Cats, more than anything, have perfected disdainful looks. These tiny lions see you as either a useless landlord or a pathetic massive kitten anyway, so this expression comes naturally to them, especially when you don’t do what they want immediately.
A new study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery suggests that, in order to have a healthier, calmer, and less demanding cat, you should use intricate puzzle games to force your feline to work to get its food. Although this may sound like you’re destined for a future full of these disdainful glares, the research comes with its fair share of miraculous case studies that seem to back up its findings.
The team of cat-curious scientists from the University of California, Berkeley explain that cats are natural foragers, much like their wild equivalents, and food puzzles – which are more common than you might expect – encourage this instinct and thereby satiate their innate needs. By scrambling around for delicious treats in this way, cats are more physically active, they engage their brain more often, they de-stress, and they ultimately become less bothersome for their human overlords/underlings.
“Presenting some challenge that is appropriate to an animal’s natural ecology and matched to its skill level is likely to provide cognitive, physical and behavioral benefits,” the authors note in their study. This is especially useful for indoor cats, who have a far higher prevalence of health problems, including aggression, house soiling, obesity, diabetes, and overzealous attention seeking, than free-wheeling outdoor cats.
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For their research, the team conducted a review of all pre-existing research conducted on the topic, as well as citing around 30 of their own case studies. The cats given food puzzles had a wide range of physical or psychological problems, including a debilitating fear of humans, noise-based phobias, and an overly strong proclivity towards stalking the clients’ guinea pigs – at any cost.
Each of these problematic cats were given food puzzles of varying kinds to play with as they ate, and the results speak for themselves.
Yes, these puzzles alleviate obesity in cats, too. mishanik_210/Shutterstock
One two-year-old cat was no longer terrified of humans after a year, and a three-year-old cat, whose impulsive and frustration-based aggression towards his owner immediately improved and completely disappeared within half a year. Even an obese, listless cat lost 20 percent of his body weight within 12 months.
If you think your cat needs to be a little more chilled out, the researchers suggest using a variety of food puzzles and seeing which your pet prefers. As he or she may struggle to get food out at first, the team say that you should load the first few up with lots of food so the reward is substantial for their efforts. If you don’t want soggy cat food all over your house, it’s probably a good idea to use stationary, fixed-to-the-ground puzzles, not mobile ones.
“We have not encountered cats that could not adapt to food puzzles,” the researchers point out. “Senior cats, kittens, three-legged cats, blind cats and cats with other disabilities, such as partial paralysis, have all been observed to use a food puzzle of some type.” Although store-bought puzzles are quite robust, you can make your own by, for example, cutting holes in egg cartons, bottles or paper bags.
A recent study concluded that cats are living longer than ever before thanks to improved nutrition and healthcare. So, if you don’t want the next 15 years or so to be filled with passive-aggressiveness emanating from every single pore of your furry pet, science suggests you get them a few puzzles to keep them occupied.
Who knows how chilled out and polite they may become? Andrey_Kuzmin/Shutterstock