DIY Automated Puzzle Toy Dispenser

Maplewood Dog

A number of years ago an amazing product came onto the market.  It was one that allowed a user to put into the machine a bunch of stuffed kong puzzle toys, then it would dispense the Kongs on timed intervals set by the user.  I never owned one but I heard amazing things.  Then unfortunately the company went out of business or at least stopped making them and folks like me were filled with regret for not purchasing one when they had been available.  I’ve been off and on percolating on how to create a DIY version of such machine for a few years, and wanted to share my current DIY automated puzzle toy dispenser.

It’s really pretty simple as uses an off the shelf product for automatically feeding cats.  And is really rather inexpensive.

You will need to get your hands on a Cat Mate C20.  They make a couple of different models, a 1 bowl 1 timer model and a 2 bowl 2 timer model.  Mine happens the be the 2 bowl 2 timer model.  The 2 bowl 2 timer model cost me about $30 on Amazon.

2 white boxes with timers and a label of Cat mate

The neat thing about the Cat Mate is 2 fold.  1.  the timer can run up to 48hrs, meaning you can set it and forget it even the night or more before (and if you have the 2 timer model, you can set each timer to a different time)  and 2.  now this is the really important thing, the bowls are removable and the device will still work without the bowls installed.

This piece is key because once you remove the bowls, you can fit a large size or smaller Kong classic into the area previously taken up by the plastic bowls.

the cat mate with lids open, and 1 meal dish removed and red kong toy in it's place

Now, as the internet reviews will all tell you this product is really easy for a dog (or cat for that matter) to break into.  If it’s placed within pet reach.  So this is where a 3rd nice feature comes into play for our purposes as hacking it into an automated puzzle toy dispenser.  On the back of the device (or at least on the back of the 2 bowl 2 timer model, not sure if the 1 bowl 1 timer model also has these) are 2 plastic oval shaped things, that each have a small hole.  This gives you 2 evenly placed holes in the back to thread a piece of rope or wire through.  Thread the rope or wire through the holes and tie a knot so you now have a rope attached to the device to hang it from on a hook.  This also allows the device to hang at a slight angle to the ground so when the timer counts down and the door pops open the kong inside, thanks to gravity, falls to the floor for your dog to enjoy.

back of the cat mate device in an orange wire attached to hang it from

So you now have your Cat Mate C20, you have your rope threaded through the back to make a hanger, you have removed the plastic food bowls, you have your Kongs stuffed and at the ready.  You then have to get a functioning AA battery (functioning is key, as I accidentally put in dead battery and for 3 days I thought the machine was broken.  Yea no, just make sure your battery has juice.  There is apparently a little gear on the back where you put the battery and if the gear is turning the machine is working.  If gear isn’t turning try a new battery.  You can also hear the machine doing a faint tick tick tick when it’s working) and install it in the back of the device.

On the front of the device line up the timer dial to the depression at 6 o’clock so the door pops open, place your stuffed dog puzzle toy inside, and close the door.  Turn the timer dial clockwise to your desired time for it to go off x number of hours in the future.  Hang your hacked automatic puzzle dispenser in an area your dog can’t reach it but can easily get the toy once it’s been dispensed and wait for your dog to get an awesome surprise when like magic a wonderful puzzle toy appears in the future for them to enjoy.

black and white corgi playing with a red kong on a rug, the cat mate dispenser hanging from a dresser above her

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