When given the choice between a free meal and performing a task for a meal,cats would prefer the meal that doesn’t require much effort. While that mightnot come as a surprise to some cat lovers, it does to cat behaviorists. Mostanimals prefer to work for their food — a behavior called contrafreeloading.

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, School ofVeterinary Medicine showed most domestic cats choose not to contrafreeload.The study found that cats would rather eat from a tray of easily availablefood rather than work out a simple puzzle to get their food.

“There is an entire body of research that shows that most species includingbirds, rodents, wolves, primates — even giraffes — prefer to work for theirfood,” said lead author Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist and researchaffiliate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “What’s surprising is outof all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strongtendency to contrafreeload.”

In the study, Delgado, along with co-authors Melissa Bain and Brandon Han ofthe UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, provided 17 cats a food puzzle anda tray of food. The puzzle allowed the cats to easily see the food butrequired some manipulation to extract it. Some of the cats even had foodpuzzle experience.

“It wasn’t that cats never used the food puzzle, but cats ate more food fromthe tray, spent more time at the tray and made more first choices to approachand eat from the tray rather than the puzzle,” said Delgado.

Cats aren’t just lazy

Cats that were part of the study wore activity monitors. The study found thateven cats that were more active still chose the freely available food. Delgadosaid the study should not be taken as a dismissal of food puzzles. She saidjust because they don’t prefer it, doesn’t mean they don’t like it. Delgado’sprevious research shows puzzles can be an important enrichment activity forcats.

Why cats prefer to freeload is also unclear. Delgado said the food puzzlesused in the study may not have stimulated their natural hunting behavior,which usually involves ambushing their prey.

The study was published in the journal Animal Cognition. The research wassupported by Maddie’s Fund and the National Center for Advancing TranslationalSciences.

Source: Amy Quinton

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