In our post about working from home, we spoke about how important enrichment is for a dog’s mental and physical health — not to mention keeping sane in your own in-home working environment! But dogs aren’t the only ones to benefit from this kind of stimulation. Enrichment is beneficial for our cat companions as well.
As any cat owner knows, our kitties are complex creatures with needs and desires they can’t exactly tell us about with words. Whereas dogs evolved expressive faces that aided in their human selection, cats are often described as “inscrutable.” It’s sometimes hard to know what’s happening behind those chartreuse eyes.
Still, we know from studying the behavior of housecats and related species that enrichment has many benefits. This kind of stimulation can also help with overeating and in redirecting unwanted behavior.
Curiosity Fed the Cat
When we talk about enrichment feeders for cats, we’re usually referring to food puzzles. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be using the terms interchangeably. These products come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from simple plastic balls that dispense treats when rolled a certain way to full-on play mats with multiple openings and obstacles. Puzzle feeders range in price from a few dollars to $35 and up depending on the size and complexity.
In addition to those you can buy online and in stores, it’s also relatively easy to make your own food puzzles with materials you likely have at home. You can use a clean plastic bottle or food container to make a rolling toy that dispenses treats, or a shoebox or egg carton to make reach-through puzzles.
Whatever your approach, there are many options to fit your time and budget.
Benefits of Cat Enrichment Feeders
Enrichment feeders have several benefits for our indoor cat friends, from encouraging your kitty’s natural instincts to helping with weight control.
In the wild, cats are expected to hunt for their food. No hunting means no dinner. But domestic cats are generally fed on a schedule with other food sometimes left out for daytime munching.
This regularity, while convenient, goes against a cat’s primal urge to hunt, stalk, and kill. Left unfulfilled, cats may become bored, anxious, or even destructive.
This, then, is the first reason why you might consider using a puzzle feeder. Suddenly, getting a meal or treat goes from a habitual activity to one that’s actively stimulating. Your cat now has to use their body and brain to get what they want.
The physical component of puzzle feeders leads directly into the second reason why you might use one: weight control. When our cats are given food, they don’t burn many calories. Sure, your cat may get up from wherever they’ve been napping, meander over at the sound of a can opening, and bolt down what you hand them. But compare that to a cat in the wild that has to hunt and kill its own food, and it’s easy to see the difference in energy needed.
In this way, puzzle feeders help your cat spend more energy in getting their food, thus creating a better balance between caloric intake and activity. Puzzle feeders can also be helpful for cats that eat too quickly because the feeder doles out food more slowly than it just being on a plate or bowl.
Finally, puzzle feeders can help with cat aggression. When cats are bored, they can sometimes engage in undesirable behavior directed at either their home environment, other cats, or their human caretakers. By adding enrichment opportunities to their day, puzzle feeders can continue to engage your cat even when you aren’t there to interact with them.
Now that you’ve decided to try an enrichment feeder with your cat, what’s the first step to using one?
Experts recommend starting slow. A simple puzzle that dispenses food easily or that can be adjusted to varying levels of difficulty is best. This way you can see how your cat takes to the puzzle. If you try one kind of puzzle that your cat doesn’t engage with, don’t be discouraged. You can always try loading it with more desirable treats to start or experiment with another kind of feeder that operates differently. The main goal here is to make sure your cat isn’t discouraged.
As your cat becomes more accustomed to the feeder, try setting it at higher difficulty levels or swapping out for harder puzzles. You’ll also want to switch over to your cat’s regular food instead of treats. For more of a challenge, you can try hiding the puzzle, along with a few scattered morsels, so there’s a hunt aspect involved as well.
Remember — inside your cute kitty are generations of carnivores with some of the same predatory instincts as their ancestors. By indulging those instincts in a safe and healthy way through your cat’s food source, you can ensure that you’re taking care of your feline friend’s body and mind for years to come.
We’re Here to Help Enrich Your Cat’s Life!
At RCO Pet Care, we are here for you during your time of need. Our cat sitting services start at just $23 per visit. We will work together to ensure we are covering all of your cats’ needs, as well as keeping you safe while we continue to fight through this COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn how RCO Pet Care Care can help you with your pet care needs, check out our services, contact us or call us at (203) 641-2428. We are proud to service Middlebury, Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour, Southbury, Thomaston, Torrington, Waterbury, Watertown and Woodbury, CT. If you’re outside of our service area, we’re happy to help you find a reputable, professional pet care provider. We’ve got your tail!