by Barbara George – Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
There are many benefits to using puzzle feeders, entertainment, stimulation, using the mind and body, honing their hunting skills, preventing boredom, and as a weight-loss exercise.
While we may think the beginner puzzles are easy to use, our cats may think differently. After all, they have been pampered and fed their meals in a set way for all their lives so far, so why change now?
Cats generally do not like change, and resist any new ideas that they feel are not useful. Here is a simple way to encourage cats to move towards using feeders slowly, using what the cat knows, and extending slightly each time. For ease of writing, I am going to use a female cat, but the same principle works for male cat, kittens, and old cats.
Replace the current food bowl with a larger bowl, such as a soup plate. Put the new bowl in the same place as the old, with the same food in it. As she eats, the food moves around the bowl, further away from her mouth. In order to eat, she will at least have to stretch her neck, or walk around the bowl to eat the food on the other side. We have added some movement to her meal time, without making a big change.
Keep this routine for a few days, until she feels comfortable, then change to bowl for an even bigger one, which can be a platter or similar. Look in your cupboard, or at a flea market, for ideas. Again, place it in the same place as before, with the same amount of food in it. More energy is required to eat, and a new strategy must be found for getting to all the food.
Let her become accustomed to this, then add a few non-food items to the bowl. A toy or two, the centre of a toilet roll cut into pieces, or other small items. Start with only one or two items, adding a few more over the next few days. She has to move these items to find the food, adding an extra level of physical and mental exercise to the meal.
Depending on how this is progressing, and the available space, move to a larger container, which can be a shallow box, initially with the same content as the previous container. Now add small containers, such as yoghurt cups, with a small amount of food and a treat, into the larger container. The food in the smaller containers must be taken out of the daily allowance. New strategies are needed to find the food in the smaller containers.
If space is a problem, begin by moving the feeding station to another area. This must be done in small increments, and possibly keep a small bowl of food in the old position for those times she forgets where the new feeding station is located.
From this, begin by adding easy puzzle feeders one at a time to the large container, and monitor the reaction. Some cats will use their paws to find the food while others will use their noses. Adding treats randomly adds to the fun.
If she stops eating, or loses interest in finding food, move back to the last setup that was successful. Re-enforce that, and wait until she is quite comfortable, before making changes.
As she starts using her mind and body more, she should begin to feel happier and more comfortable about changes. The process will take as long as it takes, creating a deadline will not work for cats! Make it fun, spend time encouraging her, share the experience, and enjoy her new personality and behaviour.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org