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Puzzle Feeders for Cats: Introduction Tips, Types & FAQ

Written by: Kit Copson

Last Updated on March 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team


Puzzle Feeders for Cats: Introduction Tips, Types & FAQ

Physical exercise isn’t the only form of stimulation cats need—mental stimulation is just as important for these smart animals. As such, many cat parents turn to interactive toys that require a little persistence and brainwork on your cat’s part to complete. Puzzle feeders are among the most popular cat toys because they provide both physical exercise and mental enrichment at the same time.

In this guide, we’ll share all you need to know about puzzle feeders—how they work, types, benefits, and disadvantages. We’ll also explain how to introduce your cat to a puzzle feeder.

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How Does It Work?

Puzzle feeders come in various types, shapes, and sizes, but they’re all designed for one purpose—to get your cat to work on extracting the tasty treats you’ve hidden inside.

If the cat makes a right move, the treats are revealed or spill out onto the ground (depending on the type of puzzle feeder) for them to devour, and it can take quite a while for all the treats to come out, so these toys are ideal for keeping cats busy.

Many puzzle feeders come with a variety of difficulty settings so you can take things down a notch for slower cats or provide more of a challenge for especially determined cats. In addition, some designs are simpler than others, so it’s a good idea to start out with one of these if your cat is a complete beginner.

Devon Rex cat plays with a slow feeder toy
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

What Are the Different Types of Puzzle Feeders?

Puzzle Feeder Balls

These kinds of puzzle feeders are egg or ball-shaped devices (though we’ve also seen one shaped like a mouse) that you place treats inside. The treats are then dispensed from a hole as your cat pushes the toy around with their paws. The difficulty level can typically be increased or decreased by closing the hole to varying degrees. These are probably the simplest kinds of puzzle feeders, so are ideal for beginners.

Puzzle Feeder Games

These types of puzzle feeders look similar to board games. They require cats to strategize in order to find treats hidden inside different compartments. For example, the cat may need to move different kinds of objects around, open doors, or slide pieces to reveal the rewards. These kinds of feeders may be best for cats that like a challenge.

Slow Feeder Bowls & Mats

If you’ve got a greedy cat that wolfs everything in their food bowl down without coming up for air, you might want to try a slow feeder bowl or mat. Common types of slow feeder bowls are maze-like in structure with raised edges so your cat can’t gobble all the kibble up too quickly. You can also find special feeder mats which are designed to make cats eat wet food more slowly.

playful cat is touching and punching food with a slow feeder toy
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

Homemade Puzzle Feeders

You can easily DIY your own puzzle feeder with whatever you’ve got at home, like toilet rolls, empty egg containers, cardboard boxes, and plastic containers. An example of a very simple DIY puzzle feeder is to cut some holes in an empty water bottle, but a quick Google search will give you plenty of other ideas.

How to Introduce a Puzzle Feeder

As we touched on earlier, it’s a good idea to start with a simple design first like the puzzle feeder egg/ball, ideally a clear one so your cat can see what’s inside.

To introduce the feeder, offer a few treats to your cat to generate interest, then put some treats or kibble inside the device in front of your cat and set the difficulty level to easy. Roll the feeder around a bit to show the cat how treats are dispensed. If the puzzle feeder is a board game type, show your cat how to open the compartments to find the treats.

Some cats get the idea quickly but if they don’t, a simple trick is to sprinkle some treats closely around the bottom of the egg/ball as this will make your cat nudge the device as they eat what’s around it. More treats will fall out, and your cat should start to catch on.

Fat tabby cat is playing with a feeder ball toy
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

What Are the Pros of Puzzle Feeders

Not only are puzzle feeders fun and mentally stimulating for cats, but they may offer some health benefits, too. Cats that eat too quickly tend to regurgitate their food because their digestive system can’t handle such a large amount of food in one go.

Puzzle feeders and slow feeders prevent gobbling and therefore benefit the digestive process. Furthermore, puzzle feeders are great for getting your cat moving. In addition, puzzle feeders and other interactive toys may be beneficial to cats with separation anxiety as they give them something to focus on while you’re out of the house.

What Are the Cons of Puzzle Feeders

The benefits of puzzle feeders far outweigh the disadvantages but there are a few potential pitfalls. For one thing, if used too regularly, too many treats could lead to weight gain, but as long as you monitor how many your cat gets, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Another problem is that some cats may get frustrated with the puzzle feeder, but you can reduce this possibility by offering an easy model to start with and introducing it to your cat gradually. On the other hand, some cats figure things out too quickly and end up getting bored, so you may need a few different kinds of puzzle feeders to change things up for especially wily cats.

fat calico cat sleeping in the window perch
Image Credit: Lisa A. Ernst, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do Food Puzzles Help Cats Lose Weight?

If it gets your cat moving around, then yes, a food puzzle could certainly help a cat lose weight. For this purpose, a puzzle feeder that requires them to move around a lot—like a rolling feeder—is the best choice. Board game-style puzzles are great for mental stimulation, but your cat tends to stay in one place, so they may not offer as much of a workout.

If your cat is overweight, a good idea is to put some of their regular daily kibble allowance in the feeder instead of treats. If you do use treats, opt for low-calorie ones.

Do Food Puzzles Work with Wet Food?

It depends on the kind of puzzle feeder you get. A ball-type feeder, for example, wouldn’t be suitable for wet food, but there are plenty of feeding mats and puzzle-type feeders on the market that can be used with wet food.

Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

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Whether your cat is a fast eater, or you simply want to give them something fun to do, puzzle feeders are a great option. You don’t even have to head out and buy a puzzle feeder, either—you can craft one out of simple items you have at home in as little as a few seconds.

If you’re concerned about your cat’s weight, we recommend you speak to your vet to work out a nutritional plan that would help get them back to a healthy weight.

Featured Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

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