Cats prefer free food rather than working for it: Study

CatsCats as pet
Cats as pet

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine discovered that cats would rather eat from a tray of readily accessible food than solve a simple problem to obtain their meal. This shown that the majority of domestic cats prefer not to work for their food, a behaviour referred to as counter freeloading.

When given the choice between a free meal and completing a chore in exchange for a meal, cats will choose the meal that requires the least effort. While this may not surprise some cat lovers, it does surprise cat behaviourists. The majority of animals would rather work for their food than forage. Animal Cognition published the study.

“A large body of research demonstrates that the majority of species, including birds, rodents, wolves, primates, and even giraffes, prefer to work for their food,” said lead author Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviourist and research affiliate at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “What’s remarkable is that, among all these animals, cats appear to be the only ones with no strong proclivity for contra freeloading.”

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Delgado and co-authors Melissa Bain and Brandon Han of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine gave 17 cats with a food puzzle and a plate of food for the study. The problem provided the cats easy access to the food but necessitated some manipulation to obtain it. Several of the cats had even encountered food puzzles.

“It wasn’t that cats never used the food puzzle; rather, cats ate more food from the tray, spent more time at the tray, and approached and ate from the tray first,” Delgado explained.

Cats used in the study were fitted with activity monitors. Even more active cats picked the readily available food, the study discovered. Delgado stated that the study should not be interpreted as an endorsement of food riddles. She stated that just because they dislike it does not mean they dislike it. Delgado’s prior study indicates that puzzles might be an essential source of enrichment for cats.

It is also unknown why cats prefer to freeload. Delgado speculated that the food riddles employed in the study may have had little effect on their natural hunting behaviour, which often includes ambushing their victim.

Maddie’s Fund and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded the research.

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