Some cats need to eat more, some less. Some might have a special diet. Some might be grazers, while others like to hoover their food up all at once.
Regardless of your particular combination of kitty eating needs or styles, it’s important to know how to approach meal time with multiple cats so that every cat gets enough to eat, but not too much; and eats what they’re supposed to eat, but not what they’re not. If you’ve ever had to juggle different types of foods or quantities of food for multiple cats, you’ve probably felt the stress that comes with it.
Good news, though! You’re not alone, and the trials and tribulations we here at Preventive Vet, as well as other cat owners, have endured means that we’ve got some good tips and even different feeding and “feeder” options that can help you de-complicate your multi-kitty meal time. Won’t that be nice!
Let’s start with the different feeders that can help you more easily regulate which cat gets access to which food:
Automatic Feeders That Can Be Used to Only Allow Specific Cats Access
These feeders are great if you’ve got to keep one of your cats away from a certain food… say, a cat with a diagnosed food allergy. You can also get a separate feeder for each cat to make sure they only have access to their specific food — both the type and amount. Just program the feeders to open for the microchip or RFID tag that the cat is wearing.
- SureFlap Feeder — The SureFlap Feeder (inset photo) is a smart pet feeder that works either with your pets' microchip or a special paired RFID collar. It's easy to program and can be used with either dry or wet food! (That wet food part is a big added bonus! I'm a big fan of all cats, but especially male cats (because of urethral obstruction), eating wet food, at least predominantly.) One of our team members uses this one and loves it. Click here to read her review below.
- PortionPro Rx — This veterinarian-developed smart feeding system has some great features and attributes that make it a fantastic solution to the problem of feeding individual pets in multi-pet households. To start with, you can program the feeder to either be in default "open" mode, or default "closed" mode.
If it's in default "open," the door is always open and any unapproved pets (tags) that come near will trigger the door to close so that those unapproved pets cannot steal food from the feeder. The door will open again once the unapproved pets walk away. In default "closed" mode, the door is closed all the time until an approved pet comes near, and closes again when they walk away.
The PortionPro Rx system works on active RFID technology, meaning that it can sense the approved and unapproved pets' tags from a further distance than regular passive RFID tags. (The active RFID nature of this system does pose a pet danger though, especially for dogs. To achieve active RFID transmission, the tag is operated by a button- or disc-type battery. Should a pet ever eat one of these tags, the battery within can cause some (very) significant burns of the pet's esophagus or stomach, depending on where it gets stuck.)
Since the inventor of the PortionPro Rx is a veterinarian, the company went so far as to undertake a study to see if their feeder could help overweight cats in multi-pet homes achieve important weight loss. The study was conducted in 100 homes, and in fact 90% of the pets achieved desired weight loss! That's great news! This feeder option is a fair bit more spendy than the option above, but then obesity and the secondary complications that can arise from it (like diabetes, chronic skin problems, and more painful arthritis) aren't exactly cheap.
Meowspace Feeder — This fully enclosed and secure feeding space is controlled by your pet's microchip, so no additional tags or other tools are needed. Just program the feeder to unlock only when a particular pet is around. Have multiple pets you'd want to have access to this enclosure—like if you're using it to keep the litter box away from the family dog (or toddler)? Just program the unit to unlock for each of your cat's microchips. Easy! Pets not microchipped? No problem! At least as far as the Meowspace is concerned, because you can purchase their special magnetic collars that will also unlock the door to allow access.
(Note: While the Meowspace doesn't have a problem if your pets aren't microchipped, you and your pets may! Microchips are a great and permanent form of identification for pets, and they 100% help to reunite lost pets faster and thus help save lives! Please, talk to your vet about having your pets microchipped, if they aren't already.)
The Meowspace is nice because it's fully enclosed and may provide your cat the comfort and security of not being attacked or bullied while they're eating. Of course, some cats may feel threatened and stressed even if another pet (or toddler) is staring at them while they're in there, and some cats may be reluctant to enter such an enclosed and confined space for fear that it might be difficult for them to get out if another pet is blocking their exit or laying in wait for them.
Low-Tech Ways to Manage Multiple Menus for Cats
“Smart feeders” and food puzzles can come in handy and help in many situations, but sometimes they’re not affordable or don’t quite do enough to solve the problem you’re dealing with. Thankfully there are a few “low-tech” tricks you can try to keep your kitties eating only what (and how much) they should.
- Place one food bowl up high: Got a less sprightly, overweight, or arthritic cat that needs to be on a diet, or a specific weight loss or joint support food to help with their condition? Try putting the other cats’ food on a counter, shelf, or other elevated surface. This will allow more-agile cats to get at their food, while restricting your overweight or arthritic cat to their own food down on ground level.
- Feed separately: If placing one food dish up high isn’t an option, or won’t work, you can feed each cat in a separate, closed room. You can also feed each cat in his or her own cat carrier (which can also help them learn to love their carrier— as you’re associating it with something great and fun… food). Or you can try dividing your main “feeding room” with a baby gate or other barrier during meals. These “feed separately” options are (along with feeding from one of the food puzzles linked above) often the easiest and most effective ways to deal with a “food bully” or food aggressive cat in a multi-cat household. Here are a few great cat carrier and baby gate options if you don’t have multiple rooms to spare.
- Stand guard: It’s not ideal, but it works. If you don’t have the option to easily feed your cats separately, you can still keep their food bowls as far apart as possible, and take a seat somewhere nearby where you can watch and calmly interfere (don’t punish) if one cat is going to steal from the other. Of course, you’ll have to do meal feeding (as opposed to “free feeding” or “grazing”) for this to be effective. Thankfully, I usually recommend meal feeding for cats anyway – see why you should think twice about letting your cat free-feed.
SureFeed Microchip Small Dog & Cat Feeder Review
By LeeAnna and her three cats
The SureFeed Microchip Feeder is a perfect feeding solution for houses with multiple pets — preventing them from eating each other's food and providing a sense of security that their food will still be there when they come back for it. The feeder scans for a microchip (or the included RFID collar tag) and opens when thelinked pet approaches, and closes when they walk away. The bowl can hold both wet and dry food, making it simple to feed your pets the food they should be eating.This feeder is battery powered and designed for cats and small dogs!
"I've had 3 feeders for nearly a year and they've turned feeding my cats from a source of stress to a once-a-day pleasure."
Why did I buy this product?
I purchased this product hoping to solve a few problems. I have three cats, two of whom are on pricey prescription food that wasn't necessary for the third. Those same two cats are also former strays who, even after years as house cats with regular access to food, were still very much food-obsessed. They would gulp down any food put in front of them and were genuinely stressed if they didn't have regular access to food throughout the day.
I needed an option that would keep them from eating each other's food and, hopefully over time, eliminate their anxiety around running out of food.
Overall, I give the SureFeed 4.9 out of 5 stars because it is such a wonderful product. I've had three feeders for nearly a year and they've turned feeding my cats from a source of stress to a once-a-day pleasure. They work exactly as described. My tentative cats adjusted almost immediately to using the feeders. I've had no issues.
The SureFeed is sturdy, easy to clean and has always worked perfectly. Batteries last a very long time, and a handy red light flashes as they start to wear down, giving you plenty of advance notice to swap them out before they die completely. I was concerned my cats might be able to force open the lid. But it closes securely.
They’ve never gotten into each other’s food. During feeding, the lid folds up and in half, but can be unlocked and fully opened for easy cleaning with a damp cloth. The bowls (it comes with two) are also removable for easy hand washing. The lip around the top helps ensure a tight seal when the SureFeed flap is closed, keeping out flies and other pests.
Value for money:
Yes, the SureFeed Microchip Feeder is expensive. But if feeding time is a source of stress or if you have more than one animal and need to manage their individual food intake, it's absolutely worth the investment. It can also save you money if, like me, you have some pets on costly food that the others don't need. Being able to feed each cat their specific diet without worrying about them trying to eat each other's food is a great benefit. It can also be a money-saver if you have dogs who get into the cat’s food or vice versa.
The SureFeed comes with these accessories in the box:
- Two bowls — One large bowl, and one split (for wet and dry food or food and water)
- RFID collar tag — Great for pets that aren't microchipped yet or those whose microchip is located a little too far back to easily trigger the door! This upped the value for money factor, since I didn't need to purchase these accessories in addition to the feeder.
There are no safety issues with this product. The only moving part is the lid, which isn't powerful enough to cause injury if it were to malfunction. No small parts that can be ingested. The battery compartments are securely located on the bottom of the feeder.
The SureFeed is fairly sustainable, as it uses your pet's existing microchip to function. And with the way it's made, it will last a long time. My feeders have been in constant use for a year, with no damage or signs of wear and tear. And the bowls have been washed many times with no deterioration. I have every reason to believe this product will last a very long time and produces no waste (beyond the original packaging), which I love.
Easy to use:
While the SureFeed comes with a large instruction manual, it's actually extremely simple to use. Set up is a breeze, as is cleaning and refilling. Programming the feeder was very simple – I pressed a button on the back of the feeder when my cat was close to pair their microchip to the feeder.
I have very cautious cats who learned how to use the feeder in a matter of days. They quickly understood which feeder was theirs and learned not to even bother with the others because they wouldn’t be able to get into them.
"Set up is a breeze, as is cleaning and refilling."
What I love about this product:
I believe SureFeed is the reason my cats are no longer food obsessed, devouring everything in their bowl within minutes and freaking out if they went more than a few hours without access to food. No amount of training or regular feeding schedules helped. Day and night, they were focused on their next meal. However, within a week or two using SureFeed, we were down to filling their bowls once a day, with the amount of daily food directed by our vet.
They finally felt secure their food would still be there when they came back, because they knew no one else could get to it. As former strays, they had to eat when and where they found food and couldn’t count on coming back for more later. That must have stuck with them. It wasn’t until I was able to eliminate that fear that they were able to stop worrying about eating. An automatic feeder has been a serious life-changer for us.
What I don't like about the product:
My only small complaint, which may not be relevant for all animals, is that the feeder sits low on the floor. The design includes a platform/tray in front of the food bowl. I have my SureFeeders sitting on a small wooden box so my cats can eat in a more upright position. The feeder has non-slip strips on the bottom to keep it from sliding, but the platform makes it difficult for my smaller cat to reach over the platform/tray to get to the food. She has to keep her back legs on the ground and front feet on the platform. Even so, I wouldn't trade my SureFeed for anything!
Would I purchase this again?
I would definitely purchase the SureFeed Microchip Feeder again and recommend it to anyone who has to manage multiple pets or special diets. It’s a great example of technology evolving to make life a little simpler. This feeder gave my cats the food security they were lacking and me a full night’s sleep for the first time since I adopted by furry foodies.
Feeding multiple cats different diets (or amounts) can be trying and tricky. I hope that some of the suggestions and tricks provided above will be of use for you, as they have been for others. I’d love to hear of any other tips, tricks, or tools you’ve got for feeding different foods in a multi-cat home. Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.