Any cat owner will be the first to tell you that their cat is smart and albeit a little feisty, especially if you miss their feeding time by a minute. They will escort their human to where their food is at, and then subsequently, to their bowl to ensure their prompt breakfast. It’s part of what gives cats their irresistible charm and, according to scientists, proves their level of intelligence.
Cats know where their food is located and returns to it each time for feedings. Scientists call this “conditioned learning.” The cool thing is that the cat associates the bowl and the location you feed them at with food through being fed multiple times from the same bowl in the same location. Oh, wait! There’s more! During the study, scientists placed two different boxes in a room but only gave the cats time to eat from one box. When they returned the cats to the room later, the cat went to the other box that previously contained food but that they didn’t originally eat from. What this tells us is that cats gather and learn information from their environment that was previously unpredicted. The study proves that cats can learn beyond conditioned learning. They remember specifics of their environment and events they’ve encountered, even if it is only once!
What Does This Mean?
What does all this mean for you and your feline companion? It says that they need mental exercise. Cats are intelligent, and they need to be mentally challenged, so they don’t become bored. A healthy combination of physical and mental activity will keep your kitty happy and content. Okay, we’re all on the same page about exercise, but how should you constructively engage your cat?
Engaging Your Cat
Cats are natural predators. Their wild counterparts have to work hard for their food among other things. A fun way to engage your cat is to invest in or create a puzzle toy to put their food or treats in. It can be anything that your cat has to spend the time to solve for their food or treats. There’s a large variety of these toys at your local pet store, or you can get creative and make your own. It could be as simple as putting a few pieces of delicious kibble in a ball of crumpled up tissue paper or a ping pong ball with a hole in it, and they have to roll around until the treats fall out. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.
Purchasing or DIY
If you decide to purchase a food-dispensing toy in lieu of making one, there are some factors you should consider when picking the right one for your feline friend. They should be durable enough to withstand repeated punishment from your cat. However, if the rough play becomes too enthusiastic that your kitty could become injured, take the toy away. Cleanliness is important to keep your cat healthy. Your toy should be easy to clean which not only lengthens the lifespan of the toy, but it’s less headache for you! Also, be mindful of what you fill the toy with. Just because you can fill the toy with pretty much anything, doesn’t mean that it’s good for your cat. Consult with your vet on what they think would be healthy and beneficial for you to use with the toy. Keep a calorie count to ensure your furry friend doesn’t become overweight or obese. Most importantly, do NOT use dispenser toys in place of regular feedings. They should be used to supplement the life of your cat, not replace their normal feedings.
Cat Training 101
If your kitty responds well to food motivation, you can also train them like you would a dog. Sit, stay and other tasks are achievable with the right motivation. However, it is less important what you teach them than it is that you ARE teaching them. Engaging their brain is not only healthy for them but will keep them more content.
Tips To Get You Started
Here are some tips to get you started: start with easy tasks and gradually increase the difficulty over time. Do not let your kitty get too frustrated as they will stop with the games altogether, or at least for a time. Keep track of your kitty’s food intake as well. You want to make sure that they are still getting their full intake of food by the end of the day. You don’t want to unintentionally starve them! Also, if you have more than one cat, or one has a special diet, please be sure to contact your vet for ideas and the best way to imbue mental exercise into your cats’ lives.