For a long time I wasn’t a fan of automatic feeders for cats. Even now, I prefer the connection and positive associations that come with a guardian delivering food for their cat.
In saying that, I’ve started to change my views on this in recent times, especially where a cat auto feeder may help in some circumstances, of which there are a few (I’ll get into that soon).
In the last couple of years I’ve begun to suggest auto feeders at times to clients who are dealing with specific cat behaviour issues, with great results!
So what do I mean by auto feeder? Basically it’s a food delivery system that doesn’t require the guardian (except for setup). Simply, it’s an automatic feeder for cats!
There are 2 main types: gravity-fed, and portion-controlled (and there are some gravity fed, portion controlled ones too!).
The simple gravity fed ones require filling up and that’s it. As you cat eats, more food falls from the reservoir into the bowl.
Gravity fed (not portion controlled) autofeeders can be used with cats who are able to self regulate their food intake (i.e. those that are used to free feeding without going overboard). They aren’t really good for those cats who won’t stop until every morsel of food is gone.
The timed, portion controlled, feeders on the other hand can be used for timed meals, and are handy for guardians whose cats are fed on a timed basis.
Despite my reluctance in the past, there are a number of circumstances where an automatic feeder can actually be a good investment.
There are a few circumstances where an auto feeder may not actually work
If you’ve decided that your circumstances would benefit from trying an auto feeder, there are a couple of things I’d ask you to consider before buying:
The main, and most important, thing to do if you’ve purchased an auto feeder, is make sure you test it thoroughly before you need it. Don’t wait until the morning you’re leaving for the night before pulling it out.
You need to test that (a) it works, (b) is reliable, and (c) the cat actually uses it.
In fact, if you go on holiday or are absent semi-regularly, I would use it every day and make it part of the normal daily routine. This way your cat gets used to it and it’s not a routine change when you’re absent, which can cause stress. If you like, you can still hand feed one meal a day to maintain that connection and positive association.
Whenever I go away on holiday, I have a pet sitter that I use who is trustworthy and reliable, but unfortunately works shifts. This means that meal times aren’t as consistent as I (or Max, my house panther) would like them to be (3x day). Cats are highly sensitive to routine and environment changes, and me being absent is a large environmental change in itself so I’d rather food timing to be as consistent as possible.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, I’ve recently had some great success with suggesting auto feeders for clients so I thought I’d follow my own advice and see if it’s something that could work. My main concern was that Max eats a primarily wet diet.
I purchased a CatMate C500 from Amazon, based on the fact that it can be preprogrammed for 4 different times, whether that’s each day, or once a day, 4 times in a row. Plus it had excellent reviews.
A few weeks before my next absence, I began to feed Max an air-dried meat food that I know he likes, via the auto feeder. I set it for 4pm each day, and filled up a couple of day’s worth of meals to see how it would work without my intervention for a few days.
Well, it didn’t skip a beat. At exactly 4pm each day, it made a ‘whirr->click’ sound which Max quickly started to recognise as a cue for food! Not only did the auto feeder work as advertised, Max also began to stop ‘reminding’ me at 3:45pm each day that it was almost meal-time. Instead, he’d hang around the kitchen where the auto feeder was stationed.
And to top it off, the pet-sitter reported that it was very easy to use, and Max’s 4pm meal was never interrupted for the 2 weeks I was away.
I hope that explains when, why and how cat automatic feeders can be an excellent addition to a household, but also when it may not be such a good idea.
Do you use auto feeders? Tell us why in the comments!