2/06/2007

Food Puzzles for Pets

Pet owners...here you go. I came across an article about feeding pets that I found totally amusing at first. But it was one of those things that stuck with me for a couple of days. Usually when that happens, I know it's something worth researching further.

Pets are getting fatter. Like their human counterparts, American pets are now packing on extra pounds. And like humans, this can result in a wide variety of ailments, from kidney failure to premature death. And if there's one thing I know, it's that pet owners would do anything they can to keep their companion(s) with them for as long as possible.

For me, I worry about my cat's recent lethargy. When we're on the west coast, he's an indoor/outdoor pet and he loves to climb trees, antagonize the neighborhood dogs, and actually follows at my heels when I go for a run on the beach. (And yes, it's a little embarrassing...god only knows how many tourists take photos of us home from their vacations.)

But we're spending more and more time on the east coast. And here, we're in a more urban environment, many floors up off the ground in a fairly small space. There's nothing here to stimulate the cat, and as a result, he spends a lot of time napping.

When I read the article about fat pets, it briefly mentioned "food puzzles." I had never heard of such a thing. The article itself focused on dogs, and using food puzzles to stimulate canines. Further research showed some pretty interesting stuff:

Because animals in the wild hunt for their food, it is counterintuitive to most dogs and cats to be fed from a bowl. More importantly, since most dogs and cats would spend a huge part of their day hunting for food in the wild, it leaves their internal clocks with a lot of free time. Makes sense, right? That's why we as pet owners spend some serious dough on buying toys to keep our dogs and cats occupied.

Enter the food puzzle. It's basically a cross between a toy and a feeding dish. It makes the dog or cat work to get to their food. After viewing a number of sites for kennels and veterinarians, it looks like the best candidates for a food puzzle are animals who tend to be hyper, or pets who need stimulation because their owners are gone all day. They liken it to humans playing video games or gambling. For these pets, the intermittent reinforcement of the food reward keeps them engaged.

Obviously, it's not a good engagement tool for all pets. Vets say that pets who are normally poor eaters (this one seems obvious enough) or those who have a short attention span (they will get frustrated with the 'hunt' and just bark or otherwise freak out instead) should not have this tool. So I'm thinking that this is probably a weekend project, where you can supervise how your pet responds to the food puzzle.

I definitely think I'm going to give this a try. As I type this, the poor cat is on probably his sixth extended nap of the day. He's not burning any kibble calories and is just a breathing lump of fur curled up on the bed. I'm curious to hear from anyone who's tried these food puzzles before. I wonder if this is actually a useful thing for pets, or if it's one of those "sounds good in theory" options.

1 comments:

tannybrown said...

I had a dream about my cat the other night. My family and I were preparing for our entry in the annual Austrian tennis tournament, raquets in hand, donning 70's short shorts and sweatbands. As we stretched, a skinny official notified us that we were on the wrong court, and our match was set to begin! We were running to court seventeen when the German army came out of the woods screaming, "This is not a sanctioned tournament! Disband! This tournament is not official German competition!" We scattered while the German soldiers shot into the air for effect. But then the gunfire stopped as we all turned to the right, where my cat sat, giant and purring and obese, barely fitting on the center court. A newspaper spun onto my mind's eye with the headline:

FAMILY TENNIS TOURNAMENT CANCELLED, DUE TO CONFUSED GERMAN ARMY, GIANT CAT.

There was picture below depicting the scene. Part of me wants to find an artist to make my imaginary front page...it really makes me laugh when I think about it.