The device is exactly what its name suggests—an object that holds cat food and requires pets to find ways to reach it. Cat puzzles can range from ball toys that require cats to push certain spots to release food, to elaborate boards with food lodged in hard-to-reach places.
The puzzles help domestic cats get in touch with and act upon their biological foraging behavior.
“Before cats were domesticated, they lived in the wild where they hunted for food,” said postdoctoral researcher on cat behavior and lead author Mikel Delgado. “Then humans came along and took their jobs away.”
Delgado recommends owners replace food dishes with the puzzles that increase mental stimulation in their pets.
While studies examining the effects of food puzzles are scarce, Delgado co-authored a paper in 2016 that examined cases in which food puzzles helped cats lose weight, ease anxiety, and stop urinating outside of their litter boxes.
Of the participants surveyed, 18 percent had tried food puzzles before but stopped, often stating that their cats were either too lazy or not smart enough to figure the puzzles out.
“When starting out with a food puzzle, it’s important to make it easy for the cat at first so they can figure it out and not become frustrated,” said Delgado. “At the same time, you want to make sure it’s challenging enough that it provides some activity and mental stimulation.”