I became a pet owner for the first time nearly 35 years ago, when my cousin’s cat had a litter of the cutest kittens I had ever seen, and I refused to go home until my parents agreed to let me have one. It was about two weeks later that Sunshine, my orange-and-white tabby, joined our family.
Since she was “my” cat, I was in charge of feeding her, and that meant creating a chart to ensure that I was giving her enough food and water throughout the day. Basically, it was a big poster board with three boxes listed under each day, and I was responsible for making sure no box went unchecked.
Feeding her did become a chore at times — especially those days I wanted to play ball all day or spend the weekend at the aforementioned cousin’s house; but I wheeled and dealed with my sister to make those events happen.
Automatic Feeder Advantages
Fast forward a few decades: My house recently welcomed Butterscotch, another darling tabby — this time for my daughters to call their own. Heading to the pet store to buy supplies for his arrival, I was somewhat surprised at all of the different automatic feeders that were available to help pet owners feed their cats.
What I learned was that automatic pet feeders, depending on how sophisticated they are, can offer numerous advantages for cats. The more advanced ones coming to market now can be a big help with proper portions, and make it easy to feed cats multiple times per day, including when you are away from home.
My initial research showed that there are basically two types of feeders to consider. One works on a timer. You simply set the time you want the food to be delivered, and your cat can access the food at the prescribed time. The other type utilizes a medallion that affixes to your cat’s collar. When a pet approaches the feeder while wearing the medallion, it triggers a latch to release so the pet is able to access the food.
Jeff Werber, DVM, an Emmy Award-winning and nationally recognized veterinarian based in Los Angeles, California, says cats seem to associate the feeding process a lot more with the owner than dogs do; therefore, using an automated feeder can cut back on the begging and pining away for food that most cats do.
Automatic feeders also can help in a multicat household in which one cat is an over-eater, Werber notes.
“If you have multiple cats and one is a gorger, you should use the timer-type feeder for the gorger, so the meals will be limited, and the medallion type for the non-gorger,” he says. “This way, your cat can approach and eat whenever he or she wants, since we’re not worried about overeating. There may be some residual food that the gorger will gobble, but that’s not too terrible.”
If you have a cat who is not a gorger, Werber says you probably don’t need an automatic feeder for routine feedings.
Selecting An Automatic Feeder
Since Butterscotch was new to our family, I wasn’t certain what sort of eater he was yet, but I knew I wanted to get one of these automated feeders to make life simpler for my kids. Plus, because we frequently go away for the weekend, I had to take that into account.
I knew that some cats could be left alone with a few days of food left out without there being a problem, but I was worried that Butterscotch would eat it all in one day. For that reason, I chose to go with a timer-type automatic feeder.
The person I talked with at the pet store seemed pretty knowledgeable about the different feeders and warned that some of the models weren’t as sturdy as others and could easily be knocked over by a curious cat. Plus, many models only handled dry food, so if I wanted to include wet food in the feeding equation, I would need to get a higher-priced feeder.
Luckily, in today’s Internet age, there were plenty of online reviews available for a few of the models he recommended, and I was able to choose the automatic feeder that I thought would be best for my cat’s needs — a combo pack that featured both a food and water dispenser.
Not every feeder is right for every pet owner, so be sure to make a list of the features you want most and research brands and products online before you make a choice.
If your cat is like mine, the sound of the automated feeder will be music to your pet’s ears. Today, feeding Butterscotch is a cinch. My kids can program three individually sized meals a day, and it even lets us serve meals on demand. Now, if we leave the house for an extended period of time, we know he is in good “hands” and eating healthy.