Cat Food Puzzles: How They Benefit Your Cat

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Cat parents are well aware that although their furry friends thrive on a routine, they also can get bored pretty quickly, which can lead to all sorts of mischief. Food puzzles for cats may be the perfect solution! These puzzles engage your cat's brain and get them moving.

What Is a Cat Food Puzzle?

Puzzles for cat food are typically plastic containers in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. They're designed to make a pet "work for their food," explained the Cummings Veterinary Medical Centre at Tufts University. Food puzzles for cats offer an environmental enrichment activity, and can be created out of any material or object that can safely hold edible items.

Cats can be very choosy about which type of food puzzle they like (no surprise there), so if your fur baby doesn't take to one right away, try others until you find one that pleases your picky pal. The key is to choose one that enhances their senses and instincts.

Types of Cat Food Puzzles

Most commercially bought cat food puzzles are intended for dry cat food, but you can try wet food in them too. When choosing which cat food to use in your puzzle, consider what the cleanup process will entail.

There are puzzles that require cats to lift up clear plastic cups, open drawers with their paws, or fish kibble out of a maze. Others necessitate the use of their mouth to lift out food. Some cat food puzzles sit on a sturdy base, while others lay flat on the ground.

Food puzzles for cats don't have to cost a lot of money. There are many commercially available options but you can make your own cat food puzzle using common household items like:

  • Cardboard tubes
  • Empty plastic water bottles
  • Cardboard egg cartons
  • Plastic cups
  • Plastic ice cube trays

Mobile food puzzles are especially fun because your cat can roll them around the floor, adding an extra element of chase to the game. But make sure they can actually get the food out. The idea of these puzzles isn't to frustrate your cat but, rather, to engage them in a task for which they'll be rewarded.

And as always, prioritise your cat's safety, ensuring there are no sharp edges, small pieces that can be swallowed or pointy parts on the puzzle that can harm your cat.

Benefits of Cat Food Puzzles

Food puzzles are beneficial for a cat's instinctive behaviour in the following ways:

Curing Boredom

While it's true that cats sleep a lot, they need stimulation during their awake hours, or they could wind up wreaking havoc on your home. Cats retain a strong instinct for stalking and hunting, and supplying Gray and white cat sniffing a plastic water bottle used as a cat food puzzle with dry kibble inside.a cat with a food puzzle offers an outlet for that instinct by providing a “little brain and body workout,” according to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Foraging for their food provides a truly enriching experience for domesticated cats. "Of course, it is not quite the same as hunting, but when combined with other forms of enrichment, such as interactive play, puzzles can really provide cats with the exercise and challenges they need to be happier," said Delgado.

Regulating Food and Managing Weight

Similar to treat-dispensing cat toys, food puzzles can be used to supply your cat with their entire meal portion. International Cat Care points out that because puzzle feeders encourage mental and physical stimulation, using them to distribute meals is a great option for cats who aren't otherwise active.

Reducing Nighttime Feedings

Sleeping through the night without waking up to feed the cat is the stuff of daydreams for some pet parents. With a food puzzle, that hope could become a reality, as it provides your cat with full access to their nocturnal meals. Also, cat puzzles make it so a cat can't scarf their whole meal down in minutes.

Consider using either stationary puzzles at night or confining mobile cat food puzzles to spaces far away from your bedroom so your slumber won't be disturbed by the racket.

The perfect cat food puzzle for your furry friend will engage them in the complete process of stalking, hunting and capturing prey. They may take a little while to warm up to the new toy, but once they do, you're sure to have one happy hunter on your hands.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA), a STEAM educator and a devoted cat parent. She writes about pets, education, women's health, and STEM-y stuff. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA