Greetings crazy cats! Skye Blake here to figure out some puzzles… cat food puzzles, that is!
Sounds like fun, so let’s discover more…
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
What’s a Cat Food Puzzle?
A cat food puzzle is any object you can fill with food or treats that make a cat work to get food.
The idea for either purchased or do-it-yourself puzzles is to stimulate your cat’s hunt-catch-kill instincts, making him work for his food, which is more natural than in a bowl.
Puzzle feeders were originally created to help zoo animals have a more natural experience when feeding.
Buy them or make your own. Try a few different ones and see which your cat likes best.
Food puzzles you buy come in stationary or moveable/rolling types in case your cat prefers one type over the other.
Most puzzles are suitable only for dry or semi-moist food, but some are available for wet food (watch those calories!)
Frozen raw treats can work but only if you limit it to 30 minutes, remove any leftover treats, and thoroughly clean the puzzle.
Why Use a Food Puzzle?
This page contains some links to Amazon where I receive a small commission when you buy them.
Check descriptions and reviews carefully for any products you wish to buy… quality, sizes, colors, etc., can’t be guaranteed by anyone but the manufacturer.
Food puzzles are great for cats who…
- bore easily
- eat too fast
- wake you up at 3AM to eat
- are alone all day
- plays hard and wrecks things
- like to lift things with their paws and sniff them
If you have a gulp-and-vomit cat you can use either a puzzle or slow feeder bowl.
How to Use a Food Puzzle
Food puzzles are simple to use, although some are more complex than others.
It’s easy to start with something like a toilet paper roll with one or two holes cut in it that are just a bit bigger than the food you put in it.
If you prefer wet food, using a small yogurt container or ice cube tray can work.
This costs you nothing and gives you an idea of how your cat will respond, and how quickly he’ll catch on.
You don’t want to frustrate your buddy by making it too difficult, so start with something simple and increase the difficulty as he masters each one.
Choose one or two puzzles according to your cat’s health, age, and how he plays.
Some cats may not like the idea at first, so you can introduce an easy puzzle next to the regular food dish.
Always start with a puzzle that makes it easy for your cat to get the reward.
Then gradually make it a little more difficult until it’s a good challenge but not frustrating.
For multi-cat households, each cat should have his own puzzle that interests him.
This can be a challenge, and frankly, if the cats play together and eat normally, they might not need puzzles for mental and social stimulation.
Keep Them Clean
Some puzzles can be used with wet or raw food, but you must pick up the food within a half hour of putting it down to prevent spoilage.
Even if your cat eats it all, puzzles must be cleaned thoroughly and sanitized between uses, which may be difficult if the puzzle is intricate with hard-to-reach places.
Bottle brushes can help but if it’s dishwasher safe that’s even better.
Clean them daily even if you use dry or semi-moist food, since these can spoil, too.
Many people think they can leave dry food out for days with no danger of bacteria or mold growing.
This just isn’t true! So be sure to clean any puzzles when you wash your kitty’s bowls each day.
Types of Food Puzzles
Some commercially made puzzles are better quality than others.
They usually have a video as part of the product description to show how each puzzle works.
DIY Food Puzzles
If you want to make your own food puzzles here are a few ideas…
- A mug tipped on its side as a puzzle with any type of food.
- A disposable plastic storage container with holes poked in large enough for a paw
- A plastic soda or beer bottle with holes poked in the sides
- A toilet paper or paper towel roll with holes
- A catnip dispenser
- A small box with holes of various shapes and sizes
- The bottom of an egg carton
- An ice cube tray
Check out these videos for some great ideas!
Food Puzzles and Food Enrichment for Your Cat, Cats Only Veterinary Clinic, February 7, 2018
“Easy Food Puzzles Your Cat Will Love!” by Dr. Marci L. Koski, Feline Behavior Solutions, May 4, 2016
“Best Cat Food Puzzles? We tried them all!” by Mar-Vell the Cat, January 28, 2022
“The Rainy Day puzzle by Nina Ottosson” reviewed by Fundamentally Feline, September 2, 2020
Discover more about cat nutrition and food at these related pages…
Related Pages of Interest
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Food puzzles for cats: feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing“, by Dantas, L.M.S., Behavioral Medicine Service, University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Athens, GA; Delgado, M.M., Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, Feline Minds, Richmond, CA, Johnson, I. Fundamentally Feline, Atlanta, GA, and Buffington, C.A.T, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University; JFMS-Accepted-Version.pdf (foodpuzzlesforcats.com), 2016
Cat Puzzle Feeder | Why Your Cat Needs A Puzzle Feeder | DIY – Part 1” by Pam Johnson-Bennett (catbehaviorassociates.com)
“Cat Puzzle Feeder | Why Your Cat Needs A Puzzle Feeder | DIY – Part 2” by Pam Johnson-Bennett (catbehaviorassociates.com)
“Feline Fundamentals” by Ingrid Johnson, Fundamentally Feline
Updated January 9, 2023