by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats are designed to eat small meals often, and to work in order eat. Walking up to a bowl and eating without any effort leaves cats unstimulated, bored and with time on their paws to waste.
Puzzle, or interactive, feeders use the cat’s natural hunt-catch-kill-eat cycle to simulate their natural feeding habits. These ensure small meals often; provide exercise for the mind and body, and takes up time during the day. This engages their predatory instincts, using nose and eyes to locate food; brain, paws, claws and teeth to ‘kill’ and eat the small meal.
Using their natural instincts for hunting and eating helps to improve health and behaviour issues such as boredom, inter-cat aggression, spraying, litter tray issues, stress, etc. as well as controlling weight, increasing activity and muscle tone, increasing confidence and assertiveness.
Cats are instinctively solitary animals; they hunt and eat alone. Many domestic cats are forced to eat together, even from the same feeder, which can cause stress and tension between members of the same household.
Puzzle feeders can be divided into two categories – stationary and moveable. In each category there are ones that can be made at home for little to no cost, and those that can be bought. It is important to take your cats like and play strategy into consideration. Does he play with paws or teeth? Does he have a preference or aversion to colours and textures? Also consider ones that suit your lifestyle, time constraints and ability.
The aim of these feeders is to spread the food out over the day and involve the cat in natural activities in order to eat. Generally cats don’t like change, so there is a change-over period where some food is still available in the normal bowl and the remainder in easy-to-use feeders. These are typically easy homemade ones that will be discarded once they have been mastered or destroyed.
Cats are past-masters at manipulation, so many of them will pretend to be unable to use the feeder in order for you to dispense the food for them. If they really cannot manage, try an easier one or one of a different colour or texture. Clear plastic is more difficult than coloured as cats cannot ‘see’ the clear plastic.
Initially fill or even overfill the feeder so the cat is successful. A few treats can be placed on top or mixed in as extra reward. As he becomes more proficient reduce the amount of food and provide additional feeders, gradually increasing the difficulty but always making it possible to obtain food.
Monitor the cats for signs of stress or aggression that may be related to insufficient food. See how much food has been eaten from each feeder to determine the success of that feeder. If he is not getting sufficient food, move back a step, easier feeders and more food in them. Only when he is really successful move to the next level.