17 September 2016

RESEARCH - Cats Are Healthier When They Work for Their Food

A recent study out of the University of California Berkeley showed that food puzzles, which take advantage of the feline hunting instinct and make them work for their food, result in happier and healthier cats.

Published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, the study states that foraging for food makes cats more active, they experience reduced levels of stress, and become less demanding of their owners.

The researchers describe over 30 case studies within their own practice where food puzzles positively impacted a variety of issues including aggressive behaviour, antisocial behaviour, obesity, inappropriate urination, anxiety or depression when left alone, and even stalking the household guinea pigs.

One sixteen-year-old obese cat lost 32% of her body weight in 18 months and began to interact and forage with the new kittens in the home after being fearful and antisocial.

A three-year-old British short hair who had been biting the owner with no warning when anticipating meals or not getting attention, completely stopped this behaviour after six months of using mobile and stationary food puzzles.

There are a variety of food puzzles on the market for cats.

In July, InfoStream featured the innovative NoBowl system which is made to look like mice. The NoBowl is an example of a mobile puzzle which requires cats to push, roll or manipulate the puzzle.

With a stationary puzzle Felines learn to navigate a board. Most often they have to fish food out of the puzzle with their paws.

Owners can even make their own puzzles if they are the DIY types.

Figure 1
Homemade mobile (a), homemade stationary (b), purchased stationary (c) and purchased mobile (d) food puzzles. Courtesy of Mikel Delgado (a,c), Leticia Dantas (b) and Ingrid Johnson (d)

Cats can be particular about which type of puzzle they prefer - as they can be particular about many other aspects of their lives - so trial and error may be necessary to find the best puzzle.

Some cats may also like variety so alternating between different puzzles can keep them happy and interested.

Food puzzles were originally created to provide enrichment for captive zoo and laboratory animals. It’s interesting they are now being used to benefit the health of domesticated cats and dogs as pet owners strive to make their pets’ lives as positive and fulfilling as possible.

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