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  • Writer's pictureSue Hartley

Puzzle feeding that doesn't cost the earth

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

I’m working with a client at the moment whose cat loves their food (like me, she lives to eat rather than eats to live!) and has managed to put on some weight as a result.

Puzzle feeders and activity feeding are going to be a big part of my behaviour plan for this lady to help her feel more relaxed around food and to support her to get to a healthy weight that can be maintained.

I often recommend puzzle feeders and activity feeding to my clients as they’re great for exercising kitty minds and bodies:

o Great for building confidence – this is something I can do!

o It makes cats feel good – they enjoy it.

o Mimics natural normal cat behaviour.

o Good for stress busting.

o Gets your cat moving and exercising.

o Encourages your cat to think, explore and investigate.

o Slows your cat down so they don’t munch too quickly.

o Help take your cat’s focus off things that might be worrying them (e.g. other cats outside).

o Help to create different and positive associations (e.g. with a new cat or dog to the home – as part of a structured, careful introduction process).

o Occupies your cat in low-level activity – good for when the weather is hot or you need to keep them indoors and distracted from things going on outside like fireworks etc.

Puzzle feeders come in a range of types, shapes and sizes. Some roll around whilst others are stationary – some cats prefer stationary ones, others prefer ones that move when pushed or touched with noses, mouths or paws. Some cats like both.

Feeders are designed to be used with dry food, wet food or treats – wet food is usually easier to use with stationary feeders and dry with moveable ones. You can mix a few treats broken into smaller pieces in with dry food to provide your cat with something extra tasty.

Some feeders have different settings so you can make them easier or harder for your cat to get the food.

Make them easy for your cat to start off with to help your cat get used to puzzle feeding and to avoid them feeling frustrated. For example, start off by putting some food in their bowl and some in an easy-to-use feeder next to the bowl. Use them on the easiest settings initially or place some food on the floor around the feeder or on the edge of it rather than putting all the food inside it.

As your cat starts to get the hang of it, gradually make it more challenging for them. Leave some food easily available in their existing food bowl until they’re into the swing of things.

Check out this video from International Cat Care – there’s an overview of puzzle feeders starting at about 1 min. 40 seconds

You can also try other forms of activity feeding including:

o Scattering dry food over the floor, in a hallway or in your garden or outside space.

o Putting individual pieces of dry food on the different levels of a cat tree.

o Throwing individual pieces of dry food for your cat to chase and catch.

o Hiding pieces of dry food around the home for your cat to ‘forage’.

o Hiding small puzzle feeders or food in scrunched up paper around the home.

As with puzzle feeders, when hiding food, put it in easy to find places to begin with.

Cats who are very food motivated and use puzzle feeders easily may benefit from being fed all their food (i.e. both wet and dry) in feeders. Use a combo of different feeders and rotate them often.

With all puzzle feeders and activity feeding, please be mindful of your cat’s age and health and take account of anything that might be relevant for them and adapt accordingly (e.g. if you cat has arthritis or other issues with their mobility etc.).

A lot of us are understandably mindful of the current financial situation. Puzzle feeders don’t have to cost the earth. There are lots of low-cost options that involve recycling everyday items you have at home (e.g. empty toilet roll holders, shoe boxes, yoghurt pots, egg boxes, ice cube trays etc.).

Here are some ideas:

If you have kids at home, it’s a great way to occupy them and get them involved in caring for your cat.

If you’d like any help, support or advice on weight management for your cat, please get in touch.

For The Understood Cat’s website, go to

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