What are the benefits of foraging for domestic cats?
Cats are generally just fed out of bowls without much thought put into it.
A lot of cats are given a big bowl of food for them to free feed from throughout the day.
The problem with free feeding is there is no motivation to eat right now.. the buffet is always open..
If your cat is feeling poorly and goes off their food it’s harder to tell when there’s always a big bowl available.
So why would we teach our cats to forage for their food?
Cats are natural hunters- you see this in the way they play as they get down low, stalk and pounce!
Directing this into finding food switches on the SEEKING system.
Dr Jaak Panksepp’s work as a neurobiologist was the study of emotions and mapped out seven emotional networks across all mammalian brains.
These being SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF, and PLAY
When our cats switch to SEEKING and PLAYING in order to get their food they are getting little hits of dopamine as they search and when they find their food or their food falls out of the toy after they knocked it or shook it!
This makes them feel good and makes the act of eating so much more than just food.
By simply taking away the food bowl and feeding out of toys we add so much value to our cats’ day.
What kind of toys?
We need to make sure we start our cats off with easy toys. Toys that engage them in play but are not too hard.
Think about how they play.. they bat and swipe with their paws so maze feeders where they have to bump the kibble out harnesses this.
They pounce and leap so toys that wobble or encourage movement harness this too!
It is also important that we help and teach them how to use their new toys.
If we don’t spend the time showing and guiding and playing with them they may be confused or get stressed or frustrated which is not what we want.
Cats are fun to watch as they learn to use toys.. they are real thinkers and some jump right in while others swipe or bat at the toy.. walk away.. assess.. go back and paw.. swipe.. walk away and maybe smooch on you.
This is all fine. They are taking it all in, getting their information and assessing what happened. During this time talk to them gently , stroke them, shake the toy so some food falls out- it’s important they get these little wins along the way to keep their interest in the toy while they learn to do it themselves.
With each new toy I have introduced to Banana I have sat down with her and spent under ten mins with her as she learnt to use it.
The investment of time at the start has built her confidence and she happily uses her toys now on her own.
Introducing toys has actually made her more playful in general.
Not sure where to get started?
We have done all the legwork for you and have put together a Kitty Starter Foraging Box.
This has specially selected easy and fun toys along with treats and videos to help you start your foraging journey with your cat!
This has been especially fun for us because we know cats are planning to take over the world so we needed to get this right or it would be a Cat-astrophe!!
*cue evil cat laugh!
*Banana made me write that
References and further reading
By Jaak Panksepp
The importance of play- an interview with Jaak Panksepp