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Let's be honest: Lounging around all day waiting for someone to hand you your favorite meal on a silver platter sounds like a dream. But after a while, it'd get boring—and cats feel the same way. Instead of letting your cat lie around and wait for every meal, many veterinarians and feline behavior experts recommend using cat puzzle feeders as a way to make cats work hard for their food.
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For cats and kittens who are just starting to problem solve, these easier puzzles are a great introduction to enrichment toys. By easing them in with one of these simpler toys, you'll prevent them from getting frustrated and giving up right away.
As your kitty becomes wiser, you'll need to level up her puzzle game. "If your cat gets all the food out in a very short amount of time, you're probably ready to increase the skill level," Johnson-Bennett says. Besides just finding a more difficult toy, switching up the type of puzzle keeps the challenge new and exciting for your kitty.
Even if your cat has mastered all of her previous puzzle toys, these advanced options are sure to keep her on her toes.
Beginner Cat Puzzle Feeders
PetSafe Funkitty Egg-Cersizer Treat Dispenser Cat Toy Buy Now on Chewy
Johnson-Bennett recommends this toy as an easy introduction to puzzle feeding. Your kitty will bat around the egg-shaped ball to release her dry food or treats, giving her mental and physical exercise. Plus, the puzzle is adjustable, making it a great transition piece from a beginner to intermediate toy.
Pet Zone Boredom Busters Relax Slow Feeder Licking Cat Mat Buy Now on Target
If your cat is a big fan of wet food, a licking mat is a great slow feeder option to entertain and challenge their mind. After you push their wet food into the small crevices, cats need to work harder to get every last bite.
The Company of Animals CATCH Interactive Feeder Buy Now on Amazon
Puzzle beginners who like to dig and forage can do so with this mat that challenges cats through large, grass-like spikes. Unlike more difficult toys, this keeps all your cat's food in plain sight, making it an easier—but still rewarding—feat.
Petstages Hunt N Snack Mat Slow Feeder Cat Bowl Buy Now on Target
This puzzle mat offers three different challenges for beginners: Scooping out their food, sliding it around, and batting the mat out of the way. Seeing whichever obstacle your cat prefers can help when buying more advanced puzzle toys!
Intermediate Cat Puzzle Feeders
TRIXIE Activity Fun Board Buy Now on Chewy
This 5-in-1 board challenges cats in five unique ways, forcing your feline to use her brain multiple ways. Luckily, your cat can climb, scoop, and play to her heart's content since the large board has non-slip rubber feet to keep it in place.
Catit Senses 2.0 Digger Buy Now on Amazon
If your kitty likes to dig, this puzzle is the perfect intermediate choice. The different-sized tubes add an extra challenge and the small spot to drop food makes the transition to this puzzle easier. But the best part for cat parents is the large rubber mat that keeps it from knocking over.
Doc & Phoebe's Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder Buy Now on Chewy
If you're hoping to get your cat more exercise through interactive feeders, this is a great option! Your kitty will need to hunt through the house for the hidden mice, then play and swat to release her food.
PETSTAGES Buggin' Out Puzzle & Play Cat Toy Buy Now on Petco
Watch your kitty forage through the leaves with this adorable puzzle toy! The puzzle is sure to keep your cat busy with sliding ladybugs and swiveling leaves that uncover 14 hidden spots for food. You can even bump up the challenge by hiding the treats inside the ladybugs!
Advanced Cat Puzzle Feeders
Petstages Rainy Day Puzzle & Play by Nina Ottosson Cat Toy Buy Now on Petsmart
The twists and turns on this slider puzzle aren't the only things to make this toy difficult for cats. The swiveling raindrops and spinning wheel make uncovering your cat's food much more difficult. And with 14 treat compartments, there's a lot to search for!
Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Dog Treat Puzzle Buy Now on Amazon
Smart kitties will love to forage for their food in this challenging slider puzzle. While this puzzle was made for dogs, the sliders are light enough for cats to move with their paws or noses. If your cat masters this challenge, you can make it more difficult by leaving some of the compartments empty.
Cat Amazing Sliders Interactive Treat Maze Buy Now on Chewy
This extra difficult toy may be able to stump even the most genius kitties. As your cat forages for her food, the inner sections of the box slide around, changing the challenge while your cat plays. When your cat conquers and retrieves her food from this toy, she'll feel especially accomplished and rewarded for all her hard work.
Benefits of Cat Puzzle Feeders
"Cats are hunters who must use physical manipulation and mental skill in order to capture prey," says Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, author and owner of Cat Behavior Associates and member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board. "The puzzle feeder lets the cat use both of those skills and provides the food reward for a job well done."
Introducing puzzle feeders is a simple way to replicate your kitty's natural instincts at home. These interactive toys engage your cat through mentally (and often physically) stimulating challenges and rewards them using food and treats as positive reinforcement.
"This can provide enrichment for a cat who is bored, lonely, or simply needs more fun in life," Johnson-Bennett says. And who can say no to more fun?
Besides their mental benefits, puzzle feeders can also help chunkier kitties lose weight. Johnson-Bennett says because the puzzles encourage activity and stimulation while eating, cats on diets feel like they're eating more food when it comes from a puzzle. And with high-activity puzzle feeders, they'll also get some much-needed exercise.
How to Introduce Your Cat to Puzzle Feeders
When you first begin introducing your cat to puzzle feeders, Johnson-Bennett recommends starting simple. "Start with something basic to make sure your cat understands and enjoys the process," she says.
In the beginning stages of training, place dry food near the toy to help your cat understand there's food inside. If she's still having trouble getting started, help her learn by playing with the toy yourself and moving its parts around.
"You also need to pay attention to the type of manipulation required to access the food because your cat may have a preference," Johnson-Bennett says. Some cats love to scoop up food with their paw, but others will prefer kicking a ball around. Knowing the types of cat toys your kitty naturally gravitates toward will help. If one type of toy isn't working out for your cat, don't give up. Try another!
When you begin training, only put a small portion of your cat's meal in the feeder. Serve the rest in her regular bowl she's comfortable with. As she learns to use the puzzle, adjust the proportions, giving her more to work for until she can get an entire meal from the toy.