Cat food puzzles, puzzle feeders, slow feeders, foraging toys. Whatever you call them, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the benefit they provide your cat!
In a natural environment, cats spend a good amount of their daily routine hunting and foraging for food. Their survival depends on it!
These activities provide an incredible amount of physical and mental stimulation, and this should give us cat guardians a clue when we are looking to increase our cats’ environmental enrichment.
Foraging toys and food puzzles can be this valuable addition. They are often not considered by cat guardians, but let me tell you that’s a huge mistake! Here are a few great reasons why a puzzle feeder should be next on your ‘to buy’ or ‘to make’ list:
Food doesn’t come easy in a cat’s natural environment. Not every hunt ends in a successful run-and-catch. In fact, a lot of food-gaining activities are done using foraging techniques.
The sound of a lizard scratching inside a tree trunk, or a mouse down a hole. These situations create physically and mentally demanding decisions for a cat, who now has to work out how to flush his prey out! A puzzle feeder can mimic these situations and satisfy in-built hunting/foraging needs.
Cats naturally eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Sources say somewhere between nine and sixteen! With a stomach the size of a ping pong ball, they aren’t particularly built for one or two larger meals each day.
Puzzle feeders can help spread a cat’s caloric intake across the day, much like they are built for. They can either be used to supplement normal meal times, or even used exclusively for feeding!
In the same vein as the first point, cats rarely have their food served up on a platter in a natural environment (which is essentially what is happening in a domestic environment). A cat who only has to wait for meals, or, for free-fed cats, mosey on over to the food bowl, is a cat who is not really getting naturally stimulated.
Overweight cats can really benefit from having to work for food, as the physical and mental demands expend a lot of energy.
A cat can eat a cat-food meal in a couple of minutes. A good puzzle feeder or foraging toy can keep them occupied for much, much longer. This is a great tool if you’re dealing with separation anxiety and other behaviour issues. Diverting their focus to a food puzzle when you’re leaving the house can keep a cat happy in your absence.
The ‘scarf-and-barf’ is a reality for many cat guardians. A good puzzle feeder can really slow down they time it takes to eat, reducing the likelihood of the post-meal vomit.
This can also be useful in multi-cat households where one cat gobbles food quickly then goes in search of the other cats’ food.
Do I need to keep going?!
You might now be wondering what type of puzzle feeder to get. If you go to the pet shop, or look at Amazon, you might feel a bit overwhelmed with the sheer multitude of the different types on the market. This is actually part of the fun!
Let’s cut through the clutter and keep it simple: there are two main categories of puzzle feeders – stationary and rolling.
The stationary ones, for the most part, appear to be easier and are good for cats who haven’t used puzzle feeders before. These generally are the ones where the cat grab the food with their paw, usually hidden inside something. Most are for dry food, but there are some that enable wet food to be used.
On the other hand, the rolling ones usually require the cat to bat them around on the ground with the hope of food randomly falling out. These ones are usually exclusively for dry food or treats.
Different cats get stimulated and motivated by different types, so it’s a good idea to try a few.
The best part is that you can make them very easily at home! No actual need to spend money at the pet shop if you don’t want to. Just googling ‘DIY puzzle feeders for cats’ will bring up a plethora of ideas and instructions, all using cheap and readily available household items like toilet paper rolls, boxes, tennis balls etc.
Here is a wonderful website on food puzzles for cats, with some great ideas to get started. Just click on “Homemade Puzzles” in the menu. It also gives you some pointers if your cat is just not getting the hang of food puzzles! It also showcases the various types you can buy, and even has a difficulty-rating system!
I hope I’ve convinced you to at least consider using a puzzle feeder or foraging toy for your cat, especially if dry food is part of his diet. They create enormous amounts of stimulation and can be a fantastic addition to an overall environment enrichment strategy. I suggest them more and more to clients with wonderful results!