Do interactive (puzzle) cat feeders work?

Interactive puzzle feeder for cats
Interactive puzzle feeder for cats. Image: Amazon.
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Yes, in my experience, they work very well. Cats instinctively use them without any training in my experience although it is fairly limited as I live with one cat who used it instinctively for the first time. Cats manage to get the dry cat food pellets out of the feeder without any problem in my experience and their feeding is slowed down dramatically. The feeder also challenges them and stimulates the mind at least to a certain extent. After the gushing list of benefits below there are some downsides listed at the end of the article.

Useful device in several ways

They say that a puzzle feeder can be useful if your cat tends to gulp down food causing digestive disorders. Puzzle feeders can also help prevent overfeeding which can cause diarrhoea. Dietary overload gives the colon more volume than I can handle easily.


Binge eating or eating too much can also cause bloating and vomiting. The feeder is a challenge and slows eating. It is said that it helps to keep a cat happier and healthier.

They are a way to ease boredom which is an emotion experienced by I think too many full-time indoor cats. It is very easy to stimulate a cat mentally with a puzzle feeder because all you do is put it on the floor. But I don’t need to as my cat is an indoor/outdoor cat.

Some people ask, “How do I get my cat to use an interactive feeder?” You don’t need to do anything! Am I being too confident? They just take to it because they can smell the food. They want to get at it. They learn instinctively and quickly that the way to get at it is to push the ball around (if it is a ball feeder). That, at least, is what happened with my cat. And I think he is very typical.

Tricky or simple?

There are many different types of puzzle feeder. The study that I refer to, I think, over complicates the process (fair?). I don’t think you need to train a cat to use a puzzle feeder or even prepare them to use it or gradually transfer a cat to it from a food bowl. Simply put it on the ground and watch them play with it.

Positive reinforcement – self training

The puzzle feeder you see in the video is typical in that it’s a ball and cats like to push balls around and play and if the food falls out through the holes, they will eat it if they’re hungry enough. They then quickly learn that if they push the ball around, they get some food. It is self-training and it occurs very rapidly.

It is similar in some ways to hunting. Or more accurately scavenging. They have to do certain things to get out the food and when they get it, they repeat what they have to do. It’s reward training or positive reinforcement without the involvement of the owner.

Difficulties?

Clearly, if a cat has difficulty in using it then I would suggest you try different type of puzzle feeder such as the one in the video which you can push around in front of your cat to show him or her how to use it! And you might change the dry cat food pellets inside to ones that are smellier to ensure that it stimulates her to get at it.

Preventing cats demanding food at night

Some people ask, “Will an automatic feeder stop my cat from waking up?” This is a reference to an automatic, timed feeding device. It is not a reference to a puzzle feeder but there is a great similarity. Both keep the food inaccessible until the cat does something or in the case of the automatic feeder it is set to deliver food at a certain time. Allowing a cat to graze on dry cat food at night in a controlled way is beneficial to both cat and caregiver.

Combo feeder and toy

A puzzle feeder is away for a cat to graze on dry cat food very slowly. They are really a combination between a cat toy and a feeding bowl.

Other potential benefits

Some people claim that puzzle feeders help a cat with weight loss and decreased aggression towards humans and other cats, decreased anxiety and fear and a reduction in attention-seeking behaviours. The information comes from the study listed after the article.

Multi-cat

And they stay that in a multi-cat environment they can work very successfully. I can see that in that environment each cat can play with a puzzle feeder which will occupy them and distract their mind and energies. It may end up helping cats in multi-cat homes getting along better. No feeding bowl squabbles.

Puzzle feeder handout – useful – thanks

Here is a puzzle feeder handout which I’m grateful for from the people who conducted the study.

Using puzzle feeders
My thank to Leticia MS Dantas and team for this puzzle feeder handout.

Intellectually challenged?

Perhaps I have been lucky in my cat might be particularly intelligent! I don’t know. Some cats may be intellectually challenged to put it delicately. They may struggle to understand a puzzle feeder. I don’t think they will, however, and you can change the feeder to one which is simpler and more suited to the individual.

Couple of downsides

A downside is that the device is reliant on dry cat food and therefore you have to supplement puzzle feeder food with high quality wet food in a bowl. Puzzle feeders are applicable for half the amount of daily food. They are supplemental I would say to the main course which is high quality wet. The general opinion is that you should not feed a cat dry cat food all the time because it’s too unnatural.

There is one other problem: your cat will be eating off the kitchen floor or a hard floor in the living room. That means there will be a bit of mess on your pristine and regularly cleaned and polished kitchen floor. And there will be bits of food lying around the floor. And some saliva et cetera. You might not like that.

I didn’t although my kitchen floor isn’t that clean. At the moment I do not employ a puzzle feeder because I got a bit tired of cleaning up afterwards. It is a point but worth mentioning as it might interest house proud people.

Study referred to: Food puzzles for cats: Feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing. Link: https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X16643753

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