For people, mealtime may be all about the food, but for our cats, eating is also a chance to act on their hunting instincts. According to some researchers, then, eating out of a bowl might not be the best option for your pet. Enter the puzzle feeder.
A puzzle feeder is an alternative to free-feeding your cat by presenting him with a food-dispensing game. Ranging from simple designs to more complex challenges, puzzle feeders engage your cat’s brain while he eats, turning mealtime into a challenge with a tasty reward at the end. While cats certainly don’t require a puzzle feeder to take their meals, these contraptions have been shown to add mental stimulation into your pet’s daily routine and, in some cases, can help with behavioral problems.
Your cat will need to learn the ropes for his unique new food “dish,” so start with an easy design. You may want to make a homemade puzzle feeder to ensure this feeding style works for your pet before investing in a commercial model. To do this, take an empty bottle and cut holes in it that are slightly larger than the size of your cat’s kibble. Make plenty of holes so the game is easy at first and then place some kibble in the bottle, close the lid, and place the bottle on its side on the floor. If your pet seems to enjoy this game, you can make a more challenging design with fewer holes or move on to other contraptions using materials from toilet paper tubes to egg cartons. There are DYI designs online or you can use your imagination to design a puzzle feeder, but remember, the game should be fun—not frustrating—for your pet.
Each puzzle feeder is different, so it’s important to consider your pet’s age, personality and health when finding the right fit. Before purchasing or designing a feeder, ask yourself whether your cat is an inquisitive, fast learner that would enjoy a challenge, or if he would be content with a simpler model. Once your cat figures out the movement required to get a tasty treat, eating becomes a game with a reward similar to hunting for his food. Not only does this encourage your pet to eat slower, but can also ease boredom, redirect destructive behavior and add exercise to your cat’s routine. Solo playtime can also aid overweight pets’ weight loss and help in cases of cats prone to shredding furniture, walls or carpets.
Using a puzzle feeder is just one way to enhance your cat’s daily routine. Be sure to provide your pet with plenty of playtime, both interactively and with toys he can enjoy on his own, to keep his mind and body fit, too.