Keeping your cat intellectually challenged might be the key to his or her happiness: According to new research in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery [PDF], making cats solve puzzles to get to their food might be good for both their emotional and physical health.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley compiled case studies on 30 cats with health and behavioral issues and found that food puzzles were effective in alleviating a vast range of problems, from obesity to anxiety. In one case, an obese eight-year-old cat shed 20 percent of his bodyweight within a year of puzzle implementation. In another, a two-year-old cat’s fear of people significantly decreased after his owners implemented food puzzles. Researchers also found cases in which food puzzles alleviated noise phobias, biting, urination outside of the litter box, and a range of depression and anxiety symptoms. The puzzles were also linked to improved sleep and increased playfulness in several cases.
Researchers believe cats have a natural instinct to work for their food: For indoor cats, deprived of the opportunity to hunt, that instinct often remains unfulfilled. Researchers think that food puzzles—for instance, gadgets that cats can push or roll to access kibble—keep cats stimulated and fulfill an innate desire to hunt or forage for food. Food puzzles also keep cats active, which may help them maintain a healthy weight.
Food puzzles come in a range of styles, and researchers note that different puzzles work for different cats. Some puzzles can be made at home using egg cartons and water bottles, while others are more elaborate: One veterinarian created mouse-shaped food toys for felines on the prowl, while another cat lover went so far as to build a complex Rube Goldberg–inspired feeding machine to keep his sophisticated kitty happy.
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