Saturday 9 December 2023

Full-time indoor cats should be fed with puzzle feeders for mental stimulation

There really is an obligation on cat owners nowadays to use puzzle feeders to feed their cats. That wouldn't have been the case not that long ago but nowadays it is said that up to 63% of domestic cats in America are kept indoors full-time for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the cats' safety and security.

That's obviously a big benefit for the cat but set against that there must be detriments, downsides and in the case of full-time indoor cat it is mental stagnation, boredom, inactivity, lack of stimulation and lack of environmental enrichment. These have potential health problems.

I know that I am going on but you can't just close the doors and windows on a domestic cat for the rest of their lives and expect things to carry on as normal. You have to stimulate your cat because they lose all the usual simulations that they obtain from the outdoors once you keep them indoors full-time.

And one way to enrich the environment of domestic cats is to insist that they are fed with puzzle feeders. These are feeding devices which make it a challenge to the cat to get at the food.

And studies have found that for captive wild cat species, puzzle feeders have proved to be successful in creating an environment for them which at least to a small extent provides the cat with some semblance of a normal life.

In this study, a small wild cat species called a fishing cat was fed live fish. When this happened the cat in question reduced their sleeping time by 60%. That means they were more active than normal. The cat showed increased hunting behaviours and they used their enclosure more effectively and more dynamically. They were turned on emotionally and these benefits persisted for about two days after they were no longer given live fish up to a maximum of eight days of improved behaviour.

An Asiatic leopard cat was fed four times per day and three times per day with food hidden in small piles of brush to help stimulate natural hunting behaviours and they found that when the food was hidden multiple times the cat's exploratory behaviour increased from 5.5% to over 14%.

And their pacing i.e. stereotyped behaviours, which is highly indicative of boredom, reduced.

You can bring that study forward to the domestic cat in a home. Full-time indoor cats live somewhat like captive wild cat species in zoos in my view. There is an acute obligation I feel to try and entertain cat kept indoors and one way is to employ a puzzle feeder. In fact, there should be two or three different types in the home.

In addition to that the environment can be improved for the cat by adding climbers and high platforms et cetera. The key is to increase the number of climbing devices so the cat can rest at a high level. Cats need to move radically as we all know.

But this article is about puzzle feeders and they are cheap and effective. I sincerely hope that people try them.

As I mentioned, one study says that 63% of all indoor cats in the United States are kept indoors full-time. That may be too high a figure but it is at least 40-50% and growing year-on-year. It is beyond the time when there needs to be an emphasis on environmental enrichment and mental stimulation of full-time indoor domestic cats.

It is ironic that cat owners keep their cats indoors full-time for their health. And many of them in a survey say that there cat are healthy both physically and mentally when they keep them indoors but I think they are incorrect. How do you assess a domestic cat's mental health and well-being? Through observation? You don't really know what's in the mind of a domestic cat. 

What we can judge through common sense is that a cat able to express their natural desires and motivations is going to be mentally healthier and more content than one who cannot do this. 'Hunting' food with a cat puzzle goes a little way to also feeding a cat's natural motivations.

And keeping cats indoors full-time without any attempt to substitute what they are missing when allowed outside to hunt, walk on wet grass, climb trees, smell the air, meet other cats and meet wildlife is a derogation of the duty of a good cat caregiver.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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