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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Will NOT work for food

Cats Prefer Freely Available Food over Food that Requires Effort, Study Says

By Science News Staff / Source

When tested, many animals will work for food when similar food is freely available, a phenomenon known as contrafreeloading.

In a new study published in the journal Animal Cognition, a team of cat behaviorists tested for the first time whether domestic cats (Felis catus) living in homes would contrafreeload; the authors did not find strong evidence for contrafreeloading; instead, cats preferred to eat the food that was freely available with no required additional effort.

“Contrafreeloading is the willingness of animals to work for food when equivalent food is freely available,” said Dr. Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist in the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, and Feline Minds, and her colleagues.

“This behavior is observed in various captive and companion species, including wild or domesticated animals housed in sanctuaries, zoos, laboratories and homes.”

“Species tested include humans, chimpanzees, macaques, chickens, jungle fowl, pigeons, grizzly bears, maned wolves, rats, giraffes, and pigs.”

“However, previous research found that six laboratory cats failed to contrafreeload.”

“We hypothesized that cats would contrafreeload in the home environment when given a choice between a food puzzle and a tray of similar size and shape,” they said.

“We also hypothesized that more active cats would be more likely to contrafreeload.”

In the study, the researchers provided 17 domestic cats 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,” Dr. Delgado said.

Cats that were part of the study wore activity monitors. The study found that even cats that were more active still chose the freely available food.

“Our study should not be taken as a dismissal of food puzzles,” Dr. Delgado said.

“Just because they don’t prefer it, doesn’t mean they don’t like it.”

“Why cats prefer to freeload is also unclear,” she added.

“The food puzzles used in the study may not have stimulated their natural hunting behavior, which usually involves ambushing their prey.”


M.M. Delgado et al. Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort. Anim Cogn, published online July 26, 2021; doi: 10.1007/s10071-021-01530-3