I’ve written before about the value of incorporating puzzle feeders (food-dispensing toys) into your cat’s daily life but if you’ve been reluctant to try it or are confused about how to begin, this article will take you through it step-by-step.
What’s a Puzzle Feeder?
A puzzle feeder is simply a food-dispensing toy. The cat figures out what movement of the toy is required to get a food reward and a game is born. You cat doesn’t technically “need” a puzzle feeder but for many cats, it can be a very effective tool for adding mental stimulation into daily life. When you think about it, your cat is a hunter and the natural way she would get her meals would be to hunt them down. In the wild there are no stainless bowls filled with mice or serving trays holding beautifully prepared birds and chipmunks. For the hunter to get her meal she must first stalk it, pounce and then capture her prize. For the hunter, a successful meal requires mental and physical stimulation. Many of us want our cats to stay indoors for safety reasons but then we don’t supply enough environmental enrichment to keep the cats mentally stimulated and physically fit. Using a puzzle feeder is just one aspect of an all-around enhancement of your cat’s day-to-day life.
What are the Benefits of a Puzzle Feeder for Cats?
Even the most basic food-dispensing toy may be a valuable tool when it comes to a variety of behavior and health issues. A puzzle feeder can:
- Encourage a cat to eat slowly
- Incorporate some reward-based solo playtime into your cat’s day
- Ease boredom
- Redirect a cat from engaging in destructive behavior
- Provide a little added exercise
- Encourage a cat to think and stay mentally stimulated
- Healthier option to free-feeding
- Aid in weight control
- May help with cats who are prone to vomiting (from eating too quickly)
Which Puzzle Feeder Should My Cat Use?
There are many commercially available puzzle feeders available at your local pet product store as well as online. They vary from basic to more complex. The type to use will depend on how quickly your cat gets the concept. Some cats immediately take to the puzzle solving idea and can work the food-dispensing toys quite successfully in a short amount of time. My cat, Pearl, has been able to master whatever puzzle feeder I present to her. She seems to truly enjoy the game. Other cats though, may need to start with the most basic concept of a container with a large enough hole where food falls out easily. The point isn’t to frustrate your cat but rather, to tap into her natural hunting and problem-solving skills.