Lazy’ cats would rather get a free meal than have to work for their food, study says

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If you thought your cat was lazy, chances are, you’re probably right.

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis has found that most cats, unlike most mammals, would rather eat a free meal than put out effort to eat, a behavior known contrafreeloading.

Researchers at the university looked at 17 different, domestic, neutered cats (including ones who had previous experience with a food puzzle) who were presented with a food puzzle and a tray of food.

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Cats, unlike most mammals, would rather eat a free meal than put in effort to eat, according to a new study

Cats, unlike most mammals, would rather eat a free meal than put in effort to eat, according to a new study

Four cats put effort into getting the food out of the puzzle. Five cats showed ‘weak contrafreeloading tendencies,’ while eight did not contrafreeload at all.

The food puzzle let the cats see the food, but it required effort to get it out. 

‘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 the study’s lead author, Mikel Delgado, in a statement.  

‘What’s surprising is out of all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload.’  

17 domestic, neutered cats were presented with a food puzzle and a tray of food. Four cats tried to get the food out of the puzzle, 5 showed 'weak contrafreeloading tendencies' and 8 did not contrafreeload at all

17 domestic, neutered cats were presented with a food puzzle and a tray of food. Four cats tried to get the food out of the puzzle, 5 showed ‘weak contrafreeloading tendencies’ and 8 did not contrafreeload at all

Unlike cats, most species including birds, wolves and primates, prefer to work for their food

Unlike cats, most species including birds, wolves and primates, prefer to work for their food 

Delgado continued: ‘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.’  

The concept of contrafreeloading has been observed in a number of different animal species, including dogs, goats, mice and even birds.

Even primates have been known to contrafreeload for their food, as some experts suggest it gives them information on their surroundings and environment. 

All 17 cats wore activity monitors throughout the study, but what surprised the researchers is that those cats that were seen as more active than others, still largely picked the free food than those that wanted to work for it.

It's unclear why cats freeload for their food, but it may be because some cats prefer to use natural hunting instincts

It’s unclear why cats freeload for their food, but it may be because some cats prefer to use natural hunting instincts

‘Cats who consumed more food from the puzzle, consumed more food in general, suggesting a relationship between hunger and effort,’ the authors wrote in the study. 

While it’s clear that many cats, like your crazy second cousin, prefer to freeload, however, it’s unclear why they do so.

Food puzzles have been used in the past and some cats prefer to use their instincts to ambush their prey, utilizing their natural hunting instincts, Delgado, who is a cat behaviorist and research affiliate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, added.  

The study was published last month in the journal Animal Cognition

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