How can I get my cat to use a food puzzle?

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Food puzzles can be a great way to stimulate a cat. Indoor cats, especially, have no need to hunt or even fend off other cats—so they tend to get bored quickly. Translation to you: They’ll get into plants (some of them toxic to them), counter-surf, scratch and engage in a whole lot of less-than-desirable behavior.

A food puzzle is simply an object—a toy with an opening in which you can “hide” either wet or dry food. Designs range from the simple ball to complex structures. The idea is that they’ll have to work at the puzzle for at least 20 to 30 minutes to get the food out.

While some food puzzle detractors claim that it’s just plain cruel to make a pet work for food, others say absolutely not. They argue that just feeding from a bowl takes away any stimulation, and that’s cruel!

Chances are your cat will take to the food puzzle very quickly. Sometimes, though, a cat may be a little fearful of something new or she just may not be able to figure out what to do—a few cats just aren’t much on playing with their toys to begin with so she may not show much interest in the food puzzle.

But you can start slow and entice her with some tempting treats. Keep in mind that the treat should have a strong odor and that cats love different textures and shapes, so the more unusual, the better. You also need to be mindful of the pet obesity problem; animal waistlines are expanding as quickly as humans, but maybe you’ll have a cat who loves vegetables or fruit.

The other thing to keep in mind is to not let her get frustrated, so start with an easier puzzle. They come in various degrees of difficulty and sometimes it helps if you leave the treat cover off to show her how it works.

Your pet supply store or veterinary expert will be able to suggest the right one for you.

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