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Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort - corrected data

Citation

Delgado, Mikel; Han, Brandon (Sang Gyu); Bain, Melissa (2021), Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort - corrected data, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.25338/B8GG92

Abstract

Contrafreeloading is the willingness of animals to work for food when equivalent food is freely available. This behavior is observed in laboratory, domesticated, and captive animals. 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. We also hypothesized that more active cats would be more likely to contrafreeload.

We assessed the behavior of 17 neutered, indoor domestic cats (Felis catus) when presented with both a food puzzle and a tray across ten 30-minute trials. Each cat wore an activity tracker, and all sessions were video recorded. Cats ate more food from the free feed tray than the puzzle (t(16) = 6.77, p < 0.001). Cats made more first choices to approach and eat from the tray. There was no relationship between activity and contrafreeloading, and there was no effect of sex, age, or previous food puzzle experience on contrafreeloading.

Our results suggest that cats do not show strong tendencies to contrafreeload in the home environment, although some cats (N = 4) ate most food offered in the puzzle or showed weak contrafreeloading tendencies (N = 5). Eight cats did not contrafreeload. Cats who consumed more food from the puzzle, consumed more food in general, suggesting a relationship between hunger and effort.  Further research is required to understand why domestic cats, unlike other tested species, do not show a strong preference to work for food.

Methods

This data is from an observational study of cats; it includes data recorded by cat owners, as logged on an activity tracker worn by the cats, and from video data of the cats.

Usage Notes

Data includes:

demographics related to the cats (age, sex)

the amount of food cats ate from two sources (food puzzle, tray) across 10 trials

activity as measured by an activity tracker (Fitbark)

choices made to approach and eat from the two food sources for 10 trials

amount of time spent at the two food sources for 10 trials