A study at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found the when presented with a tray of food and a food puzzle, most cats preferred to eat from the tray of food.

cat eating from plate and dinner table
Credit: Sharon Dominick / Getty Images

Humans aren't the only animals who delight in free food; cats love getting chow in exchange for nothing too.

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, published in the journal Animal Cognition, has found that cats prefer to get free meals over working for their food.

While this may seem like a no-brainer to some, researchers say the results are surprising because many animals, including other pets, enjoying performing tasks to get food — an act known as "contrafreeloading," according to the study.

Working with a group of 17 domesticated cats, researchers presented the felines with an easily accessible tray of food and a simple-to-solve food puzzle. They found that most of the cats opted for the tray, even those with food puzzle experience.

"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," the study's lead author, Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist and research affiliate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a release from the school. "What's surprising is out of all these species, cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload."

"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," he added.

Delgado and his co-authors Melissa Bain and Brandon Han don't believe laziness is behind the results because the researchers monitored all feline participants' activity levels. Even many of the most active cats of the group opted for the easier-to-obtain food source.

Why cats of this study preferred to freeload instead of contrafreeload is unclear. Researchers believe the type of food puzzle used could've affected results since the puzzle did not mimic every cat's natural hunting behaviors.


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