Summer is coming and everyone is thinking about the beach and having the perfect bikini body. Well… I guess our pets don´t think about this but we should keep them fit anyway.
Most dogs have the opportunity to exercise outdoors but there are a lot of cats that don´t. So, if you add cat’s ability to beg for food and the amount of time they sleep a day, obesity can be a problem. I can imagine those of you that have a lazy cat thinking ‘But I try to play with my pet and it won’t even bother to move…’. Maybe it’s time to try some new strategies!
I have cats myself and some years ago they were getting too fat. I was giving them an adequate and good quality diet but I couldn’t control how much each of them ate. I didn’t want to schedule their meals because cats are supposed to have several small meals along the day. Who will be there to feed the cats every three hours? What if they start to wake me up in the middle of the night begging for food? No! I cannot risk that happening!
I ended up reading about how cats should be able to hunt for their food in order to avoid behavioural problems or getting too fat. It seemed logical! In the wild their preys are not sitting around waiting to be eaten. Also, cats haven’t gone as far as dogs in the domestication process so it is as if we had small lions at home.
At last there was something I could try! If food was what they liked, let’s make them exercise for it. Pets are just like us, they need the right motivation to get them moving.
But how can I do that? The answer are food puzzles. Conceal the food in a wrapper that requires cats to think and work on getting to it. You can do it yourself at home with card boxes, plastic bottles, toilet/kitchen paper rolls, empty chocolate boxes or even small shreds of paper wrapped around the food/treats. If you don’t like crafts there are lots of food puzzles commercially available with different levels from beginners to pros.
Whatever your choice is you should always start by showing your cat how to play with it so that it doesn’t get frustrated. Spend some time playing until your cat can see where the food is and how it can be reached.
Start by giving part of its daily meal in the puzzle/toy and the remainder in the bowl. Once the cat knows how the puzzle works you can start to leave all the food in it. If possible, have a few puzzles so that you can leave different ones every day. Cats get fed up of their toys very easily but if they don’t see it for a few days it’s as if it was a brand new one.
If you have more than one cat, you should put the puzzles in different places around the house and change locations every day. This way the cat can’t control all the food and the search provides mental and physical stimulation.
Food puzzles can be done with both dry and canned foods but please discuss an adequate diet for your pet with your vet.
This is a good solution for couch potato cats. It may not work with more curious and explorer like cats. It worked for my three cats, from both the nutritional and behavioural point of view. I can even tell you that they prefer puzzles to food bowls! Such preference was also seen in scientific studies.
So why not give it a try? You can end up with a healthier and happier cat!
Author: Marta Vieira, DVM