solutions for feeding cats with different dietary needs
Q: I have three cats and one kitten. Two of the cats are overweight, but they don't eat a lot at one time. How do I feed four cats so that all of them are getting enough food? They eat out of each other’s bowls.
Q: I have three cats, aged 4, 3 and 2. The 2-year-old is very overweight, while the other cats are very lean. Is there any way to put her on a diet without starving the others?
These are very common questions for vets. It is always difficult when you are dealing with multiple cats, especially because it is likely that at least one cat is overweight. Difficulties also arise with age differences, because adult food is not nutritionally adequate for kittens, and geriatric cats often have conditions requiring special diets that are not appropriate for all the cats in the house.
Establish meal times
The easiest way to address feeding multiple cats is to feed them all twice a day. Too often, dry food is left down all day while the owner is at work. Many cats cannot control themselves and will snack on this dry food buffet all day, leading to obesity. In reality, cats do really well with twice–daily feedings, either with a measured amount of dry food or canned food (though my particular preference is for canned).
Establishing the habit of “meal time” allows you to either supervise feeding, making sure that each cat eats his or her own food, or allows for you to feed each cat their own food in their own room. Allow them to eat for 10 minutes or so, and then go check on their progress. If they are still eating, allow them to finish. If they have lost interest in the food, pick it up. This lets them know that meal time is over.
Other ideas that can help
While you are trying to train your cats to get used to scheduled feedings, here are some other ideas to tide you all over:
- Place the slim cat’s food up high in a place that the fatter cat can’t jump to. This does not always prove successful, as fat cats seem to become extra motivated by the challenge of finding a housemate’s food.
- Consider installing cat doors that require a microchipped collar to go through. The cat who wears the collar will be the only one allowed through the door, making separate feedings a little easier.
- For kittens, cut a kitten-sized hole in a cardboard box in which you’ve placed the food. The kitten can fit through the hole and chow down, while the adult cats are forced to only observe because they cannot fit. Similarly, place a baby gate a few inches above ground level, allowing the kitten to crawl under to get to her food, but keeping the adult cats out.
Obese cats need calorie restriction, but cats at healthy weights will also need adequate caloric intake. Talk to your veterinarian about the nutritional needs of your multiple cats, and then get busy adapting them to twice-daily feedings.