Your Mother Was Wrong: Play With Your Food

updated on 07 January 2023

If you're a cat, anyway.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. It costs you nothing extra and helps me to pay for web hosting fees. These recommendations are coming directly from me and I don't receive any extra to promote a specific product. All of the ones included in this post have been tested and approved by Z, my own cat, so you know they're good!

Remember when you were little and your mom told you not to play with your food? Well, no offense to your mother, but she was wrong. If you're a cat, that is! (Which if you're a cat and able to read this, we should talk because I am impressed and have so many questions for you)

Cats are natural hunters. Throughout their evolutionary history, they developed traits and behaviors that fine tune their ability to track down prey. Because of this, cats naturally want to hunt! You can add a little enjoyment to your cat's life by satisfying both their need to eat and need to hunt at the same time with feeder toys!

I recommend a lot of feeder toys to folks to prevent or address boredom related behavior issues so it not only benefits your cat, but you ultimately get rewarded with better behavior. Everybody wins!

Feeder toys can be used at mealtime or as a way to dispense treats. It's so fun seeing your cat enjoy the hunt and the satisfaction that comes with a successful "kill." Plus, if you cat tends to eat too fast they are a great way to slow them down. Your cat may need some time to warm up to a new toy so I recommend starting out using treats and gradually transitioning to their regular food.

Not all cats are motivated by treats. If that's true of yours, I'm happy to help come up with a custom plan to get your cat playing their way through meal time with either a wellness package or as part of a behavior modification plan. Just get in touch and we'll chat!

Now let's get to the fun part: The cat toys!

The first set of recommendations was actually one of the first feeder toys I bought for my own cat! Feeder balls are a great option as they are simple to use, generally not too expensive, and can be used easily with kibble or treats. There are a few varieties and variations on a similar concept.

I would start with the PetSafe one above as a good starting point as it is adjustable for treat and kibble size. You can also make it easier or harder as your cat figures it out so they're not too challenged by it, but also don't find it too easy. If your cat seems frustrated, make it easier! The Catit ball is a bit more challenging because of the spiral inside it. It's got a bit of a smaller hole so it's a good idea to use it with smaller sized treats or kibble. You can also buy a multipack if you'd like a few to set out or if your house has multiple cats. Here's a link to the multipack:

There are a lot of options out there for puzzle feeders and you can even make your own from things you have around the house if you get creative! Mugs, small storage containers, and even your cat's regular food bowls can be used to simulate hunting. Just strategically place them with small amounts of food and gradually "hide" them in different places so your cat has to search a bit. This leads to my next recommendation...

I LOVE these mice feeders! They're really cute little mice shapes and are small so easy to place in more creative places once your cat gets good at hunting them. They come with a scoop to help you get kibble or treats inside inside and measure how much you're putting in. I like that they are rounded on the bottom as it makes it so that easier for your cat to knock over. Best of all, the fabric mouse covering is removable for easy washing!

Looking for something smaller? There are other options, too! Some cats find the smaller size a bit more appealing (it's closer to the size of typical cat prey). Z recently acquired some of the ones above and they are in the process of being added to his usual puzzle rotation. I'm sure he's going to like them though because he likes most things that result in him getting treats...

Lastly (for today's blog anyway) we have a few more advanced options. The Buggin' Out toy is a bit more advanced, but you can alter how you set it up to make it easier or harder for your cat. To make it easier, you can put the treats in the wells and just cover them with the leaves. You can make it harder by putting the treats in the lady bug sliders and, for the really advanced cat who likes a challenge, you can also cover the wells with the leaves so your cat has to do multiple steps to get their treat/food.

This is probably Z's favorite puzzle feeder he has. I had to quickly escalate the difficulty for him, though, as he caught on very rapidly to it. My cat is a bit of a genius, what can I say?!

The listing above includes a few variations on the Buggin' Out toy. I haven't tried them yet, but the cloud shaped one is on my list to try eventually. There are multiple options out there depending on what you think your cat may like!

This is another puzzle feeder that Z likes a lot. It's a (short) maze that requires your cat to push their kibble or treats through it until they reach the end and can reach it. I like it because it has adjustable difficulty so I can challenge Z, but not frustrate him. Z did figure out a workaround where he can fling his treats out of the start of the maze, but it still requires enough effort on his part to do so that it keeps him occupied for a while.

Once your cat catches on, you can increase the difficulty by adding in removable obstacles so they remain challenged. If it's too difficult for them, you can decrease the difficulty pretty easily until they catch on. As a bonus, it comes with a few toys. The coil shaped toys are a favorite at the Lusvardi household and often get set on surfaces as an acceptable thing to knock off the table or used for a game of "catch" where we roll them back and forth to each other. They're very simple but very fun!

There are many, many, many more options out there. I'm sure at some point I'll share more recommendations, but these are some of my favorites! If you'd like to discuss more individualized recommendations for your cat, a consultation with Class Act Cats is a great place to start! We can figure out what types of toys your cat likes, find options that may work for them and your budget, and come up with a purrsonalized set of options for you!

About the author: Joey Lusvardi CCBC is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. He is available for consultation in the Twin Cities or virtually wherever you are located.

Read more