Tag: contrafreeloading

Unlike Other Animals, Cats Always Take The Free Meal

When presented with a simple tray of food and a food puzzle that requires a little work to get at the yums inside, every animal ever tested has opted for the latter.

Except cats.

Rhesus monkeys, rats, chickens, bears, starlings, gerbils, chimpanzees and a wide range of other animals are drawn to food puzzles, perhaps because the food tastes sweeter to them if they’ve had to work for it, or maybe because it’s just something amusing to do.

“There is an entire body of research that shows that most species including birds, rodents, wolves, primates – even giraffes – prefer to work for their food,” said Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist and lead author of the newest study on the phenomenon known as contrafreeloading. “What’s surprising is out of all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload.”

Puzzle feeder
A puzzle feeder used in the study. Credit: UC Davis

Delgado, a research affiliate at UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, used a clear puzzle feeder so the cats in her study could see the treats inside. A few feline study participants gave it a shot, but only after grabbing themselves some easy grub first. Other cats just ignored the food puzzle and munched exclusively from the tray.

While this is at least the second study to specifically test whether cats “freeload” their meals, the why of this particular feline behavior remains a mystery. Delgado cautioned against the obvious conclusion — that cats are just lazy — and pointed out that several cats in the study were active and expending energy, just not with the puzzle feeder.

One possible explanation: As hunters and obligate carnivores, cats simply may not enjoy games that simulate foraging the way omnivores and herbivores do.

The study was published on July 26 in the academic journal Animal Cognition. Read it here.

Screenshot 2021-08-13 at 08-31-22 MikelDelgadoProfile jpg (WEBP Image, 800 × 800 pixels)
Mikel Delgado with a kitty. Credit: Community Cats Podcast

Study Confirms What We All Know: Cats Are Remarkably Lazy

My cat has a morning ritual: He’ll meow in front of the treat cabinet, which now contains healthy snacks, then gobble down his first yums of the day before padding over to the carpet or the couch to lay down.

Ya know, because he worked so hard. After a long and tiring night of sleep and the grueling physical exertion of working his jaw muscles to eat, he needs a respite. A cat nap, if you will.

He’s not unique in this respect, and his morning siesta is just the first of many. Cats need their beauty rest after an exhausting day of lounging, sleeping and having their food literally placed before them.

A new study confirms what we already know — that cats are lazy little bastards — and even hints at new levels of laziness unbeknownst to us thus far.

Working hard or hardly working?

“Get a puzzle feeder,” they say. “Make ’em work a little for their food,” they say. “It’ll stimulate their instincts.”

Animal behaviorists have recommended toys like puzzle feeders and treat balls for years, prompted by research that shows animals enjoy “contrafreeloading,” a fancy way of saying when given a choice between free food and food in a puzzle feeder, animals will opt for the latter.

The behavior is consistent across many species of domestic and wild animals, from dogs and rats to chimpanzees and birds. Maybe it stimulates their urge to forage. Maybe it gives them something fun to do. Or maybe food just tastes better to animals when they’ve earned it.

Cats, however, aren’t contrafreeloaders. They want the easy yums.

That’s according to a new study by a University of California at Davis research team. Cats didn’t ignore the food puzzles entirely, but they showed a clear preference for the low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

“It wasn’t that the cats never used the food puzzle, they just used it less, ate less food from it, and typically would eat from the freely available food first,” said UC Davis’ Mikel Delgado, a co-author of the study.

puzzle-feeder
“I’m tellin’ ya, Horace, they do this just to piss us off. How are we supposed to gobble it all down if we have to fish every little kibble out one by one? I hate humans!”

As for why cats aren’t taken with puzzle feeders — besides their inherent laziness, of course — that question will take more studies to answer.

“There are different theories about why animals might contrafreeload, including boredom in captive environments, stimulating natural foraging behaviors, and creating a sense of control over the environment and outcomes,” Delgado said.

When it comes to cats, Delgado’s best guess is that puzzle feeders might just be the wrong game since it doesn’t stimulate their hunting instincts. Maybe the next study should involve small pieces of chicken and turkey tied to the ends of wand toys, so our mighty little hunters can catch their “prey” and dine like proper tigers.