The 5 Best Toys For Dogs With Anxiety, According To A Veterinarian
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Pet ownership is filled with challenges and responsibilities — and an anxious dog or stressful situations present unique challenges. The best toys for dogs with anxiety may help to alleviate some stress for both you and your pet, but it’s important to purchase designs that are effective, safe, and durable. While I have my own anxious dog (and I’ve found a few toys that help to calm him), I also reached out to a veterinarian for some advice.
Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, B.Sc., D.V.M., is a veterinary medical advisor for Rover. She completed her Bachelor of Science at the University of Western Ontario and went on to earn her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Ontario Veterinary College. Dr. Greenstein spent almost a decade performing pet surgeries as an ER doctor, but since 2018, she has been the chief veterinarian and practice owner at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital.
What To Look For When Shopping For Calming Dog Toys
While shopping for calming dog toys, first consider the source of the stress. “As we move closer to post-pandemic life when pet owners will no longer be home 24/7, one of the biggest pet health issues I see on the horizon is separation anxiety,” Dr. Greenstein wrote in an e-mail to Bustle. For that source of stress, you’ll want to find a toy that “mimics companionship” or helps your pup “pass the time,” and oftentimes, these come in the form of plushies, chew toys, or treat-dispensing puzzle toys.
Separation anxiety isn’t the only source, though. In fact, studies report that up to 70% of dogs may experience anxiety, including food anxiety (which can be regulated with slow-feeder tools like treat-dispensing toys), rescue/shelter anxiety (which may benefit from companion toys), or situational anxiety from stressful activities like moving, other dogs, or loud noises (which could benefit from a distracting toy, like a squeaky ball or a licking mat).
That said, according to Dr. Greenstein, “durability is key when scouting for a suitable stress-relieving toy,” especially “if you have a large dog or a power chewer.” In that case, fabric or plastic toys should be skipped in lieu of more chew-resistant materials that won’t break, so your pet can’t accidentally swallow any parts.
While Dr. Greenstein is “thrilled to see a huge amount of innovation in the anti-anxiety dog toy space,” owners should be aware that separation anxiety is a complex issue, and there’s no “one-size-fits-all solution.” For that reason, if your pet is really struggling or if you’re unsure of which toys you should purchase, it’s a smart idea to consult with your veterinarian.
Shop The Best Toys For Dogs With Anxiety
In a hurry? Here are the top picks for the best calming dog toys.
- The Best Dog Plush For Anxiety: SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy Heartbeat Stuffed Toy
- The Most Durable Chew Toy: KONG Classic Dog Toy, Medium
- The Best Treat-Dispensing Puzzle Toy: LPHSNR Pineapple Puzzle Treat-Dispensing Toy, X-Large
- The Best Squeaky Toy: RHL Dog Squeaky Toy, Medium/Large
- The Best Licking Mat: OTIME Slow Feeder Licking MatAmazon
- Also Great: Best Friends by Sheri The Original Calming Donut Bed
1. The Best Dog Plush For Anxiety
- Mimics companionship with a battery-operated heartbeat and heating pad
- Backed by thousands of five-star reviews
- Machine-washable and made from certified-safe materials
- Comes in five designs
- Not suitable for heavy chewers
“Certain pets may find reassurance in plushies that mimic the shape, coziness, companionship, and heartbeat of their moms and littermates, who they once slept beside,” Dr. Greenstein wrote. “Many heartbeat toys can also be warmed up, further contributing to your pup’s experience of sleeping beside a familiar warm sibling, which is thought to be soothing to them.”
The Snuggle Puppy checks all of those boxes, which is why it has more than 45,000 reviews and an overall rating of 4.6 stars on Amazon. It comes in your choice of five designs, and the AAA battery-operated heart has two settings that start beating at the press of a button. Each one also includes a heating pack which you can quickly microwave for additional warmth, and while it’s not suitable for aggressive chewers, the materials are still machine-washable and durable enough for years of cuddling, according to reviewers.
One reviewer wrote: “I was hesitant to buy due to the price but it is worth every penny. Our rescue puppy had severe separation anxiety and would cry in his crate every night, throughout the night - this completely stopped after we paired him with his Snuggle Buddy. He LOVES his Buddy.”
Materials: certified-safe plush | Available sizes: one size (but available in five colors)
2. The Best Durable Chew Toy
- Extra-durable for chewers
- Hollow so you can stuff it with toys
- Comes in tons of sizes
- Some reviewers wrote that the construction quality isn’t as high as it used to be
If your pet is a chewer, “fabric toys may not necessarily survive your pup’s chompers, and could even end up causing a serious internal blockage if parts are ingested,” Dr. Greenstein wrote. Luckily, the KONG classic dog toy is made from natural, durable rubber that stands up to even the most aggressive teething and play sessions. While the material allows dogs to take their excess energy out through chewing, the toy is also hollow so it can be filled with kibble, peanut butter, or another treat which keeps them occupied and calm. Consequently, it functions as a toy for chewing, fetching, and puzzles all at once — and it’s dishwasher-safe so it’s easy to keep clean.
One reviewer wrote: “My dog is both high energy and has separation anxiety, so I REALLY need things that keep her entertained when I leave, or even on weekends when I am home but need to be able to do things around the house. I now own 4 Kongs and will buy a couple more. [...] My dog is an average chewer and there are no signs of damage on the red kongs. I love that these can go through the dishwasher, too.”
Materials: natural rubber | Available sizes: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large, XX-Large
3. This Cute Treat-Dispensing Puzzle Toy
- Dispenses treats and kibble as your pet plays with it
- “Virtually indestructible,” according to one reviewer, and comes with a lifetime replacement warranty
- Suitable for a wide range of dog sizes
- Not ideal for lickers due to the rough exterior
“Food-driven doggos [may] prefer to pass the time with treat balls,” Dr. Greenstein wrote, and this pineapple toy is one of the most popular options on Amazon. Why? It’s made from extra-durable natural rubber for longevity (and even has a lifetime replacement warranty) — but it’s also hollowed out and has small holes that dispense treats or kibble. As a result, reviewers report that it’s easily their dog’s “favorite toy” and it keeps them “busy for hours.” Finally, since it comes in a handful of sizes, buyers report that it’s suitable for dogs from a mini doodle to a 100-pound American Bully.
One reviewer wrote: “Greatest invention ever! I have a high energy lab puppy. [...] He loves ‘working’ for his food. Keeps him busy, mentally occupied, helps him digest better and makes mealtime fun! I highly recommend this to anyone.”
Materials: natural rubber | Available sizes: Mini, Small, Large, XLarge
4. The Best Squeaky Toy
- Has a squeaker to keep dogs entertained
- Made from non-toxic rubber
- Comes in three shapes and two sizes
- Not the best option for aggressive chewers
“If you have a dog with a high prey drive, squeaker [...] toys may keep them occupied,” Dr. Greenstein wrote, “but they too need to be able to stand up to the teething and chewing of tenacious pets.” That’s where the RHL squeaky toy comes in. Yes, it has a built-in squeaker noise that keeps your dog engaged, but it’s also made from tough rubber (with an enticing beef flavor) so it’ll stand up to moderate chewing. The materials are also eco-friendly, safe, and non-toxic. Plus, you can get the toy in the shape of a ball, car, or train. It even floats on water.
One reviewer wrote: “Our dog is very anxious. We call this her stress ball. She is afraid of thunder and fireworks. We are having construction done in our house and every time things are moved around she gets anxious. She usually destroys all her toys but she has had this for over a month and it is still in tact. Would highly recommend.”
Materials: natural rubber | Available sizes: Small Dog, Medium/Large Dog
5. The Best Licking Mat
- Adheres to almost any smooth surface with suction cups
- Great for grooming and other stressful situations
- Durable and easy to clean
- Not exactly a toy
According to Dr. Greenstein, “puzzle mats” may also be an effective option for reducing anxiety. While not exactly “toys,” these mats have a textured surface that (when covered with their favorite treat, like peanut butter) keeps your pet busy while they lick it off. They’re especially great for bathing or nail-trimming because they keep your pet’s attention off of the stressful situation and create a positive association with the grooming experience.
This licking mat is made from BPA-free, food-grade silicone that’s easy to clean, and it has suction cups all over the back so it attaches to any smooth surface — including the tub, shower walls, and appliances. You can get it in multiple colors and even a few multi-packs.
One reviewer wrote: “When we first brought our anxious rescue home these were great for him. [...] They clean great by tossing them in the dishwasher. He loves spray cheese on these. If I have a stranger come over we just stick on the fridge or oven and he licks at it keeping it calm and busy.”
Materials: food-grade silicone | Available sizes: one size (but available in multiple colors and value packs)
Also Great: The Best Plush Dog Bed For Anxiety
- Round shape and raised edges minimize anxiety
- Available in many sizes and colors
- Machine washable
- Not the most durable and might not be suitable for aggressive chewers
Play is important for an anxious dog — but so is rest, and that’s where the Best Friends by Sheri original donut bed comes in. (It’s without a doubt one of the best purchases I’ve made for my anxious dog, Oscar, who loves to curl up in it whenever something in his environment seems threatening.)
Because of its round shape, raised edges, and airloft fibers, it encompasses dogs (and cats) in a safe space that’s reminiscent of their mothers’ fur. The materials are also machine-washable — the entire bed for the smaller sizes, and the removable shell for the larger sizes. Finally, since it’s available in a huge range of colors and has a pouf-like appearance, it actually looks nice in your space.
One reviewer wrote: “My dog Luna has anxiety due to past issues of abuse. [...] The moment I gave this to my dog she immediately went and laid down in it, and has continued to lay in it throughout the day. It’s so soft and comfortable. She seems very relaxed and protected in it and she loves the softness.”
Materials: pet-safe polyester | Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, 2XL
Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, B.Sc., D.V.M., is a veterinary medical advisor for Rover.
Dror, S., Sommese, A., Miklósi, Á. et al. Multisensory mental representation of objects in typical and Gifted Word Learner dogs. Anim Cogn (2022). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-022-01639-z