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Cat Food Puzzles Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing

Cat food puzzles are being used to help combat the negative physical and behavioural effects an indoor lifestyle has on felines.

Keeping a cat indoors is recommended for their safety and health. However, indoor housing is associated with physical and behavioural problems, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • Joint problems
  • Chronic lower urinary tract diseases
  • Aggression
  • Attention-seeking behaviors
  • Stress-related behaviors e.g. house-soiling and overgrooming

A new study looked into the positive impact food puzzles have on indoor cats. Providing environmental enrichment in the form of food puzzles takes advantage of the cat’s natural predatory instinct. Benefits of providing food puzzles included weight loss, decreased aggression, reduced anxiety and cessation of attention-seeking behaviors 1.

What is a Cat Food Puzzle?

Food puzzles are devices that need to be interacted with to get at the food inside. They aren’t just limited to cats either. Originally, food puzzles were developed as a way to stimulate captive animals in zoos. There are now hundreds of consumer products aimed at companion animals – including dogs, cats and birds.

Because there are so many food puzzles available, there are lots of different types that stimulate your pet in various ways. Ultimately, they all require some form of puzzle solving to reveal or release food/treats that are held in the device.

Food puzzles can be either mobile or stationary. Stationary puzzles are kept in one place, whilst mobile food puzzles provide physical activity as well as mental stimulation. Mobile food puzzles are great for overweight or obese cats.

See below for some more examples of food puzzle types.

Positive Effects of Cat Food Puzzles

By nature, cats are inquisitive and physically active. As a result, cats can often get bored or lazy when kept indoors. Cat food puzzles provide both physical and mental stimulation to keep curious cats entertained when not allowed outside.

Cat food puzzles can also be designed to slow down fast eaters. Certain designs limit the amount of food that can be eaten in one go, meaning meal times last longer.

Benefits of introducing food puzzles to your cat:

  • Reduce boredom
  • Decrease aggressive or destructive behaviour
  • Improve anxiety
  • Increase exercise
  • Slow down fast eaters
  • Support weight loss
  • Provide mental stimulation

Case Studies

Some case studies from ‘Food puzzles for cats: Feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing’. Read the full study here.

  • Obesity 
  • Aggression (Humans)
  • Aggression (Cats)
  • Noise Phobia 
DSH, Neutered Male, 8yr – An obese cat was given mobile food puzzles. After 12 months a 20% loss in body weight was recorded.  
British Shorthair, Neutered Male, 3yr – Male showed unwarranted aggression to owner, often biting due to lack of attention or around meal times. After using both mobile and stationary food puzzles, the aggression decreased. Aggressive behaviour was completely resolved after six months.
DSH, Spayed Female, 8yr – Female showed signs of fear-based aggression to younger cat (2yr). After using both mobile and stationary food puzzles, intensity and frequency of aggression decreased. Both cats began using avoidance behaviours instead of aggression.
DSH, Neutered Male, 9yr – Male showed severe noise phobia, sometimes redirected as aggression to other cat in household. Mobile and stationary food puzzles helped reduce signs of noise phobia and resolved the issue of redirected aggression.

Cat Food Puzzles – Retail Examples

3D Food Maze

Cat food puzzle mazeThis 3D food puzzle makes your cat work their food from the top to the bottom before they can get to it. Introduce your cat to a puzzle like this, by first putting food around the base. This allows them to associate the puzzle with food.

When they are ready, place some food on the first level. As they become more experienced, move the food up a level over time.

See more information about the Catit Senses Food Maze.

interactive cat food puzzlesSlow Down Fast Eaters

This interactive food puzzle has lots of obstacles that will really help slow down fast eaters. Food placed around the edges will be easy for your cat to get to, but food placed towards the centre is going to require a little more work!

These types of food puzzles are good to introduce your cat to the puzzle concept, but also for fast eaters.

See more information about the Catch Interactive Cat Feeder.

Ball cat food puzzlesRolling Puzzles

Mobile puzzles like this rolling ball are great for getting overweight cats to move around the house for their food or treats.

Control the difficulty by adjusting the size of the hole. Making the hole smaller will have your cat patting the ball all over the house to get at the rewards within.

Start with the hole wide open to allow your cat to get used to this puzzle. Increase the difficulty over time by making the hole smaller.

See more information about the PetSafe SlimCat Feed Ball.

Diggers

Cat Food Puzzles DiggerDigger puzzles like this encourage cats to work for their food in a natural manner. Their design plays on a the cat’s instincts to paw out smaller portions of food.

Like other food puzzles, diggers encourage activity and will slow down fast eaters.

See more information about the Catit Senses Digger.

Activity Boards

Cat food puzzles activity boardAn activity board is a good all-in-one purchase. It has lots of different types of puzzles on one mat.

The example to the right has five different kinds of puzzles, including the digger-style food puzzle above.

The pegs require a cat to plan a strategy to get at food with the help of its paws or claws. There is also a tunnel that limits the cat’s ability to see the food, encouraging them to use smell to locate the reward.

See more information about the Trixie Cat Activity Fun Board.

Homemade Cat Food Puzzles

Although there are lots of fancy looking food puzzles available to buy, you can also make a stimulating food puzzle at home.

Making a food puzzle at home will cost a fraction of the price of shop-bought puzzles. You can also get creative and customise the puzzles to your cat’s individual needs.

An example of a homemade puzzle, is the bottle puzzle.

Cat food puzzles bottle
Image taken from Purina One – Enrich Feeding Time for Your Cat. Make a Puzzle Feeder.

Bottle Puzzle

This is a common puzzle made at home and is possibly the easiest! Step by step instructions below:

  1. Take a small plastic bottle like those used to hold childrens’ fizzy drinks.
  2. Using a utility knife, carefully cut a few small square holes in the bottle. The smaller/fewer holes you have, the harder your cat is going to have to work to get their reward!
  3. Unscrew the lid and place in a few dry biscuits/treats. Rescrew the lid.
  4. Introduce your cat to the toy by gently shaking it near them to show that food falls out!

See the Purina One Blog for even more homemade puzzle ideas.

Food Puzzles for Cats

The writers of the food puzzles for cats study have also created a website with lots more resources.

For more homemade puzzle ideas visit their website. They also include difficulty ratings with each puzzle, so you can see which ones are really going to get your cat thinking.

See the bottle puzzle in action below:

Summary: Cat Food Puzzles Improve Health & Wellbeing

  • Food puzzles can combat the negative physical and behavioural effects an indoor lifestyle has on felines.
  • Puzzles can reduce aggression behaviours and help with weight loss.
  • Plenty of store-bought puzzles are available for purchase.
  • Food puzzles are easily created and implemented at home.

Featured Image: Trixie via YouTube

References:

  1. Dantas, L., Delgado, M., Johnson, I. and Buffington, C. (2016). Food puzzles for cats: Feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 18(9), pp.723-732.

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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