Puzzle Games for Cats - What They Are, Why They are Used, How to Use

Published: 5/13/2021
Wondering what all the buzz around puzzle games is all about? These unique toys boast pawtastic benefits for our furry companions, but are they right for your cat?

Puzzle games encourage your cat to problem-solve during play for a yummy reward. Most puzzle games feature areas to hide treats or food which your furry feline can retrieve by figuring out the puzzle. Sometimes this is by moving doors or latches, but there are lots of variations on the idea which can keep them guessing.

Your cat may already have a toy wand, some fabric mice and balls, or even some catnip toys, but puzzle games can add a whole new dimension to playtime that is fun, exciting, and healthy! Let’s take a look at how they can help your cat.

Why Use a Puzzle Game?

Cats are hunters by nature, and no matter how domestic and lazy they may seem, their instinct to hunt is always there. In the wild, cats can sleep from 16 to 20 hours a day, and then use all that stored up energy in their few waking hours to hunt. Eating food given to them in a bowl just doesn’t fill the need they have to stalk and take down prey, or use up that energy. This lack of mental and physical stimulation indoors can then lead to boredom and behavioral issues.

Some cats will use that pent up energy in destructive ways, such as clawing the furniture or being aggressive with other pets. But boredom can also bring neurotic behaviors like overgrooming or overeating. Your cat simply needs something to do, and sometimes regular toys just aren’t enough.

Puzzle games fill that gap by giving cats a challenge that can simulate the kind of mental and physical work they would do in the wild. Trying to retrieve a treat from a puzzle game uses their time and energy in the pursuit of food, makes them think about how to obtain it, and works their body while trying different things. These games can also slow eating down for cats who are overweight or eat too fast, and can keep their minds sharp to reduce their risk of developing cognitive dysfunction syndrome as they age.  

How to Use Puzzle Games With Your Cat

You can use a puzzle game in two ways: as a boredom buster or to change bad eating habits.

When trying to alleviate boredom and relieve that pent up energy, using your cat’s furvorite treats is the best way to keep them interested and working to solve that puzzle. Just be sure that their treats only make up 10% of their entire calorie intake for the day. You can set out a treat-filled puzzle game when your cat seems most hyper, when you leave the house to keep them busy while you are gone, or at any time of the day or night.

If you are using a puzzle game to curb bad eating habits, fill it with their dry kibble at meal times and let them work for that food. For fast eaters, this will slow them down so that they don’t choke or throw up their food, and for overeaters and obese felines, they’ll be able to lose some calories as they eat. And if your cat is simply stress-eating, a puzzle game can help with that too. 

Types of Puzzle Games

Puzzle games come in lots of varieties, and vary in levels from beginner to expert. Start with a beginner game and supervise your cat while playing. While you want your cat to figure out the puzzle on their own, you can give them a hint if they just don’t seem to get it. Once they figure out the game, get a more advanced one for them to tackle.

Trying to reduce their calories? Simply swap out the treats for toys. If your cat doesn’t take to one type of game, try another kind for a different challenge that might be more to your kitty’s taste, or DIY your own games for unique ways to keep your cat engaged.

Different kinds of games include:

  • Puzzle and Activity Boards - Games like the Petstages Buggin’ Out Puzzle and Play Cat Toy feature holes for treats that are covered with flaps or doors your cat will have to move to get the treat. Difficulty is increased by adding two things that need to be moved, and some also involve latches, levers and balls such as with the Trixie Brain Mover Activity Strategy Game.
  • Puzzle Boxes - These fun boxes, like the SmartCat Peek-A-Prize Toy Box, feature holes that your cat can use to get to the treats or toys inside, and may also have obstacles or mazes to make it more challenging. The Petstages Grass Patch Hunting Box even features fake grass to simulate the outdoors.
  • Food Mazes - Whether the Catit Senses Food Tree or Catit Play Treat Puzzle, these flat or tall mazes offer a different challenge that force your cat to work their reward through the maze or out of textured or tunneled areas to get it out.
  • Treat Rugs - Similar to snuffle rugs for dogs, Ripple Rugs are formed in hard ripples or waves that provide a sturdier surface for kitty claws. Holes allow your cat to forage for the hidden treats.
  • Other Games - Some puzzle games can be simpler and pawfect for true beginners. Your cat can tip over test tubes for their reward in the Trixie Mad Scientist Strategy game, or dig a treat out of a cup with the Catit Senses Cat Digger. 

Give your cat something new to meow about with a puzzle game, and enjoy the contented purrs of a happy feline! Play on!