Cats will choose a simple meal if they have to do a lot of work. This may not surprise cat owners, but it is surprising to cat behaviorists. Contrafreeloading is a behavior where animals work for their food.
Researchers at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that most domestic cats do not contrafreeload. According to the study, cats prefer to eat from a tray with readily available food than solve a puzzle to get their food.
Mikel Delgado is a cat behaviorist who works as a research associate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He said that there is a lot of evidence that cats, rodents, wolves and primates prefer to work for their food. It is surprising that cats are the only species with a strong tendency to contrafreeload among all these species.
Delgado and co-authors Melissa Bain of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine provided food puzzles and food trays to 17 cats in the study. The puzzle was easy to see for the cats, but they had to manipulate it to get the food out. Some cats had even experienced the food puzzle experience.
Delgado stated that while cats didn't eat the food puzzle, they ate more food off the tray, spent more time on the tray, and made more choices about how to approach the tray.
Cats don't just have lazy eyes.
The activity monitors were worn by the cats who participated in the study. Even cats who were more active chose to eat the free food. Delgado stated that the results of the study should not be taken to mean that food puzzles are eliminated. She stated that just because cats don't like it doesn't necessarily mean they don’t like it. Research by Delgado has shown that puzzles can be a great enrichment activity for cats.
It is not clear why cats like to freeload. Delgado suggested that the food puzzles used in this study might not have stimulated cats' natural hunting behavior which involves ambushing prey.
Maddie's Fund supported the research as well as the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.