9539 Liberty Road, Frederick, MD 21701
Phone: 301-898-4009 ~ Fax: 240-668-3664
Gentle, complete veterinary care for the felines in your family
Link map for Frederick Cat Vet for directions, hours, bio of the veterinarian and staff, veterinary services offered and a tour of the veterinary practice

What's a Food Puzzle?

Cats are safer indoors without dealing with the risks of getting outside. However, there is much to explore out side and it is a big challenge to provide enough "environmental enrichment" inside to keep them stimulated and prevent problems that may arise out of boredom. Cats are intelligent animals with instincts for the mental and physical challenge of catching their meal. When we offer their food exclusively in a bowl, they miss out on this natural creative exercise -in short, we make it too easy for them.

Make a food puzzle for your cat! There are many options, but the basic goal is to create a challenge your cat must solve before he can eat. Here are a few options you can try with different ranges of difficulty.

Novice, Level 1: The simplest food puzzle is far too easy for most cats, but some cats need an introduction to the concept of touching a container with their paw, and simply tipping it over. A paper cup that your cat can't fit their mouth into is Level 1.

Apprentice, Level 2. Most cats can start here:

Bamboo tube (Sold at Frederick Cat Vet): This is an all-natural segment from a bamboo stalk that has been dried and heat-cured. It is virtually unbreakable and does not wear out. Cut a segment of green bamboo so that it retains the closed ends, let it dry in cool, dry place for several months, drill a hole in the one end and the side, then cook it for 20 minutes at 350 F, and let it cool completely before handling.

A cardboard tube can work in a similar fashion, but it is more challenging to have a sturdy tube that opens and closes and lasts for a while.

Crafty Cat, Level 3:

Peek-a- Prize (Sold at Frederick Cat Vet): Originally designed for cat toys, this all wooden puzzle can be used at meal time too, to help challenge your cat's mind and slow down their food scarfing habits. So many holes to choose from - cats will have a hard time deciding where to start the fun!

Tiger Diner (Sold at Frederick Cat Vet): This porcelain bowl has holes around its entire circumference and one on top. Just pour the food through the top hole at meal time to help slow down their eating habits and make them work for their meals.

Professional, Level 4: Use a small box (cube is shown) and cut small holes. Since it does not roll, this will challenge cats more to turn or flip it to get pieces out. Or, simply use a cardboard egg carton (don't use styrofoam!). It's ready to go if it already has holes as pictured. Make it a little easier for your cat by enlarging the holes.
Master, Level 5: A handmade wooden/mason jar candy dispenser is only for the most clever of cats. The center bar slides back and forth and drops a piece or two at a time. Most cats tap at the jar and give up. But some cats notice that the piece that moves and are able to reset and keep getting another piece, with a little effort. You can find these on etsy and eBay or maybe you can make one yourself.

You will find that the hole size should be about 3-4 times the size of kibble so that pieces come out easily without pouring out. Other variations include hiding the food puzzle itself or putting in where they have to climb to reach it. For beginner cats, putting a few pieces in a paper cup that they need to knock over can be a good start. With time, you will find that you need to be more and more creative to offer a decent challenge for your cat.

All cats should be fed canned food for at least half of their diet, but since it will spoil when left out, it will not work well for most puzzles. Food puzzles are a great activity when you are away for an extended period. Be sure to vary the exercise as much as you can, and ask yourself, "How can I challenge my cat today?"