When given the choice between a free meal and performing a task for a meal, your feline friends would prefer the meal that doesn’t require much effort, finds a study.
Most animals prefer to work for their food — a behaviour called contrafreeloading.
But, the new study from researchers at the University of California-Davis showed that most domestic cats choose not to contrafreeload.
The team found that cats would rather eat from a tray of easily available food rather than work out a simple puzzle to get their food.
“There is an entire body of research that shows that most species including birds, rodents, wolves, primates, even giraffes, prefer to work for their food,” said lead author Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviourist and research affiliate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
“What’s surprising is out of all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload,” Delgado added.
In the study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, the team provided 17 cats with a food puzzle and a tray of food. The puzzle allowed the cats to easily see the food but required some manipulation to extract it. Some of the cats even had food puzzle experience.
“It wasn’t that cats never used the food puzzle, but cats ate more food from the tray, spent more time at the tray and made more first choices to approach and eat from the tray rather than the puzzle,” said Delgado.
The study also found that even cats that were more active still chose the freely available food. Delgado said the study should not be taken as a dismissal of food puzzles. She said just because they don’t prefer it, doesn’t mean they don’t like it.
Why cats prefer to freeload is also unclear. Delgado said the food puzzles used in the study may not have stimulated their natural hunting behaviour, which usually involves ambushing their prey.