Unlike many animals, domesticated cats have fully embraced their royalty-like status in the home. Researchers say they were surprised to discover that when given the option, cats prefer to get their meals for free rather than working for them, seemingly confirming the lazy stereotype associated with felines.
The new study comes from the University of California – Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where behaviorists found that the majority of domesticated cats aren’t inclined to “contrafreeload” — a term for a preference toward working for a meal. This is in contrast to most animals, which are contrafreeloaders (they prefer to work for their food).
This likely isn’t a surprise to cat owners who may have had less than stellar success with puzzle cat feeders and treat toys. The preference makes cats unique among other animals like rodents, birds, primates and such, at least when it comes to feeding behavior.
The research involved 17 cats, a food puzzle, and a freely available tray of food. Though cats could easily see the food in the puzzle feeder, they would have had to exert some effort to knock the kibble free.
Even in cases where cats had previously experienced using the puzzle feeder, the researchers found they were more likely to turn to the tray of freely available food first and to eat more food from the tray. The reason for this preference isn’t known, though the researchers said the puzzle may not have been stimulating enough for the cats to care.
That’s not to say that cats are overall lazy — the ones used in the study wore activity monitors and even the most active cats still turned to the freely available tray of food. Beyond that, puzzle feeders remain an option in instances where, for example, owners need to reduce the amount of food their cats eat or force them to eat slower.