Introducing Food Puzzles to Unleash Your Cat's Inner Hunter
Wed, April 14, 2021

Introducing Food Puzzles to Unleash Your Cat's Inner Hunter



Most cats consume their food straight from a bowl in the same area every day, preventing cats from exerting effort to obtain their “prize” (i.e. food), acknowledged the International Cat Care, a resource on feline health. Feeding your cat from a food bowl deprives it of the opportunities to search, hunt, capture, and kill their food, prompting your pet to showcase their mental and physical prowess.

A lack of opportunity for your feline friend to interact with its surroundings and be mentally stimulated can contribute to boredom, resulting in apathy or anxiety or problem behaviors. To enable your cat to trigger their natural instincts, it is recommended to provide them with food puzzles, which hold food and must be manipulated by your cat to obtain it. This way, your cat will be more physically active, provide a fun “brain-teaser,” and help mealtimes last longer.


Feeding Practices and Use of Food Owners Among Owners of Domestic Cats

Mikel Delgado, Melissa J. Bain, and Ca Tony Buffington of UC Davis, one of the world’s leading inter-disciplinary research and teaching institutions, obtained 3,192 valid questionnaires from 3,838 respondents. Majority of the homes were more likely to free feed dry food and meal feed wet food, but only 30% currently used a food puzzle. 18% tried food puzzles in the past but were no longer using them whereas 52% had never used a food puzzle with their pet feline.

Of those who currently use food puzzles, the respondents started using them after learning about food puzzles from the internet/magazine (40%), other (33%), pet store (23%), veterinarian (13%), veterinary behaviorist (9%), friend (8%), veterinary technician (4%), consultant/trainer (4%), and pet sitter (1%). Current users used the following the types of food puzzles: store bought— dry food (83%), purchased mobile (77%), purchased stationary (49%), homemade— dry food (29%), homemade mobile (25%), and homemade stationary (16%).

Current users used just one type of food puzzle (52%) while 33% used two different types. 24% of current users fed half or more of their feline’s food in a puzzle. Only 50% said they only use food puzzles occasionally, 60% and 67% of participants primarily used praise and treats to encourage their cats to use the food puzzle, respectively. 49% reported “showing” their cat how to use the cat puzzle whereas 32% said their pet did not need any guidance to attract them to the food puzzle.

Previous users used the following kinds of food puzzles: purchased mobile (71%), store bought— dry food (53%), purchased stationary (23%), homemade mobile (19%), and homemade— dry food (13%). Former users said “My cat is too lazy to use them” (41%) or “too dumb to use” the food puzzle (9%). 9% also said their cat is too old for the puzzle. 40% reported that their cat never figured out how to use it.

Those who have never used food puzzles cited the reasons: “We have dogs in our household” (38%), “I have more than one cat with different weight goals” (27%), and “The food puzzles attracted bugs/I am worried about attracting bugs” (25%).  Given the large number of respondents, the authors were able to identify areas for future research and ways that feline practitioners might target educational strategies for owners who want to encourage their cats to use food puzzles, with the latter being a recommendation from a recent consensus statement regarding feline feeding practices.



Commercial and Homemade Puzzle Feeders

Puzzle feeders can be purchased or homemade. The objects can hold both wet and dry food. Some puzzles require your cat to obtain food using their claws or tinker with the puzzle with their paws or nose to release food. There are other puzzles that require your cat to get food— particularly wet food—  with their tongues and jaws. If you think that commercial food puzzles are too costly, consider creating one yourself.

For example, if you want a homemade wheel puzzle cat feeder, you will need the following materials:  round food container with a screw-on lid, a strong, non-toxic glue, and a utility knife, as provided by Purina, a pet food company. Clean and sanitize the container; then, use a utility knife to cut small holes on the side of the container. The holes should be large enough for cat food to be inserted.

Using glue, paste the additional lid beneath the container to change the way the feeder rolls, adding spice to your cat’s feeding experience. The lid should be slightly larger in diameter. While there are other food puzzles you can try working on, bear in mind that your cats should be supervised when using the feeders. Don’t fret if your cat stops using the feeder after a couple of times. Cats love variety so consider it an achievement when it uses the feeder you made for one week. Then, create a new one or add variety to the puzzle.



Introducing Food Puzzles

Introduce the objects gradually to help your cat learn how to use them, as it will help curb frustration. As you introduce the food puzzles, feed your cat with its daily allowance of food in a bowl and place some of the cat food in the puzzle. Ensure that your cat can easily obtain food from the puzzle. Don’t make it too hard for your pet! Fill the object with plenty of food so that it will be released more easily.

It is recommended to use or make puzzles with lots of holes to enable your cat to hear, see, and smell the feed. To make your feline more interested in using the feeder, place a bit of dry food around the puzzle to help your cat associate the food with the device.

As time passes, you might see your cat becoming an “expert” at using the feeder.  In this case, opt to increase the amount of your pet’s daily food allowance in the puzzle. Be sure that it is not frustrated, stressed, or anxious. The difficulty should be increased over time by using puzzles with fewer and/or smaller holes or those that are more difficult to manipulate.  A difficult puzzle feeder will allow your cat to be more mentally stimulated. It should be challenging enough for your cat to manipulate, but not to the point of causing frustration.


Food puzzles are stimulating for felines, as these allow them to exercise and hone their natural instincts. Puzzle feeders should start off as easy, gradually increasing the difficulty to make it harder for the cat to release the food.  However, owners should avoid creating or buying food puzzles that are too difficult and frustrating for their cat.