When you talk feline statistics, there are reputed to be 45.3 million cat-owning households collectively owning some 95.6 million felines in the United States. And, according to the 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey published by the American Pet Products Association, many of those cat owners report owning 2.11 cats per household.
Yes, statistics can be odd when attributed this way! But it brings to light the fact that there are a large number of multicat households. If you are one of these households, then you know feeding multiple cats has its challenges. Some cats are finicky about tastes and textures. Others have weight, dietary and medical issues that require special foods. This can turn feeding time into a circus.
Like most cat owners, I have always free-fed. This works well with kibble, which can stand out for a day and not go rancid. But free-feeding is really only suitable in multicat households where all cats eat the same food and somehow manage to only eat what they need. That’s a scenario in a perfect world, right?
One way to try and control what each cat eats is to place the food bowls in different locations, taking into account each cat’s favorite place.
I have a friend with three cats. Her ginger tabby likes to eat on top of the refrigerator. Her silver tabby likes to eat on the mantelpiece in her bedroom. For the third cat, the smallest of them all, she built an enclosed feeding box with a hole only big enough for the little kitty to access her meals.
Somehow — probably because cats are territorial — they all got the message that they had their own feeding stations, and very rarely do they nibble from one another’s bowls. Besides, the two bigger ones can’t get into the little one’s “kitchen.”
Such enclosed feeding stations are available from numerous pet stores and online suppliers. But my friend simply made her own by taking a square cardboard box, cutting the hole in the side and covering the box with carpet tiles so that it looks like a piece of furniture in the room.
Recently, my cat Fudge was put on a totally different food to diet as a preventative health measure. This introduced a new set of problems because both of my cats are nibblers — and are used to nibbling all day and all night for that matter.
They can still free-feed, my veterinarian said. But instead of leaving the food out all day, I put out the food only during fixed hours and separate the cats during that time frame so that they only have access to their own food.
This is no easy feat. It takes patience! I take Fudge upstairs in the evenings for two hours and keep her sequestered with her own food bowl. Initially she resisted. But eventually, when she got hungry, she realized her food bowl was only going to be available for a certain number of hours a day. And the same applied to my other cat, Ziggy, in another part of the house.
I think it’s a fact of life that in multicat households, at some point, the cats, whether there are two of them or more, are going to be on different diets.
It’s probably a very good idea from the moment you bring cats into your home to give them fixed meal times. This way, you’ll know they have eaten not only what has been allocated to them but also that they ate the food meant for them, too.
Still, you can’t always be there to watch over your cats as they eat. Most automated feeders won’t work in multicat households because when they dispense, any cat can step up and eat. However, there are some sensor-controlled feeders that open up only for pets wearing a special tag.
This is a great solution to feeding multicat households. These feeders are not cheap, but they’re probably worth the investment. Ensuring your cats are eating food that is best for their health needs will likely mean less money spent on trips to the vet.