If you’re a cat owner, you know the sound. Your cat has just finished munching on some food, when out of nowhere they retreat to some corner and start convulsing. No, they’re not having a seizure or in critical medical condition, they’re about to vomit up all the food they just scarfed down way too fast. Now, not only do you have a mess to clean up, you also have a hungry kitty on your hands who needs another meal. This was the daily reality for my cat Buzz and I. That is, until I purchased a cat food puzzle.
Cats, like humans, get very excited about food. So excited in fact that they tend to eat way too much, too fast and get sick. Since cat’s stomachs are only so big, eating too much can cause a reflex reaction in their bodies, as can drinking too fast. All of this can be remedied via a few different avenues, including an automatic cat feeder that only dispenses so much food at a time, manually regulating your cat’s food, or through a cat food puzzle.
Meet My Cat, Buzz
This is my cat Buzz, he’s 11 years old and a little chunky. A few years ago, he was even bigger and after many ravenous meals used to throw up his food. We ruled out any scary underlying health issues with the vet, and they recommended we try some sort of puzzle feeding bowl that would slow Buzz down to a healthier pace, and hopefully abate the instances of regurgitation.
We purchased this spikey food bowl that has relatively smooth, but stiff, spokes poking up from the bottom of the bowl. The spokes poke his face lightly so he can’t take as big of bites, and overall slow him down because he has to strategize where to bite each time. His rapid consumption has slowed down, so he’s able to sense when he’s full easier and stop when appropriate.
I’m happy to share, it’s definitely worked. At first Buzz really hated the bowl, because not only does it slow him down but he can’t eat as much as he wants to. Over time, though, he’s gotten used to it, and despite the fact that we keep the bowl very full throughout the day, he only eats a small handful a few times a day.
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Health Benefits To Cat Food Puzzles
Cat food puzzles, much like toys, games and other sensory enrichment, stimulate cats’ prey instincts, help them release stress and can decrease aggressive behavior towards humans. Although the effects of cat food puzzles haven’t been extensively studied, so far the findings include:
- Weight loss
- Decreased aggression towards humans and other cats
- Less anxiety and fear in general
- Less attention-seeking behaviors
- Less litter box avoidance
I have noted many of these effects in my cat after we started using the food puzzle, and I would vouch for its positive benefits to his overall mood, health and demeanor.
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Different Types of Cat Food Puzzles
Cat food puzzles, otherwise known as “foraging toys” come in a few different shapes and sizes that serve different purposes when it comes to augmenting a cat’s behavior. Some are about slowing down voracious eaters, others are about activating a cat’s logic and motor skills. Here’s a brief outline of the different types and the purposes they serve so you can make an informed decision about which one to get your pet.
This type of cat food puzzle is designed specifically to slow down a cat’s consumption of food and avoid the “scarf and barf” effect. They typically have a textured bottom that spreads out food, making it harder to take large bites, and overall slow down the process of eating.
This type of cat food puzzle has a bit more mental stimulation involved, and creates a logic or motor puzzle your cat has to navigate around in order to get to their food. This might involve some sort of canister, a lever and pulley system, sliding doors or other type of obstruction that activates their natural instincts, which are notoriously underused in loungey house cats.
Hunting feeders are typically shaped like small birds or mice and encourage your cat to bat, stalk and pounce on them to get to their food.
The Best Cat Food Puzzles
1. The Company of Animals CATCH Interactive Feeder
BEST SLOW FEEDER
This spikey slow cat food feeder is designed to slow down a cat’s eating and definitely works as it’s supposed to. The textured bottom makes it harder to get to food and helps activate a cat’s natural hunting instincts, which makes eating more enriching overall. It’s also dishwasher-safe and can be used for dry or wet food.
However, I would only recommend it for dry food, since the grooves between the spikes are deep and may be difficult to clean.
2. Cilkus Slow Feeder For Cats
This slow feeder bowls functions similarly to the one above, with a slightly less intense texture and a more aesthetically-pleasing look. It has a fish design made of food-grade material that’s anti-gulping and made to prevent obesity and indigestion. It’s dishwasher-safe, and because of the smooth texture it’s suitable for dry and wet food.
3. Catit Senses 2.0 Digger Interactive Cat Toy
BEST PUZZLE FEEDER
This digger feeder encourages cats to activate your cat’s senses and digging skills in order to acquire food, as they work for their meal and ward off boredom. The food bowl contains multiple tubes that stimulate your cat’s natural pawing behavior, and the construction is perfect for dry food and treats. It’s super easy to take apart and clean, and is made of BPA-free materials.
4. Trixie Activity Fun Board
BEST ADVANCED PUZZLE FEEDER
This activity feeder board comes with four different puzzles in one, so your cat can activate different motor skills and prey instincts. The first game is shaped like a fish bowl so cats have to scoop out their food and treats. The second game includes pegs that distance cats from their treats, so they have to map out and execute a hunting strategy. The third game is a curvy alleyway that encourages cats to lie down and swipe from the side, and the tunnel has a mouse hole that’s perfect for hiding toys, treats or food inside.
5. PetSafe SlimCat Meal-Dispensing Cat Toy
BEST HUNTING FEEDER
This orb-shaped hunting feeder can hold up to 85 grams of your cat’s favorite dry food, and has size-adjustable openings for slow or quicker feedings. As they bat it around, food slowly dispenses, slowing down the eating process and making your cat work for it.
It can be used as a daily feeder or just for treats, and is top-rack dishwasher-safe.
6. Doc & Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder
BEST ADVANCED CAT FEEDER
These hunting feeder toys are still designed to look like prey, but are smaller which makes them slightly more advanced. They have an award-winning veterinarian design for preventing boredom and encouraging healthy weight loss. Each mouse comes with a removable capsule for inserting food, and the large openings are big enough for food to get out, but small enough to temper the speed with which it happens.
7. Lickimat Fish-Shaped Cat Slow Feeder
BEST FOR WET FOOD
Since many of the toys above are built to make eating more difficult, they’re not meant for wet food that may be hard to clean out of small crevices or containers with little openings. This lick mat, however, is perfect for cats who prefer wet food to dry food. It’s built with ribs and ridges for mimicking feeding in the wild and making your cat pick food from textured surfaces rather than having it fed to them in a pile.
The textured surfaces promote healthy licking and saliva generation, which in turn helps protects your cat’s teeth and scrapes odor-causing bacteria and food bits from your cat’s tongue.
8. All For Paws Interactive Puzzle Cat Feeder
BEST FOR TREATS
This treat maze is perfect for making cats work for their treats, with a challenging and stimulating game featuring three different levels of challenge. It has non-slip rubber feet for keeping the game in place as your cat bats it around, and the game is fully adjustable so you can set new challenges during each treat time.
9. Petstages Rainy Day Interactive Cat Treat Puzzle
This is another tricky cat food puzzle that’s perfect for naturally-curious, problem-solving cats who like a challenge. It has 14 different hidden treat compartments your cat can work through, as well as different difficulty levels as your cat gets better. The puzzle can hold up to 1/4 cup of food total, and there are no removable parts so you don’t have to worry about your cat accidentally swallowing or losing a piece.
10. TRIXIE Cat Turn Around Strategy Feeder
I personally think this one looks super fun, and very satisfying for cats who love to knock over water glasses (if you know, you know). It has a sturdy base frame and three beakers with differently-patterned lids. You place the treats in the beakers, and then place the lids with patterned holes on them so when your cat tips them over, the food falls out at different intervals. You can mix and match the lids for an additional challenge, and switch them up so your cat never gets bored of it.