Too many cats are bored, depressed and inactive because there isn’t enough stimulation in the environment. If you work long hours or if you have a single kitty who spends so much time alone in her home, it can get to the point where there just isn’t anything interesting to do. Is there a way to keep your cat entertained while you aren’t home? Yes! That’s where puzzle feeders come to the rescue.
The concept behind the puzzle feeder is that the cat has to figure out how to get the food out of the puzzle toy and then is rewarded with the food when she succeeds. This is a great way to entertain your cat when you aren’t at home.
The benefits of using a puzzle feeder include more than just the fun of seek and reward. It’s helpful if you’ve put your cat on a diet because she’ll have to work (play) for the food and will eat slowly since only a small amount is dispensed at a time. It’s also beneficial for cats who tend to gulp their meals too quickly. And of course, it’s a great boredom buster. I also incorporate the use of puzzle feeders with my clients’ cats who are in stressful situations. They can focus on the fun activity of trying to get food out of the puzzle feeder as a distraction from whatever is causing anxiety in the environment.
Puzzle feeder designs
When it comes to puzzle feeders there are many design options. They range from very simple ball designs with a hole in them for dispensing kibble, to very complex structures that will provide entertainment for more than one cat at a time. You can use dry food or wet food in the puzzle feeder, depending on the design of the particular feeder toy. A simple search on Google will turn up lots of sites that design and/or sell puzzle feeders for cats. You can also buy some at the pet product store but if your cat is up for the challenge, companies who specialize in puzzle feeders and animal environmental enrichment will have the most selection. Some companies who manufacture puzzle feeders include Kong, Premier, Our Pets and Nina Ottosson. Nina’s toys are mostly designed for dogs but she does have some cat puzzles. You can also use some of the dog puzzle feeders if you choose the plastic versions and not the wooden ones. At our house, Nina Ottosson’s plastic dog brick is a very popular item.
Homemade puzzle feeders
To make a homemade puzzle feeder box, take a small cardboard box and cut holes that are larger than the size of your cat’s paws. Cut these holes in random places. Tape the flaps of the box closed and then toss some dry kibble in there. Shoe boxes make good puzzle feeder boxes.
A popular homemade puzzle feeder design at our house is the toilet paper tube feeder. Take the cardboard center from the toilet paper roll and cut holes in it that are a little bigger than the size of the kibble. Fold the ends in to close them and you have an easy and cheap puzzle feeder. I also make one out of a small plastic water bottle. I cut holes in the plastic and then pour some dry kibble in there. Replace the cap and you have a feeder that’s easy for the cat to roll around and also makes an enticing sound.
When you initially make homemade puzzle feeders make the holes large enough so kitty has lots of success at getting the kibble. Then when she gets the idea of the game you can make a puzzle feeder with smaller holes.
With cardboard or plastic bottle feeders, make sure you only provide them to cats who don’t eat cardboard or plastic. Additionally, don’t put these feeders out in locations where the family dog can access them.
Puzzle feeders for wet food
If you feed wet food to your cat you can still incorporate puzzle feeders into her routine. For my cat I use a Kong toy. This company makes puzzle feeders for dogs but I get the one made for puppies and put a little canned food in there. The Kong is a rubber cone-shaped toy and can easily be found in the dog toy aisle of the pet product store. If your cat doesn’t get the concept initially then wipe some of the wet food on the outside of the toy as well so she gets used to licking the rubber surface.
I also create a homemade wet food puzzle feeder with a muffin tin. It’s really simple but it provides my cat with an opportunity to do a little work for her food. I place a small amount of canned food in each of the muffin compartments so my cat has to walk around to each one to get her food. You can do this with dry food as well.
Want More Information?
You can find step-by-step information on how to incorporate the use of puzzle feeders into your cat’s daily routine, in Pam’s books, including Think Like a Cat.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.