Cats do not usually share territory, and doing so is generally a signal for the loss of control over their resources; this can be critical to a cat’s life in the wild, at least. Multiple indoor cats that live together, however, cannot help but feed in the same area’ Or can they?
About 52% of cat owners have more than one, and cats, like humans, have different personalities which can directly affect their eating habits and thus their health. If one of your cats is more dominant than the other, the less assertive one might not have as much to eat since they like to stay back when they’re uncomfortable waiting for the other to finish. On the same hand, the more dominant cat might want to keep all the ‘resources’ to themselves, causing them to eat much more than they should.
To be in complete control over your cat’s wellbeing, it is important not to ignore the challenges of giving all your cats a balanced diet suitable for the individual. There are a number of methods you can try that can help you achieve this below:
1. Create a feeding schedule
The first thing you can do to help all your cats get equal amounts of food, or at least enough food to maintain their health, is to create a feeding schedule instead of having bowls full of food out all the time.
You may think that an empty bowl means that all cats have eaten and are full, but this is not necessarily the case. A more dominant cat, for example, could have eaten more than his share causing the less dominant cat to not have enough. Creating a feeding schedule means you can monitor how much each cat eats individually.
If you practiced free feeding, you may notice your cats whining when you change to a schedule, but they will learn quickly. Actually, cats love routines and will quickly get used to the exact feeding times and where it takes place.
2. Use an automatic pet feeder
Of course you can buy a regular automatic pet feeder (i have a whole section dedicated to them) that can be programmed to dispense a certain amount of food at scheduled times, but this does not really help with making sure each cat gets to eat enough. Luckily, there are two automatic feeders that go step further and use RFID (radio frequency identification technology) tag collar, or microchip technology, in addition to programmable schedules.
The Wireless Whiskers feeder has two compartments: one that holds the food, and another that acts as a food tray with an automatically opening lid. When your cat is in range of the feeder, a reader will scan the collar and be able to recognize your cat and even call it by name. The Wireless Whiskers is self programming, meaning that it self adjusts portions based on how much your cat eats in 1 to 3 days. When your cat reaches its ideal amount, the flaps on top of the feeding compartment will close so they cannot eat more.
Another automatic pet feeder that will help each cat eat enough is the SureFeed. It works with either a collar tag or an internal microchip, and is very similar to the Wireless Whiskers feeder. To open the food tray compartment, your cat must place its head underneath the food in order for the unit to read its microchip. It is not programmable, but it does prevent other, bigger eaters from taking from your less assertive cat’s bowl since it is programmed to open based on your cat’s microchip.
3. Use different rooms
Separating your cats during feeding might be a less expensive (since you won’t have to buy an automatic feeder), albeit more time consuming alternative to ensure all your cats have enough to eat, but it is worth separating slower cats or cats with a special diet in another room. Measure out the correct amount of each of your cat’s food portions and put each in a separate bowl, putting them as far away from each other as possible (you can let your cats that are enthusiastic about eating enjoy feeding together), ideally in separate rooms with the doors closed. If it is not possible to separate your cats by doors, then you can simply monitor them closely during this time. Once the cat has finished, or has about 15 to 30 minutes to eat, remove the bowls then do this again roughly 12 hours later.
You could also separate your slow eating cat using a cat door in a wall, panel, or glass, and a microchip reader which will allow just that one cat in. This will allow your shy cat to eat in peace in the garage, terrace, laundry room, etc. There are also a number pet door styles to choose from so you don’t have to worry about it clashing with your d’cor or disrupting your space.
Another alternative that is worth trying, especially if you are low on space, is the high-low method which works best if you have 2 cats where one struggles to jump. You can pick up the cat that likes jumping and placing them by their food bowl which is higher than ground level. You will still need to keep an eye on them though, in case they still try to steal from the other’s bowl.
4. Consider acquiring a separating ‘device’
You might want to consider constructing a special box feeder for your shy cats out of wood, cages, or plastic containers and placing their food bowl inside. This is a great and easy alternative for people with multiple cats in a constricted space where you might not be able to separate all cats in different rooms. As with the pet door, you can install a selective electromagnetic reader that scans your cat’s RFID collar tag or internal microchip so the others can’t steal their food.
An alternative to actually constructing a feeding box is to use a cat carrier. This is especially useful if you are low on space and can’t facilitate feeding in separate room or even construct a box. Some have reported their cats really enjoying the carrier and even napping in afterwards.
5. Choose the right food
It is of extra concern when cats eat others’ food because some cats have different diets than others. A ‘balanced diet’ for one cat might not entail the same things as for another and depends on factors such as age, lifestyle, and health; what a kitten needs from their diet is much different from what an adult or senior cat requires for theirs.
Moreover, some cats are put on therapeutic diets which are designed to help with conditions and illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, obesity, allergies, liver disease, skin problems, lower urinary tract disease, hyperthyroidism, and gastrointestinal disorders, meaning that you will need to feed your cat a specific diet that is designed by your veterinary professional. It is not really a problem if a healthy cat eats another’s food that happens to be ‘therapeutic’, but it is definitely a problem if the situation is reversed. On this note, it may be worth considering feeding all of your cats the same food if one is on a therapeutic diet (to prevent mishaps) but keep in mind that this might not be ideal if multiple cats have different diets.
It is important to be active in monitoring your cats’ diets to see if one cat is eating less than the others. Not only will it help your less assertive cat eat the right amount for them, it helps prevent your more dominant cats from overeating. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that up to 54% of cats were either overweight or obese, making it one of the biggest concerns of household cats in the USA and it is directly related to overfeeding or lack of food.
Keeping food bowls out and topped off all the time might be the most convenient, easiest, and less time consuming way to feed multiple cats but you don’t end up taking an active role in observing your cats, and thus in preventing overeating and obesity. You should easily be able to tell if one of your cats is more dominant and if they are eating too much causing the less dominant cat to not have enough.
Monitoring your cat’s diet might also give you an insight to the state of their health as a change in appetite is usually an early symptom of feline illnesses. Overeating may signal the presence of diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism, while dental disorders, kidney disease, and other common conditions might cause less eating. When you keep your food bowls full throughout the day and let your cats eat whenever they like, you are not getting an accurate picture of exactly how much each cat is eating and if something is odd, which can then lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment, and even worse.