Cat Enrichment Tools that You Can Make at Home: Food Puzzles

Indoor cats need enrichment and mental stimulation. Enrichment can increase activity (which can help with weight control) and prevent many behavioural issues related to low mental stimulation (things like inappropriate litter box usage, anxiety, aggression and attention-seeking).

Enrichment can come in a variety of forms; from food puzzles to scratching posts, and toys to catios. Over the next few weeks, we will give you ideas for how to use items you have at home, how to build projects from scratch and what to look for if you’d rather just buy something.

The first category is FOOD PUZZLES. These are a great way to provide mental stimulation for cats, especially the food-motivated ones! Food puzzles allow cats to feel as though they are working for their food as they would if they were hunting outdoors. It is also a great way to slow down those kitties that tend to puke after eating too quickly!

Homemade treat ball     Cat playing with a treat ball

TREAT BALLS are a great way to increase activity, slow eating and increase mental stimulation. They can be purchased online, here at the clinic or in many pet stores. You can also make them at home from things like empty plastic water bottles – just cut small holes in the sides (large enough for the kibbles to fall out) and voila: a home-made treat ball!

Cats licking lick mats    Cat licking an ice cube tray

LICK MATS are perfect for cats that enjoy wet food. It’s great for cats that regurgitate or vomit if they eat too fast, as they allow cats to eat at a slower pace. I also love them for keeping fast-eating cats from stealing other cats’ food. Lick mats can be purchased online or in some pet stores (you may need to look in the dog sections). You can also use things you have at home, such as ice-cube trays, ridged placemats, or boot mats

Cat sticking its paw in toilet paper rolls    Cat playing with a digger toy

DIGGERS are a fun way for cats to work for their dry food and treats. Using their paws is challenging and mentally stimulating. There are many options for diggers online, in our clinic and in pet stores. You can use items around the house like egg cartons and ice cube trays. Diggers are also really easy to make; for example, collect toilet paper rolls and stuff them in an empty Kleenex box.

Cat sniffing a purple treat fish toy    Cat eating kibble beside a wooden block

SCAVENGER HUNTS are ideal ways to allow normal hunting behaviour to be carried out in a safe manner. Hiding small meals around the house spreads feeding time out, gets cats to work for their food, and allows them to play with their food. There are a few products that were created specifically for this function (ex. the purple treat fish below) but scavenger hunts can be done just by hiding kibbles around the house. You can incorporate toys to increase the fun and decrease the mess.

Cats playing with an activity board    Cats playing with an activity board

ACTIVITY BOARDS combine many different types of puzzle feeders. Some allow for both hard food and wet food (ex. Trixie’s 5-in-1 Activity Center on the right). They tend to be large enough that multiple cats can use the same board (for cats that are not on weight-loss programs). Activity boards are typically more expensive than some of the simpler food puzzles so if you’re looking for a cheaper option, try a DIY board! I made the one below with items from my recycle bin: toilet paper rolls, cardboard, popsicle sticks and yogurt containers.