Sadly, a lack of opportunity to show and reflect their natural predatory/prey behaviour can lead to anxiety, problem behaviours and obesity.
I have started the Think Outside The Bowl campaign to help spread the word about the benefits of using puzzle feeders.
Puzzle feeding can help your cat in so many different ways. Scientific evidence backs these claims and using puzzle feeders can: reduce the signs of stress, decrease aggression towards humans & other cats, reduce fear and anxiety, assist with weight loss programmes and reduce unwanted behaviours like inappropriate toileting problems.
What are puzzle feeders?
Puzzle feeders are a simple and effective way to challenge cats when getting their food. They have to either use their paws/nose/tongues/jaws or a combination to obtain their food. You can have feeders that will work with both dry & wet diets. There are many available to purchase however home-made types can be made easily and cheaply (start collecting toilet rolls and yoghurt pots!) You can also just be creative with everyday household items and use these as feeders eg ice cube trays/muffin trays/egg boxes.
All cats can participate – elderly, young, blind and three-legged!!!
How can I switch from a bowl to a puzzle feeder?
They will need to be introduced slowly whilst cats learn to use them – we need to avoid any frustration. This is why home-made types are often best to start with. You can initially use small amounts of a high value treat reward i.e. cooked chicken/fish. Then start to swap treats for their normal food – feed some of their daily allowance in their familiar bowl and some in the puzzle. Ensure initially it’s easy for them to obtain so you may need to fill the feeders to ¾ full or even demonstrate how to use them with a flick of your finger. Ensure cats can see what they are trying to get otherwise they may lose interest.
As they get better at the challenge start to increase the amount they are fed in the puzzle and reduce the amount that goes into their existing bowl. Ideally working towards 100% being fed through ‘puzzles’ You can then start to up the anti by hiding the puzzles or making them more challenging. However you must always ensure that they are not showing any signs of anxiety or frustration whilst working their puzzles. Some owners find it easier to feed from their normal bowls & a feeder. The most important thing to remember is that you still feed the same daily allowance, the puzzles do not mean they get more food, it’s still the same amount just divided up.
All cats are individuals so explore the different styles of feeders to identify what they prefer. Offer a variety if you can and rotate them to avoid boredom.
If this all sounds too much then even hiding a few of their current bowls of food around the house can be beneficial.
If you need advice on what is best for your cat then please feel free to get in touch!
For more information on the feeding behaviours of cats, and why your cat may be better off not eating from a bowl, I recommend watching this great video from Dr. Liz Bales.