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buggin_out_osito

Shoshi Parks/INSIDER

  • Outward Hound recently released a new line of their popular Nina Ottosson Interactive Toys made just for cats under their Petstages brand of toys.
  • The three high-quality puzzle toys encourage a cat to hunt for food, providing enrichment and mental stimulation as they eat.
  • The Buggin’ Out Puzzle was the right combination of challenge and reward for my playful older cat, but he liked the Melon Madness and Rainy Day puzzles too.

When I began working toward becoming a professional dog trainer almost 10 years ago, one of the first big lessons I learned was that interactive food puzzle toys are powerful. Toys baited with food not only help alleviate boredom in dogs, they build confidence, provide mental stimulation, and address anxiety.

Dogs aren’t the only ones that benefit from the enrichment a puzzle toy provides. Interactive food toys are commonly used when caring for almost every captive animal out there, from polar bears to kangaroos. But even while the dog puzzle toy industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, the cat puzzle toy industry has been slow to pick up speed.

With the release of a feline line of Nina Ottosson Interactive Puzzle Toys, though, cat enrichment has finally hit the big leagues. And the country’s 95 million cats? They couldn’t be more ready for the challenge.  

I’ve long been a fan of Outward Hound’s Nina Ottosson line of interactive puzzle toys for dogs. Each is a well-thought-out combination of compartments and moving pieces that entice a pup to sniff out and extract hidden food. 

The three new interactive cat puzzle toys work on the same basic principle as the dog versions but are tailored to feline abilities and their desire to hunt and capture food. Each puzzle is crisscrossed with long trenches. The trenches contain a knob that slides smoothly back and forth within its track and over a compartment at one end deep enough to hold a small amount of food. Tear-drop shaped caps secured to the top of the toy also rotate to cover the compartments. 

Nina Ottosson cat puzzles review: high-quality interactive cat toys

Shoshi Parks/INSIDER

The bright and cheery Melon Madness Puzzle and Buggin’ Out Puzzle are both rated difficulty level two. The Melon Madness Puzzle, which is colored to look like a slice of watermelon with black “seeds” for caps, has six compartments hidden in six short trenches. The Buggin’ Out Puzzle has 14 compartments in seven trenches, one of which is long and curved. Its caps are painted like leaves, its knobs ladybugs. Both toys can hold up to a 1/4 cup of food.

The cloud-shaped Rainy Day Puzzle is rated difficulty level three. All of its five trenches are curved, and it has a large spinning dial that, when turned, reveals additional compartments for holding food, 14 altogether. The Rainy Day has blue, slightly translucent rain drop caps and can hold up to 1/4 cup of food. 

All three of the puzzles are made of eco-friendly materials and are free of BPA, PVC, and phthalates. Though they cannot be disassembled for cleaning, the puzzles can be rinsed with warm water and mild soap. There are no removable parts to get lost or cause a choking hazard.

Even at 12 years old, my cat Osito is a bit of a loose cannon. I learned years ago that if I didn’t give him enough stimulation each day, he’d expend his extra energy torturing his shy “sister” Phoebe. His morning meal goes into a puzzle toy, so when we received editorial review samples of the Nina Ottosson puzzles back in March, I was eager to add them to the rotation.

Osito took to the toys immediately. While the company instructs guardians to slowly introduce their cats to the puzzles by using only the rotating caps to conceal food to start, he instantly understood how to move around both the caps and the knobs in order to extract his reward from the hidden compartments.

Osito seemed to like all three of the toys, but there was a clear Goldilocks-style hierarchy. The Melon Madness was a bit too easy; he was able to extract the food from its six compartments in no time at all. The Rainy Day Puzzle was too hard (or maybe he is just too lazy for the additional challenge). While he enjoyed the curved trenches, he still hasn’t tried spinning the dial to free the food underneath. The Buggin’ Out Puzzle, though, that one was just right — an ideal combination of challenge and reward. 

Nina Ottosson rainy day puzzle

Shoshi Parks/INSIDER

If you have a cat that is active and curious, I’d recommend starting with the Buggin’ Out Puzzle or going straight for the Rainy Day Puzzle. If you have an older or less confident cat, you may want to begin with the Melon Madness Puzzle, though the Buggin’ Out Puzzle is also a good option. 

While the toys are well-made, they do move around a bit when Osito really digs in. Still, in three months he has not yet flipped one over, a testament to their sturdy design. Although the toys are easy enough to rinse with soap and water, I do wish they could be pulled apart for deeper cleaning.  

Outward Hound’s Nina Ottosson Interactive Cat Puzzles are great fun for curious cats. By concealing food, their sliding and rotating knobs and teardrop-shaped caps tap into a cat’s hunting instincts and provide mental stimulation. Of the three puzzles, the Melon Madness is the easiest and the Rainy Day is the most challenging. The Buggin’ Out Puzzle was just right for my playful older cat. With each toy holding up to 1/4 cup of food, Nina Ottosson’s puzzles are an easy way to increase a cat’s daily enrichment.

Pros: All three sturdy interactive food puzzles are tailored to a cat’s abilities, two puzzles rated difficulty level two, one puzzle rated difficulty level three, each puzzle holds up to 1/4 cup of food, made of eco-friendly materials, do not contain BPA, PVC or phthalates, can be rinsed with warm water and mild soap, no removable parts

Cons: The toys can’t be taken apart for a deeper cleaning, the toys move around a little during play

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