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Updated August 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best interactive cat feeders

Feeding your cat a healthy, nutritious diet is important, but are you serving up that kibble correctly? Studies show that cats are healthier and happier when they have to work for their food (and unfortunately, meowing for a top-up doesn't count). By combining mealtime with play, interactive cat feeders can help bring some much-needed mental and physical stimulation to the dinner table.

Interactive cat feeders, also known as puzzle feeders, come in a host of shapes and sizes, but they all share a common goal: to enrich the lives of indoor cats by giving them an opportunity to "work" for their food. This can be as simple as pushing a ball around until it releases kibble or as complex as moving panels on a box to gain access to food.

However, not every interactive cat feeder is a good fit for every cat. If you need help finding the best option for your feline friend,  our guide will clue you in on everything from food compatibility to choosing an appropriate difficulty level.

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Research shows that providing cats with an outlet for their natural hunting and foraging instincts can help reduce negative behaviors such as aggression, attention seeking, house-soiling, and over-grooming.

Key considerations

Types of interactive cat feeders

Interactive cat feeders are available in a mind-boggling array of configurations. Regardless of shape, size, or complexity, most can be sorted into two categories: mobile feeders and stationary feeders.

Mobile interactive cat feeders

Mobile feeders are usually balls or tubes that need to be swatted at, rolled, or pushed around to release food. If you're looking for a way to get your cat up and moving, a mobile interactive feeder is an excellent choice.

Stationary interactive cat feeders

Stationary feeders remain in one place while your cat navigates nooks and crannies, pulls or pushes panels, or tips treat-filled tubes. Slow feed cat bowls, feeding trees or towers, and puzzle boxes all qualify as stationary interactive cat feeders.

Difficulty level

For an interactive cat feeder to catch and hold your cat's attention, it needs to present an appropriate challenge. Too simple, and your kitty could miss out on key benefits like mental and physical stimulation. Too complex, and your cat might just decide to give up all together. Starting out with a relatively easy option is a great way to help indoor cats gain a bit of "hunting" confidence, but that doesn't mean you should limit your feline friend to simple feeders only. Introducing more complex food puzzles once the basics have been mastered or choosing a model that offers varying levels of difficulty is a great way to keep cats interested.

Food compatibility

The vast majority of interactive cat feeders are designed to be used with dry cat food and treats, but some may work with wet food as well. If your cat simply can't be motivated by anything other than wet food, try interactive cat feeders with shallower compartments or wells that don't require cats to fish out food with their paws.

Size and weight

Size

Interactive cat feeders come in a variety of sizes. If you have more than one cat, it's a good idea to choose a larger model so your feline family can "hunt" together. If sibling rivalry is a problem, you can avoid squabbles by purchasing more than one interactive feeder (or a multipack of mobile feeders) and placing them in different parts of your home.

Weight

Weight is only a concern if you're considering an interactive feeding tree or tower. While there's nothing wrong with cats pushing a box or board-style feeder around on the floor (some actually enjoy it), taller structures are likely to come crashing down if they aren't well anchored. If you're interested in an interactive cat feeder with a vertical design, a sturdy weighted base will help prevent clever kitties from simply knocking the structure over to score an easy meal.

Construction materials

Interactive cat feeders are generally made from cardboard, plastic, or wood.

Cardboard

While it might seem like an unlikely choice for a feeder, many cats are crazy for cardboard, and models made from this material may hold extra appeal for fussy felines. These interactive cat feeders tend to be relatively inexpensive, making them a great starter option. However, replacement costs can quickly add up when clever kitties or chronic cardboard chewers figure out that tearing the feeder grants them easy access to food. It's also worth noting that cardboard feeders can only be used with dry food.

Plastic

Interactive cat feeders made from plastic are generally quite sturdy and easy to clean. Most models can be washed with soapy water, and those with shallow wells and compartments can often accommodate wet food as well. For your cat's health and your own peace of mind, be sure to stick with feeders that are made of quality, BPA-free plastics.

Wood

If you're trying to move away from plastics and cardboard just won't do, a wooden interactive cat feeder might be worth considering. Wooden feeders tend to be strong and durable, and because most are heavier than plastic or cardboard models, they're less likely to slide around while your cat "catches" his dinner. On the downside, wooden feeders can be harder to come by, and they aren't usually the best option for wet food, either.

Interactive cat feeders can help overweight felines lose weight by slowing their eating pace and encouraging physical activity.

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Features

Multiple levels

As we've mentioned, some interactive cat feeders come with multiple levels that present varying degrees of difficulty. Not only do feeders with multiple levels encourage felines to keep improving their problem-solving skills, but they also eliminate the need for pet parents to purchase more challenging models later on. These can also be ideal for multi-cat households where some cats may have more advanced skill sets than others.

Added interest

A handful of interactive cat feeders come with built-in toys, like pom-pom topped antennas, to help entice particularly lazy or stubborn felines. These are usually found on ball- or egg-shaped mobile feeders that typically work best for a single cat.

Non-skid base

Large plastic interactive cat feeders can make quite a racket (and mess!) when pushed or pulled across hard flooring. Models that come with a non-skid base are more likely to stay put and remain upright while cats poke, prod, push, and pull to get to their food.

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Did You Know?
A fairly recent scientific review highlighting the benefits of using puzzle feeders for indoor cats has been published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, leading more and more veterinarians to recommend interactive cat feeders to pet parents.
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Accessories

Lick mat: LickiMat Casper Lick Mat
Lick mats are designed specifically for wet or raw cat food and can help slow your cat's eating pace. If your cat's diet consists mainly of wet food and your primary goal is to help Fluffy lose a few pounds, a lick mat can be particularly useful.

Interactive cat toys: Catit Design Senses Super Roller Circuit
Interactive cat toys, like ball tracks, give cats a safe and appropriate outlet for excess energy and encourage exercise in a way that's fun and engaging.

Interactive cat feeder prices

Inexpensive: Most interactive cat feeders are relatively inexpensive. Ball-shaped mobile feeders and slow-feed bowls generally start at $5 to $10.

Mid-range: For $10 to $20, you'll find a wide variety of options, ranging from mobile feeders to puzzle boxes and boards.

Expensive: Large interactive cat feeders and feeding trees or towers can cost anywhere from $20 to $30 and over.

Environmental enrichment can help indoor cats live healthier, happier lives. Any pet accessory that provides a safe outlet for your cat's natural instincts counts as an environmental enrichment device. This includes items like interactive cat feeders, toys, cat trees, scratch posts, and litter boxes.

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Tips

  • Don't cut your cat's regular meals off completely. When introducing an interactive feeder for the first time, it's a good idea to continue to serve a portion of your cat's daily food allowance in a regular bowl.
  • Get your cat off to a good start. Keeping things as easy as possible at first will help your cat gain confidence and reduce the chance of rejection. Start with a clear feeder or one with plenty of holes so your cat can see and smell their food. If your feeder offers multiple levels, remember to stick to simpler settings/games until your kitty has mastered the basics.
  • Combine mobile feeders with stationary feeders. Placing a stationary feeder in your cat's regular dining area and planting a few mobile cat feeders around your home will provide extra opportunities for your feline to hone those hunting and problem-solving skills.
  • Try something different. If your cat's regular food doesn't motivate them to eat from an interactive feeder, try spicing things up by using treats or freeze dried cat food instead.
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If your cat has a medical condition that limits mobility or affects eating, it's a good idea to consult your vet before introducing an interactive cat feeder.

FAQ

Q. How should I clean an interactive cat feeder that can't be washed?

A. The best method for cleaning any interactive cat feeder can usually be found in the manufacturer care instructions. With that in mind, if you're still unsure or the instructions are unclear, a thorough wipe with a damp cloth should do the trick. Follow up with a dry cloth to remove any excess moisture and remember to pay extra attention to corners and crevices.

Q. Can senior cats use interactive cat feeders?

A. Absolutely! Interactive cat feeders are suitable for all felines, both young and old. An interactive cat feeder can help add some fun and enrichment to your senior cat's life and, as long as they don’t have any serious health problems, it's likely to do them a world of good.

Q. What should I do if my cat refuses to eat from an interactive cat feeder?

A. While some cats take to using an interactive feeder rather quickly, others might need some convincing. Sprinkling a little kibble on and around the feeder can help encourage your cat to investigate. If your cat's regular fare doesn't spark any curiosity, try using treats instead. If this doesn't work, you might want to consider trying a different type of feeder or a slow-feed bowl instead.

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