Treat and food dispenser puzzles are one of the hottest cat products of 2021. Over one-third of all owners use a puzzle feeder. Why are they so popular? Studies have shown that treat dispenser puzzles help cats lose weight and get more active, as well as providing a range of behavioural benefits. Read on for more information on our recommended cat treat feeders, why they work, and which ones to consider!
- What are treat dispenser puzzles?
- Best Cat Dispenser Puzzles (Recommended)
- Why you should use a cat treat puzzle
- What types of treat dispensers are there for cats? How do I choose the best type of dispenser for my cat?
- Which type of puzzle toy will my cat like?
- What to look for in a good treat dispenser for cats
- 3 Top tips for using a puzzle toy with your cat
- Puzzle feeders in multi-cat households
- Frequently asked questions
What are treat dispenser puzzles?
Although often called treat dispensers, ‘food puzzles’ is perhaps a more accurate term. A treat puzzle feeder dispenses the contents slowly, usually with some sort of interaction from your cat such as hitting certain parts or pushing things. Treat feeders can come in many shapes and forms, which we’ll go into later.
First, let’s take a look at some of the best products that you can buy in this category. Looking to pick up a cat treat dispenser in 2021? You can’t go wrong with any of these:
Best Cat Dispenser Puzzles (Recommended)
1. Trixie Brain Mover Activity Strategy Game Cat Toy
The Trixie Brian Mover came out on top as our best rated product in this category. It is well-made, pleasing to look at, and has a variety of treat puzzles. Sound a little tóo positive? Well, you don’t have to take our word for it; other reviews from people who bought the Trixie before you agree that is a stellar puzzle feeder and their cats almost unequivocally enjoy it.
So what makes the Trixie puzzle so good? It comes with four built-in modules. Each requires a different type of interaction from kitty in order to earn her reward. Such variety ensures your cat won’t lose interest in this puzzle anytime soon.
The modules include a ball that needs to be pushed, moving sliders, drawer knobs, and loops. These game requires patience and concentration, which is exactly the type of stimulation that indoor cats need!
Oh, and did we mention that it’s not even that expensive? You can pick one up for under $20 in many places, but in our experience Chewy has the best price!
- Great variety in the types of puzzles offered
- Can be cleaned in a dishwasher
- Doesn’t take wet food
2. Cat Amazing Interactive Treat Maze & Puzzle
This maze puzzle is a one-of-a-kind toy that will provide endless stimulation. The puzzle from Cat Amazing has three difficulties – beginner, intermediate and top – in order to provide a challenge for your kitty even aften her skills have improved.
According to other customers, the puzzle is really easy to assemble but could be a bit more sturdy, It’s made from recycled cardboard, which may be a plus if you are particularly concerned about the enviroment. Personally, we think other materials are better suited to puzzle feeders.
While reviewing this product we had some initial concerns whether cardboard is a safe to use. Turns out it is; Cat Amazing ensured us the material is printed with certified metal-free inks, making it completely safe for your cat to chew on.
Why you should use a cat treat puzzle
There are lots of good reasons to introduce a treat dispenser toy to your cat. By slowing down your cat’s eating, a treat dispenser toy can reduce regurgitation from eating too fast- known as ‘scarf and barf’. It’s not clear why, but using a cat treat dispenser toy may also decrease anxiety and reduce other negative behaviours like scratching, spraying, and aggressive outbursts.
According to a 2016 study on puzzle feeders, increasing activity whilst foraging is physically good for your cat, as well as mentally. Cats that eat more slowly feel fuller sooner, which helps reduce begging and scavenging. Moving puzzle feeder toys may also add to the daily activities of your cat. Both of these benefits help cats to lose excessive weight and have subsequent positive effects on mobility and arthritis.
What types of treat dispensers are there for cats? How do I choose the best type of dispenser for my cat?
There are lots of different types of treat dispensers available to purchase, from treat balls to stationary cat treat mazes. We’ll cover some of the most popular types here:
Treat Ball/Puzzle Ball
Cat treat ball dispensers are a type of moving puzzle feeder. They have a small hole that dispenses food or tasty treats when the ball is knocked around by your cat. They come in a range of difficulties, with some having several holes and others having just one small hole, and others not being quite round so that they move less predictably. The main advantage of this type of dispenser is that it will encourage a cat to be physically active, which could aid in weight loss.
When you use these, don’t forget to make sure the treats or dry food you use is small enough to fit through the holes in your puzzle ball.
Self-righting treat dispensers
A bit like a ball toy, this type of interactive cat treat dispenser holds food on the inside, and releases when knocked. But instead of rolling away like a food ball, the self-righting dispensers reorientate themselves. Great for cats that are less mobile, or where ball toys get stuck under furniture resulting in frustrated cats.
Cat treat mazes encourage your feline friend to hunt their food out from tunnels and crevices with their paws and nose. Some are as simple as a bowl with raised bits so that your cat has to move food to where they can easily reach. Others are more complex, with several levels to knock food around before they can get to it. Snuffle mats are a popular type of food maze that cats can use. Mazes are generally stationary, so are great for cats that are scared of the action or noise of the food ball, or cannot move as much due to injury or arthritis.
Pinata Puzzle Feeders
Some puzzle feeders are designed to be hung like pinata to encourage your cat to stand and paw at them. You can also hang some puzzle balls for cats like pinata-style toys to make them more difficult.
Some treat dispensing toys can be stuffed and hidden- we like to call these ‘treat mice’. The cat not only has to hunt down the mouse from behind the cushion or under the bed, but then remove the treats or food from inside it. Some even have a washable outer ‘skin’ for realism. These are best for cats that like to hunt, and are mobile enough to do so.
Remote Treat Dispensers
Some cat treat toy dispensers work remotely using a camera and your smartphone. They can be used to ‘treat’ your cat when you are at work or away. Simply log into the app, view your pet, and remotely give them a treat.
This type of dispenser toy isn’t good for feeding large amounts of food but can be good to encourage your cat to come in view of the pet cam once in a while!
Which type of puzzle toy will my cat like?
That depends entirely on your cat. You may have to try a few in order to discover what she likes. Remember, their interests may develop over time, so start simple and don’t give up. If your pet is overweight, try to choose a moving toy, such as a puzzle ball for cats, that will encourage them to exercise. If you have a cat that likes to hunt, consider whether a food maze or treat mice would be better for them.
What to look for in a good treat dispenser for cats
So, you’ve decided to buy an interactive cat treat dispenser? Great! Let’s make sure you get the right one (or several!) for your cat.
Firstly, you need to make sure that your product is safe for cats. Ideally, look for something designed for cats or small dogs. Whilst plastic is generally hard-wearing and easy to clean and sanitize, it should be BPA-free due to concerns over toxicity. Ideally, anything that comes into contact with food should be easy to take apart to clean. If you can find products that are dishwasher-safe, that will help with cleaning.
You should take care to buy items from a reputable source. As we wrote in our article about dangerous products, some items that are manufactured in other countries are not subject to the same strict standards as toys in the USA or Europe, and can contain toxic materials. Since your cats are going to be eating food from this feeder, you should take as much care as you do with their food bowls.
The next thing to make sure is that the toy contains no small parts that could be removed and swallowed. Long, string-like tails, whilst they look fun, can be dangerous if chewed through and accidentally swallowed, so try to avoid these.
Some treat dispensers are more suitable for feeding a whole bowl of food, others can only take a couple of pieces of kibble. Only a few will take wet food. You’ll need to find one that suits your cat’s feeding needs, too!
3 Top tips for using a puzzle toy with your cat
- Get several toys and switch them out regularly so that your cat always has a ‘new’ toy to play with.
- At first, your cat might need some help learning to use the puzzle- you should show them how to use it and that there is food inside. Don’t allow them to become frustrated by the puzzle as this can be detrimental- nobody likes games they’re bad at!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment and change it up by adding DIY toys, putting new treats in them, or giving your cat several puzzles to try at once.
Puzzle feeders in multi-cat households
All cats can be trained to enjoy food puzzles. But since many cats may have individual preferences and don’t like to compete over their resources (food, treats and water), we highly recommend placing several different treat dispensers around the house. That way, each cat will be have their own puzzle to enjoy.
“.. if one type of puzzle is more popular, then the owner should provide multiple puzzles of that type. This prevents cats from having to compete over food resources, and from being forced to eat in the same area, a behavior that is unnatural to solitary hunters. However, some cats are willing to use a food puzzle together.”Food puzzles for cats: Feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing – Link to study
Frequently asked questions
The best cat treat dispenser is one that your cat enjoys using- and since all cats are different, it might take a while to find an interactive cat treat feeder that your cat loves. But it’s worth doing- foraging using treat dispensers is good for your cat both physically and mentally!
Want to know more? This site is written by cat behaviourists and has loads of information about using cat treat feeders for healthy eating habits!