Food management for cats - FAQs
1) My cat wakes me up earlier and earlier for breakfast - what can I do?
The problem: Cats are very good at making an association between related events. You get out of bed and give the cat breakfast first thing in the morning. They recognize the connection between the two events, so when they're hungry they'll try to manipulate you into getting out of bed earlier so they can get fed earlier.
Prevention: Don't give the cats their food right away when you get up in the morning - wait until you're about to leave for the day so they don't make the association in the first place. The potential downside of this is not knowing how well cats are eating until you get home - this could be an issue especially for cats with medical problems like Chronic Kidney Disease and Diabetes.
Low-tech solution: Just stop giving them food when you first get out of bed, and/or don't give them any access to your bedroom while you're in bed. Sleep with earplugs in. Make the evening meal a bedtime event to tide them over better until the delayed breakfast time.The begging behavior should gradually extinguish itself.
Gizmo Solution: If it's too late for prevention, you can get yourself out of this loop by getting a timed, automatic feeder and setting it to open for their breakfast before they would normally start pestering you in the morning. Most cats will quickly make the new association and identify the feeder itself as the food source and leave you alone to finish your night's sleep. There are lots of options available when you shop for these feeders - from the simple, inexpensive to the extremely sophisticated, programmable Perfect Petfeeder from Pillar Pet Products in Fall City, Washington, with many other options in between.
2) I have one cat who grazes slowly throughout the day, and another one who eats like a wolf. So the first cat is always skinny and the other one is overweight and still gaining. Is there a better, but easy, way to distribute the food?
The problem: When one cat in a group eats too much, it's difficult to prevent them from gaining weight without the other cats losing weight.
If you reduce everybody's food portion it's likely that the skinny cats will get skinnier, and the overweight cat may or may not lose any weight since they'll probably eat the others' food. You'll need to reduce the overweight cat's access to food while maintaining access for the skinny cats for this work out well for everyone.
Prevention: Don't give a group of cats unrestricted access to unlimited dry food - it is the perfect set-up for creating obese cats who are at risk for developing Diabetes. It is better to give cats individual measured meals and to monitor their body weights so you can adjust the portions if body weight starts to climb.
Low-tech solution: Play hall-monitor until the cats are done eating, or feed each cat alone in a separate room with the doors closed until everybody is finished eating. Try to find food the slow eater likes more and eats more rapidly. If the over-eater is obese and can't jump up onto counters, you can put the other's food up where they can't get to it.
Gizmo solution: Use a feeding station to give the thin cat free access to food while also preventing the overeater from getting into the extra food source. The thin cat gets into the feeding station food whenever they want, but the heavy cat is strictly limited to whatever food is out in the house at large. You can buy a MeowSpace feeding station, or create your own by inserting a selective pet door into a plastic storage bin, a cage, a construction of your own design, or a door into a closed room. The options for selective pet doors are numerous and include magnet doors, RFID doors, and microchip-detecting doors. The first two require the selected cat to wear a collar with a "key" on its collar to be allowed through the door, while a microchip-detecting door removes the need for any collar to be worn.
Here are a few examples of feeding station setups for cats, some homemade, some commercially available:
3) I have two cats who need completely different diets. How do I make sure that they don't eat each others food?
The problem: Medical problems sometimes require a change in diet, which is not a big problem if you only have one single cat. However, the more cats there are in a household the greater the chances that different cats will need different foods. In some circumstances the separation of foods should be absolute. If one cat needs low protein food (e.g. for chronic kidney disease) and the other needs high protein food (e.g.. for diabetes), or one needs an acidifying diet (for struvite urinary stones) and the other needs an alkalinizing diet (for calcium oxalate stones) how do you keep the right foods available but only to the right cats?
Prevention: The risk of some chronic medical problems can be reduced with regular Veterinary health care.For example, for a condition like diabetes, regular wellness exams can identify cats that are at risk for the disease, and lead to preventative steps, and if its too late for that, early detection increases the chances that good control with insulin can lead to remission.
Low-tech solution: Feed them in separate bowls and play hall monitor while the cats eat, or feed the cats in separate rooms with the doors closed. If you have slow grazers this may amount to the cats living separate lives.
Gizmo solution: Set up multiple feeding stations with each cat having access only to their own food, and not the others. Obviously, you'll need to remember which cat is fed in which station in order to put the right food in the right place. See feeding station and selective pet door examples above.
4) My cat eats too fast and vomits or regurgitates the food right back up within a few minutes. What can I do?
(note: Vomiting and regurgitation have many potential causes, one of which may be eating too rapidly. Because a delay in diagnosing the cause can lead to serious, negative consequences, any cat who is vomiting or regurgitating repeatedly should be evaluated by a Veterinarian before proceeding with the fixes offered below.) (Another note: here is a very good description of the difference between vomiting and regurgitating.)
The problem: Often cats may ingest their food too quickly and then vomit or regurgitate it right back up within a few minutes. This wastes food, dirties the floor and can lead to a vicious cycle of vomiting, hunger, overeating, and more vomiting. Another advantage of making cats eat slower is that, as with humans, eating slower usually means eating less.
Prevention: The prevention is similar to the treatment: smaller meals and find a way to slow down the eating rate.
Low-tech solutions: Feed smaller meals. Put two or three golf balls on top of the dry food to slow down the ingestion. Elevate the food six to seven inches off the floor so the cats have to sit more vertically while eating. Set up numerous food bowls around the house with a very small meal in each one - this has the added benefit of making the cat walk around the house to find the next meal.
Some automatic feeders can be programmed to dispense many small meals each day. Use one of the feeding systems below to slow the cats down by making them work at acquiring the food. The activity board concept (see the Trixie Activity Center) could be homemade if you're a do-it-yourself person.
Here we offer tips on a few common dilemmas involving the feeding of cats and controlling who gets which food and how much. Most of the particular answers here involve the use of gadgets and gizmo's, but there are also the old-fashioned, low-tech solutions, which are generally more hands-on and more time consuming.
A homemade feeding station
using a cage and a magnetic
Two stations made from plastic
A unique homemade feeding station.
MeowSpace feeding station - one cat has access and the other one doesn't.
Here are some of the many selective cat doors available that could be used to control access to food: