Enrich Feeding Time for Your Cat. Make a Puzzle Feeder.

The active pursuit of food is instinctive for cats. A great way to appeal to your cat's desire for physical and mental stimulation during feeding is through the use of a puzzle feeder.

Some puzzle feeders are ball- or tube-shaped and release bits of kibble when rolled just the right way. Some have sliders that move to reveal hidden compartments where you stash the food. Others have silos of different heights to add complexity to the hunt. 

While these feeders come in all shapes and sizes, they operate on a similar premise: each challenges your cat to work for her food.

Many members of our Facebook community showed an interest in puzzle feeders, but expressed some concern about the cost of versions available in stores. So we set out to design some DIY versions that are cheap and easy to build at home.

Our experts explore ideas

Sandra and Jill, cat behaviorists from our expert team, along with Stephen and Jacob from Purina's industrial design team, got together in the Purina 2T Innovation Center in St. Louis, Missouri, to see what they could build with a collection of common household items.

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The criteria: the feeders had to be made of low-cost items, and easily adaptable in order to increase the level of challenge for your cat.

Here's how you can make the team's favorite.

Wheel

What you need:

1. A round food container, like for margarine or sour cream or cream cheese, or a similar sized plastic storage container - preferably with a screw-on lid. To be safe, don't use PVC-based containers.

2. A strong, non-toxic glue.

3. An X-ACTO or utility knife. (Please use under adult supervision.) 

How to make it:

1. Make sure your container is completely clean and sanitized.

2. Use an X-ACTO or utility knife to cut a few small holes in the sides of the container that are large enough for a piece of kibble to pass through.

3. Next, glue an additional lid to the bottom of the container that is slightly larger in diameter. This will alter the way that the feeder rolls and adds variety to the experience for your cat.

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Bottle

What you need:

1. A plastic water or soda bottle (8 - 24 ounce size).

2. An X-ACTO or utility knife. (Please use under adult supervision.)

How to make it:

1. Make sure your bottle is completely clean and sanitized.

2. Use an X-ACTO or utility knife to cut a few small holes in the sides of the container that are large enough for kibble to pass through.

3. Place some kibble in the bottle, screw on the cap and let your cat get to work.

bottle puzzle feeder

Egg

What you need:

1. A small- or medium-sized plastic holiday egg.

2. An X-ACTO or utility knife. (Please use under adult supervision.)

How to make it:

1. Make sure your holiday egg is completely clean and sanitized.

2. Cut a couple of holes in the top and bottom section of the holiday egg using the X-ACTO or utility knife.  

3. Next, trim away any remnant plastic so the opening is as free as can be.

4. Place some kibble inside the holiday egg, reassemble it and give it a test before rolling it out for play. Widen the holes as needed to ensure kibble can pass through.

egg puzzle feeder

Reach Box Feeder

What you need:

1. A sturdy shoebox. 

2. Three or more plastic water or soda bottles (8 -24 ounce size).

3. An X-ACTO or utility knife. (Please use under adult supervision.)

4. Duct tape or a non-toxic glue, just in case.

How to make it: 

1. Make sure your bottles are completely clean and sanitized.

2. Use your X-ACTO or utility knife to cleanly cut the tops off each of the bottles. Vary the height at which you make the cuts in order to make things more challenging for your cat - easy, medium or difficult. 

3. Next, trace around one of the water bottles on the top of the box. Repeat it in different locations on the box top - one for each bottle.

4. Use the X-ACTO or utility knife to cut holes in the box top. If you cut the hole slightly smaller than the border you traced, the narrow bands in the plastic bottle will help hold it in place without having to be glued or taped. 

5.  Set the box so the bottle opening from the top and place some kibble inside each bottle. This way, your cat has to reach down and scoop the food out. Or you can set it on its side so your cat has to reach in to pull the food towards her. Each provides a different experience for your cat.

Box puzzle feeder

Turtle

Try this one created by our friend Alexandre at Aikiou, maker of the Stimulo feeding station and other smart interactive feeders for cats and dogs.

What you need:

An empty egg carton
Non-toxic white glue
Scissors
Pencil
Crayons or non-toxic, water-based paint
Four (4) binder clips

How to make it:

1. Cut one egg cup from the bottom of the egg carton. This will form the shell of your turtle feeder. 

2. Place the egg cup adjacent to the spacer bump on the reverse side of the top of the egg carton. Trace around the perimeter and outline the contour of the spacer. This will form the head of the turtle as well as a base to keep the kibble inside the “shell.”

3. Cut the lid following the outline you’ve made. 

4. Apply glue around the edge of the egg cup.

5. Clamp the two pieces together using the four binder clips. Allow adequate time for the glue to set.

6. Use the crayons or non-toxic water-based paint to decorate your turtle.

7. Fill the turtle feeder with kibble and let your cat bat it about to get her reward. 

DIY cat feeder turtle

Mouse

We brought this one to the Maker Faire in New York City, September 21-22, 2013. Try it for yourself by downloading the pattern and printing it on cardstock.

What you need:

A piece of twine, cut to 5"
Scissors
Double-sided tape
A print-out of the pattern

How to make it:

1. Cut out all solid black lines.

2. Fold in "B" tabs.

3. Fold dotted "C" line in same direction as "B"

4. Push open end of twin tail through "D" slot until the knotted end hits the body. Tie the open end of twine into a know.

5. With the ear pieced, fold in a shadded gray area from "e" and slide into "E" and then unfold tabs out.

6. Apply double side tape over the shadded area on "A."

7. Fold "A" up onto the "B" tabs and stick together.

8. Decorate!

9. Pour small amount of kibble in the center hole on the topside of mouse. Now your cat is ready to play.

DIY mouse feeder

Get creative for your cat.

A couple of things to note before you get to building. First off, puzzle feeders are meant to be supervised activities. You shouldn’t leave your cat unattended. Lastly, it’s OK if your invention doesn’t hold up forever. Cats prefer variety, so it’s a success even if your cat uses the feeder for a week. If that’s the case, give it a break, try to devise a new iteration, and add to the variety.

We challenge you to give these a try, or put your own spin on a feeder for your cat.

Just be sure to share your experience with our Purina ONE® Cats community on Facebook.