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Environmental enrichment for cats – Food Puzzles!

Chances are good that you already know about food puzzles for dogs, but did you know that they can also be a very important part of your cat’s daily repertoire? In the wild, cats forage and hunt for their food. With no birds or mice served to them on a silver platter, they have to strategize and think about how they are going to catch their prey. When this mental exertion is missing from a cat’s daily life, it can lead to bored and under-stimulated cats.

There are several food puzzles on the market for cats and they come in a wide range of difficulty levels, but my cats’ favorite is the Stimulo. With the Stimulo, I can increase the level of difficulty over time as they hone their foraging skills. I can also change the configuration every day to keep the puzzle from becoming mundane. There are many do-it-yourself puzzle ideas online, too. For wet food, a puppy-sized Kong (available at your local pet store) works very well.

Food puzzles are great options for cats who are motivated by food or treats. If your cat is constantly meowing at you for breakfast, begging for treats, or racing to the food bowl that you just put down, she is a good food puzzle candidate. For cats that tend to eat quickly and consequently vomit their food, a food puzzle will force them to eat slower.

In addition to providing your cat with opportunities to forage and strategize for food (activities that fall in line with her natural instincts), you are enriching her environment and discouraging boredom and under-stimulation. By incorporating food puzzles into your cat’s daily life, she will have a healthy outlet to release pent-up energy and even a way to deal with any stress that might be in the environment.

When you first begin using food puzzles for your cat, try placing her favorite cat treats inside to encourage her to use it. Adding a small pinch of catnip in with the cat treats can prove to be even more enticing. Every cat is different – some figure out the food puzzles more easily while others will sit and stare at it for 10 minutes before trying it out. Adding this fun and stimulating activity into your cat’s life can help her become a happier and more content cat!

Video: cats using the Stimulo treat dispenser


Who is Mieshelle Nagelschneider?

Meet Mieshelle Nagelschneider, ACCBC, a cat behaviorist and author of the science-based cat behavior book, The Cat Whisperer (Random House Publishing). Her passion and curiosity about cats, along with her study in animal behavior, has enabled her to help thousands of cat owners solve their cats' behavior issues for over two decades. 

Learn more at The Cat Behavior Clinic, and look for her book later in 2013!

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