONG using the heel of your palm.
- Use a squirt of Cheez Whiz®. Just insert the nozzle into the small end of the KONG and squeeze in some cheese. You can also use a similar product made by the KONG Company, called KONG Stuff’N™ Paste, which comes in liver and peanut butter flavors.
- Smear a spoonful of peanut butter or cream cheese (preferably low-fat) on the inside walls of a KONG. If you think that your dog might finish licking out the KONG too quickly, consider preparing a few peanut butter or cream cheese KONGs in advance and leaving them in your freezer for quick use when you’re in a hurry.
Bon appétit! For more great recipe ideas and information on serving sizes and ensuring complete nutrition with home-cooked meals, we recommend Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard Pitcairn, DVM; Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome by Arden Moore; and Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative by Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD.