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Homemade food puzzle your kitty will adore!

Cats would love to work for their food
You can help them by making their very own
Food puzzle to turn on the switch to their foraging skills.

How to Engage your Cat’s Foraging Instincts With This Fun Cat Food Puzzle

cat playing with food puzzle made with egg carton

Last updated April 11th, 2021

Feeding your cat with food puzzles is a wonderful enrichment activity that encourages natural foraging behavior, prevents boredom and provides mental stimulation for your cat. Your cat wants to work for food and you can show him how. Follow the below tutorial to make your cats their own cat grass puzzle feeder.

” Whatever he has on his plate must be tastier than mine,” says Charlie the cat. “I will eat a few morsels, then move onto Ollie’s plate, it looks like he has more,” says Sly Pie the little Tuxedo kitty.”

The Chirpy Cats

This is the daily suppertime scenario at the Chirpy house, or at least, this is what I think the cats are thinking. We have Mr. Food Thief Scarf and Barf Charlie trying to steal food. We have ADHD Ollie taking a bite then darting off, and Sly Pie trying to snatch Ollie’s leftovers. Yes, feeding 9 cats is like watching them playing musical chairs with their food bowls. If we’re not vigilant, there’s always one cat who has eaten more than his fair share, and another cat feeling a little shortchanged.

The fast eaters are the cats that were living the hard life on the streets before being rescued. They have to find a precious food source and fight other cats to survive. Mealtime for him always means he doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. So out of sheer habit, he gobbles down his food and moves onto the next bowl. Old habits die hard, but he can be taught to slow down the pace.

Keep calm and slow down!

But when your food thief starts to fill out his little tuxedo waistcoat, it’s time to take action and teach him how to EAT. MORE. SLOWLY.

Free-feeding your cat can lead to overeating and obesity and other health problems. Some cats do not have that “off” switch to tell their brains they have had enough food and will frequently return to their all-you-can-eat buffet throughout the day. I used to free feed years ago when I only had two cats. But they were pretty good at knowing when they have had enough.

Ditch the bowls, bring out the food puzzles!

Now, in our multi-cat household, we stick with set feeding times to prevent boredom-eating or overeating and establish a routine for our cats. But these scheduled meals do not have to come from a bowl each time. Meals can be presented in the form of a food puzzle to bring out your cat’s innate hunting and foraging skills.

Without indoor enrichment and mental stimulation, an indoor cat’s hunting instincts remain dormant. Food puzzles help turn on your cat’s hunting ‘switch’ which engages all their senses to help them ‘work for their food’. Your cat’s brain is forced to actively think in terms of “how do I get the food out?” His little hunter brain needs to solve a problem. It’s like learning a new skill that he already possesses, it was just never enabled!

In the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, cat behavior consultants Mikel M Delgado and Ingrid Johnson published their paper on Food puzzles for cats: Feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing with the aim of encouraging the wider use of food puzzles to support feline health and emotional well-being. The paper outlines the many benefits of implementing a food puzzle regime into your cat’s daily routine such as “weight loss, decreased aggression toward humans and other cats, reduced anxiety and fear, cessation of attention-seeking behaviors and resolution of litter box avoidance.”

Why your cat will benefit from a food puzzle

  • Forces your cat to slow down when eating and thus prevents “scarf and barf” syndrome.
  • Prevents the “I’ll have what he’s having” mentality. With the absence of food bowls to compare, your cat will be focused on the task at hand. And that is, to find food.
  • Encourages a focused group activity. It’s funny to see curiosity taking over and less aggression between cats. Working for food requires patience and determination!
  • Is your cat bored or destructive? Does your cat like flicking things off tables? A food puzzle will be perfect for this kitty with way too much cattitude for his own good!
  • Combat obesity – if your kitty’s waistline is more tubby than fluffy then a food puzzle is perfect to get him working for his food.

In an old post, I highlight why food puzzles are vital to your cat’s health and showcase a few puzzle feeder options that our cats love. But this homemade version was a real hit with the cats.

What’s so special about a grass food puzzle?

I decided to use grass as a component in our food puzzle to bring in an element of the outdoors. When free-roaming cats are out hunting, they would encounter their prey in fields lurking in the grass. Imagine your cat pouncing or pawing at something that moved in the grass.

The cat grass in the food puzzle has a multi-functional purpose:

  • It provides a barrier to prevent getting at the food too easily.
  • It provides snacks for the cats who love their greens.
  • And it looks rather pretty too!
multiple cats playing and foraging from a puzzle feeder

Materials needed for your cat grass food puzzle

Most of the materials needed for this food puzzle you probably already have in your kitchen. What do you do with those tiny bread ties, milk rings or bottle tops? If your cat likes a game of “Let’s flick this off the table,” then these household items will be perfect for your food puzzle. It’s all about redirecting these boredom-induced behaviors into positive experiences for your cat.

  • Cat grass seeds
  • Empty egg carton
  • Acrylic paints and brushes – if you decide to paint the cartons in fun colors, remember to paint the underside, not the inside that will be holding food.
  • Grow mats
  • River stones or tiny rocks
  • Hemp plant food (optional)
  • Bread ties or any other plastic recyclable household items.
  • Cat toys such as Catit foam balls, bell balls or feathered toys

Instructions for the grass puzzle

cat grass seeds to make your cat food puzzle
What you will need to make a food puzzle for your cat
how to make a food puzzle for your cat step-by-step-instructions

1. Paint the underside of the egg carton

This is entirely optional but a pleasant combination of colors makes for a pretty display. Recruit your kids to make their kitty their very own special food tray. I chose chic yellow and aqua blues, the color of the Chirpy Cats logo.

2. Add the stones

Once the carton is thoroughly dry (I leave the paint to dry overnight) it’s time to layer the compartments with the grass growing substrate. I chose the four center cups for my mini grass holders. You may decide to space them out as you wish. Fill about 4 tiny stones into each carton cup. The reason why I use stones is to add weight and volume. Since I am not using soil, the rocks will provide the medium for the roots to take hold. I filled each cup with hemp plant food.

3. Soak the grow mats

Cut the grow mats to circles the size of the carton cup openings. Soak the grow mats for about 30 seconds, squeeze gently.

4. Place grow mats in carton cups

Place the grow mats over the stones and plant food layers. Make sure you have a somewhat even bed and trim if they’re too wide for the cups.

step 5 for how to make a grass food puzzle for your cat

5. Sow the cat grass seeds

Sprinkle a layer of cat grass seeds on top of the grow mats, ensuring even distribution. Do not overcrowd the seeds as this may contribute to mold growth during the germination phase. Spray the seeds with water.

6. Prepare for germination

With a screwdriver, carefully punch holes in the egg carton cover. Place the covered tray of grass seeds in a dark place. The holes will encourage air circulation and prevent mold during germination. The safest place in our house is on top of our fridge under a cupboard, away from kitty paws!

It will take about two days to see little roots and sprouts starting to form. During this phase check on the cat grass seeds a few times per day and keep the seeds moist by spraying constantly. Do not allow the seeds to dry out.

7. Bring the cat grass to light!

On day 3 the shoots will be about half an inch high. It’s now time to give it plenty of sunlight to green them up! Keep spraying the cat grass regularly with water while it’s busy sunbathing! Remember, this method of growing the cat grass without soil in a shallow tray can quickly dry up roots. So it’s essential that the cat grass is kept moist. Water and sunlight are two elements that yield a good crop of cat grass!

8. Bring the cat food puzzle to life

On day 5 or day 6 your cat grass tray will be ready to dress up as a fun food puzzle for kitties. Our cats love cat grass so much I had difficulty keeping them away from the cat grass while filling the individual cups with food.

If you’re anything like me, you may have a jar of plastic bread ties, milk cartons tops, or milk rings collected over the years, because ……. “recycling” right?! Before I recycle anything I always examine the object for possible future use for a cat DIY project!

Sprinkle a few pieces of kibble in each cup and hide them with cat toys such as foam balls or bread ties. The bread ties or milk rings act as ‘booby traps or obstacles, just to make the challenge more interesting. I also used little toy eggs that I made from last year’s Spring Oasis cat DIY project.

NOTE: Please always supervise your cat when offering tiny objects such as plastic toys. If your cat has pica, it’s best to keep plastic objects such as bread ties or milk rings out of reach of your cat for her own safety. Pica is the urge to consume non-edible items such as wool, plastic or cardboard.

curious tuxedo cat investigating DIY cat food puzzle
Sly Pie is always one of the first to investigate
cat food puzzle made from plastic egg cartons
use cat toys or other recyclable household items such as bread ties for the cat food puzzle
cute cat playing with diy puzzle feeder made from egg cartons and bread ties
It didn’t take long to figure it out
smart cats foraging for food at homemade puzzle feeder for cats
Scout has become a master food puzzler after a few sessions
curious cats gather around a homemade food puzzle
Three’s a crowd!
Ginger polydactyl cat foraging for food in puzzle feeder
Can Jimmy fit his polydactyl paws in? Yes, he can!
Surprisingly, Charlie goes for the cat grass.

Do you feed wet food? No problem!

What’s great about using these plastic egg cartons is that you can also offer wet food. The plastic carton can be washed after each feeding.

Please watch the video below to see how we have presented the cat grass food tray to our curious clowder. It’s just over two minutes long and shows how you can use both dry kibbles and wet food in the different egg carton compartments. Those kitty paws were really working it.

Now that Sly Pie is learning to slow down when eating, it also looks like he’s less worried about another cat stealing his food. Great! However, we’re still waiting patiently for him to close the last button on that waistcoat 🙂

Have you tried feeding your cats with food puzzles, homemade or bought? Please chirp in the comments below.

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About the author

The Lady Cat

Whiskers make me smile.
Coffee is good for you.
And cats are for life.
Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.
(Yasaar Nakchbendi)


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