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Challenges in Feeding Multiple Cats

Multiple cats bring a lot of joy to a household. But they can also bring some challenges in feeding. Most multi-cat families have more than one cat. Many over 2 or 3. Different nutritional needs, feeding styles, and cat politics can make mealtimes a struggle. Whatever the situation, timed meal feeding with individual feeding stations rather than the bottomless food bowl is the best approach to feeding multiple cats.


Challenges of Feeding Multiple Cats

The most common challenges are a situation where one cat is overweight and needs a diet but the others do not; one cat needs a specific diet; or a life stage difference; and resource guarding.

Related Post: Click to read more about Living with Multiple Cats

The overweight cat

Like people, cats develop weight problems for a variety of reasons, but overeating is the usual answer. We humans overfeed our cats and they’re happy to eat what we dish up. The bottomless food bowl feeding multiple cats is one reason cats get fat. It’s convenient for us, but not so great for Kitty.

Different dietary requirements

This is a common occurrence in multi-cat households. One kitty develops a health issue like urinary tract disease or diabetes that requires a special diet or needs medication that they take in their food. Life stage can be a factor too. If the food you feed is not an all life stages food, your new kitten is going to need to eat a separate food.

Different feeding styles

Many cats prefer to eat alone. These cats are stressed if we expect them to eat near their roommates. While they wait for their turn at a bowl, another cat may decide a second helping sounds good and eat up the solitary eater’s food and her own. 

A cat that is a slow grazer loses out to the hoover cat that inhales her food in seconds, too.

An anxious cat, or jealous cat, has to taste test all the bowls to make sure his roommates aren’t getting something better than what he has.

Related Post: Tips for Creating Harmony in Your Multi-Cat Household

Resource guarding 

A common feeding station sparks a common resource guarding behavior. Kitty may guard his own bowl or all the bowls. Conflict among cats is often subtle. You may not see it if you aren’t looking for it. You’re probably dealing with resource guarding if you have a Kitty that needs to eat first while his roommates sit waiting for their turn or one cat that won’t come in the kitchen if the bully cat is eating.

Can You Free Feed Multiple Cats?

You can if they can all be on the same food and no one is pigging out while starving a friend. I have done this in the past when Treeno needed to be on a sensitive stomach formula. It was easier to just switch them all to that food. The only thing it hurt was my wallet.

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It’s really not the best choice, though. You have no way of monitoring who is eating and how much. Suddenly you realize one cat has gotten skinny. Turns out he has a health issue and wasn’t eating. Or you pick up your young cat and realize she has gotten obese.

Be sure you watch your cats mealtimes for awhile before you decide this is working. Free feeding not only leads to obesity, but can also contribute to resource guarding if one cat decides there might not be enough food to go around. 

Feeding Multiple Cats at the Same Time

Creating Individual feeding stations for your cats may solve the problem if you’re dealing with a resource guarding situation. Put food and water out in several places throughout your house. A cat can’t guard multiple eating spaces. 

Sometimes it is enough just to feed them on opposite sides of the room or feed your agile younger cat on a counter that your tubby tabby can’t jump to reach. Each cat needs to be assigned a section and they need to respect each other’s space. Obviously, these methods won’t work with a free feeding approach. You will need to switch to a timed meal feeding system.

How to Meal Feed Multiple Cats

Meal feeding can take time getting used to if Kitty is used to having food around all the time. It’s harder for us than for them. Ignore the piteous cries and pleading eyes.

Create a daily timed feeding schedule. Calculate the amount of calories each cat should eat, divided into the number of meals you choose to feed the cats. Living wild, a cat will eat 8-10 times a day. You can provide multiple small meals like that if you work from home, but for people who work a 9-5 or go to school can have happy healthy kitties on 3 meals a day. 

Don’t get hung up on “lunch”. Kitty’s 3 meals don’t have to look like our food schedule. Feed him when you leave for work, when you get home from work, and right before you go to bed. Choose a time when you can be consistent about feeding. Kitty will set her internal clock and show up at mealtime. 

How to Transition Multiple Cats from Free Feeding to Timed Meals

As Nike says, just do it. There’s no need for a transition like you do with other types of food changes. Each cat needs her own bowl. Put out her food. Give all the cats 30 minutes and pick up the bowls. Don’t put them back until the next scheduled meal.

If some of your cats will eat their roommates’ food, you must split them up. If they won’t eat alone, you’ll need to monitor them. You want to make sure that your cats are getting enough food. A cat that doesn’t take in enough calories can get fatty liver disease.

If your cats are die hard grazers, add a few puzzle feeders throughout the house.

Automatic Feeders for Feeding Multiple Cat Families

Automatic cat feeders can be the solution for some issues faced by multiple cat families. If you know you can’t be consistent with that after work meal, timed feeders can be the answer. They’ll pop at the set time and your kitties will still get their dinner while you work your overtime. 

A microchip feeder is great for feeding an overweight cat or dealing with special diets. The feeder reads Kitty’s microchip or collar and will only open when the right cat approaches and will close when he leaves. Each cat will need a portion control bowl to make this work.

Chipped feeders also help with resource guarding. Your food aggressive cat will learn that he gets nothing out of guarding. The other cat’s feeder won’t open for him, and will close if he chases his roommate away.

These feeders run on batteries. If you use an automatic feeder when you travel, be sure you have replaced the batteries before you leave.

Interactive Feeders for Multiple Cat Households

Food puzzles are a great way to slow down your speed eaters or scarf and barf cats. Recent science shows that cats are opportunistic feeders and prefer to help themselves from a never ending bowl of food. Food puzzles will only work if we fed the hoover cats solo.

Buyers’ Guide

Best automatic cat feeder for multiple cat families

Catmate Automatic Feeder

This reasonably priced feeder is on a timer, not a microchip. So it will pop for Kitty’s dinner even if you aren’t there. But it will not stop one cat from eating the food in both bowls. The timer isn’t super precise, so you’ll have to decide if that will work for your application. I have used this style of feeders when I used to work 12-hour days. And several of my cat sitting clients use it as well. It has ice packs to keep wet or raw food cool. You can purchase stainless replacement bowls if the plastic bothers your cat. 

SureFlap Feeder

The SureFlap Feeder is the most commonly used programmable feeder. It is great for applications where Kitty needs a special diet or for portion control. It is fairly easy to program. You can use it with either dry or wet food. The feeder can read your cats’ microchips or you can use the paired RFID collar if your kitties aren’t chipped yet. You can purchase stainless bowls for this feeder as well. 

If you like the SureFlap feeder concept but have multiple cats, try upgrading to the SureFlap Feeder connected version. You’ll also need a hub which controls up to 10 devices. With the app on your phone, you can get a lot of helpful information on your kitties’ feeding behavior. Great for prescription diets and portion control. The feeder has a scale that will perfectly calculate the amount of food that Kitty should be getting.

PortionPro Rx

If you feed kibble, this might work for you. Developed by a vet, this smart feeding system has some outstanding features. 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 if your cat with a dietary restriction approaches, the feeder will close. In default “closed” mode, the door is closed all the time until a cat with the right tag comes near, and closes again when they walk away. This is great to restrict special diet food to only one cat. This feeder is the most similar to the never-ending food bowl concept.

Favorite interactive puzzles.

Trixie Interactive Treat Dispenser: 

This is good for slowing down your scarf-and-barf food inhalers. Also, because it has multiple outlets for the food to come down, multiple cats can use it at once. It will not stop resource guarding, a real bully can guard the whole thing. 

Petsafe Slimcat Feeder Ball

I have clients who love this feeder toy. My cats don’t like it. I think the treats don’t fall out fast enough for them. They are also primarily wet food fed, so they only get treats in this. My clients who use it are dry food fed, so possibly more motivated to get to their breakfast.

All for Paws Treat Maze

There are a variety of this style puzzle on the market. I just happen to like this one. Kitty has to work to get her treats out of a variety of challenges. Another option to add interest to snack time between meals for the grazers that really can’t wait. 

Trixie Puzzle Box

Again, there are several brands and many styles of these puzzles. I have used this one personally. My cats can solve most of these pretty easily, but they have fun with it. And different cats like different parts of the game so they can share. Not for meal feeding if you have over 1 or 2 cats, but good for treats. You could also put out several puzzles for a meal service as long as each cat has one to work on. You would definitely have to monitor this.


Feeding cats in a multiple cat household

How to Feed Different Diets in a Multiple Cat Household: Eight Quick Tips

Multiple Cats, Different Eating Habits: 8 Tips on Feeding Them

Feeding Multiple Cats Separately Is Easy

Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort – Animal Cognition

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