Feeding your cats different diets can be challenging. Maybe only one cat gets kitten food. Or one cat gets medication mixed into their food. Or they eat different amounts. Or one cat will eat all of the food. Or you have dogs or other pets or children who try to get into the cat food.
A great part of being a professional cat sitter is that I get to see how all of my clients set up their pets’ things, and how they solve problems. I’m always impressed with the ingenuity. People are so creative and inventive! If cats are fed different foods, there are a few common approaches:
- Feed them in separate rooms. Often one cat gets banished to eat in the bathroom, and unhappily meows until they are let out again. Sometimes one or both of the cats refuse to eat when separated, so you are all held hostage until both finish their food.
- Feed them in different areas. The idea is that if you put enough space between the cats, you can catch and correct one if they meander over to the other cat’s food. Either on opposite sides of a room, or one cat eats on the counter or shelf and one cat eats on the floor. This also requires attention and time from the person, and doesn’t work if one or both want to graze throughout the day.
- Just watch them like a hawk and correct them every time they try to eat the other’s food. Most cats are great at only eating from their special dish, but every cat eats at different speeds and then moves onto their friend’s food next. Or they congenially switch bowls for a taste of the other’s when you don’t want them to.
But thankfully, there’s another solution, and that is the microchip pet feeder.
I have two very different cats who now have different diets. Ethel, my elderly 18-year old sweetheart, started a hypoallergenic diet last month.
Ethel loves to eat, and has always wolfed down her food, even though most of her teeth were extracted years ago. But a few months ago she started losing weight, amongst her other health issues, and then didn’t seem to like the hypoallergenic food as much as her old food. Instead of finishing her food within seconds, she would daintily graze throughout the day and night. It took her all day to finish her portion of dry food and 30 minutes or so to finish her wet food. Meanwhile, Olaf, a robust 8-year old cat, has no problem inhaling his food and then going to inhale whatever other food is around, too. Not only is the hypoallergenic food not appropriate for him, but it is also one of the most – if not the most – expensive cat food there is. More expensive than raw food, than boutique cat foods like Orijen and Acana, or Wellness. So if he doesn’t have to eat it, I don’t want to feed it to him.
I started feeding Ethel small portions on demand to encourage her to gain weight. This annoyed Olaf, who didn’t understand why Ethel got so much food all the time when he only got fed twice a day. Both were shelter cats, and they do not self-regulate their food portions. If you put out twice as much food for them, they will cheerfully eat it all right away… then probably vomit it back up, or gain undesirable weight. This added work annoyed me, because while I love my cats, I have a business to run and family to take care of and I can’t tie myself down to feeding one of two cats 8 tiny portions of food every day when she cries for more. I have clients who do this, as there are some who believe cats should eat many mouse-sized portions of food each day instead of one or two big portions. But these clients work from home and enjoy bonding with their cats in this way, whereas I am often out doing my cat sitting rounds. It just doesn’t fit my lifestyle.
I first saw ads for the Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder in my Facebook feed. It seemed like one of those gimmicky, impractical, silly gadgets people with too much money on their hands get. It looked too small for a cat to comfortably use, and I thought it would surely break down quickly and end up in a corner somewhere. It’s plastic. And what if you buy it and your cat doesn’t like it? But the idea started to grow on me, and I started checking out buying one online. Alas, it did not go on sale for Amazon Prime Day. But I did encounter it in a client’s home, which helped me decide how it would work for me.
The Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder can be programmed with your cat’s microchip, or with RFID tags that are included in the packaging. A microchip is a small device that is implanted into your pet to help identify them if they are lost. Shelters and veterinarian’s offices can scan the microchip, and retrieve the owner’s contact information to help reunite pet and owner. I strongly recommend all cat owners to microchip their pets and to keep their contact info current. It is relatively inexpensive to do it, and if your cat ever escapes or goes missing, you’ll have a greater chance of getting them back.
To program this feeder, you don’t even need the microchip ID numbers, which was a HUGE relief. All you have to do is press a button, encourage your cat to hover close to the feeder so it can learn the cat’s microchip, and that’s it! The flap covering the food bowl will only open for this one cat’s chip, and will close after they have moved away.
The feeder has a cover flap that opens and closes. This can help keep wet food moist during the day, and possibly help keep out flies. It can keep out other pets who might want to eat the food. The feeder comes with two bowls, one of which is divided so you can put wet food one one side and dry on the other. Or two different foods in either one.
In my research, I learned that there is a rear cover for the microchip feeder, which is sold separately. Without the rear cover, another cat can sneak food by poking their head through the other side of the feeder while it is open. The rear cover prevents this. One of my clients constructs elaborate cardboard and book obstacle courses and blinders for their feeders to try to solve this problem. I read a review that said they keep their feeder in a cardboard box with a hole in the top to make it even more inaccessible to other cats.
The feeder was available on amazon.ca, but the rear cover was not. I emailed and then called the Surefeed office in the USA to order one. I tried ordering the feeder and rear cover on wholesale to reduce costs, but unfortunately, they said they weren’t accepting applications from Canada at this time. Aw, shucks. They have excellent, friendly customer service. When 11 days had rolled by and I hadn’t yet received my rear cover (I had been told it only takes a few days to receive), they immediately sent me another one free of charge. Of course, I ended up receiving the rear cover later than day, and now will have a second, which they told me to keep. Which means I might have to buy a second microchip feeder to go with it. I only bought one due to the expense, but two would be fine, as well, so Ethel doesn’t try snacking on Olaf’s food, too.
I think the feeder works well. The product is easy to assemble and operate. It comes in attractive packaging. It looks sturdy enough and well-made and comes with a 3-year warranty. My 4-year old can operate it. There is a training feature to help your cat adapt to the cover opening and closing, but timid Ethel immediately worked the feeder and had no trouble using it right away without a learning curve. There is a quiet noise when the cover opens and closes, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. She loves being able to nibble food throughout the day and night whenever she wants. She is less demanding in the morning. Instead of her urgent “wake up now! I’m starving here! wake up! wake up! wake up!” voice, she sounds more like “soooooo, when can I expect you to wake up? I kind of want to get a move on my day here.” She’s gained about a pound already, which is great.
The feeder is a good size for cats. Ethel is averaged sized and about 8.5-lbs underweight, and Olaf is a lanky 13 lbs. The height is fine. I prefer using a wide, shallow dish for cat food to prevent whisker fatigue – cats have to suck in their sensitive whiskers to eat from narrow or deep bowls and this can be a problem particularly for older cats – but I guess if the dish were too wide then other cats could more easily steal food from them. The bowl can fit up to 2 5.5 oz. cans of wet food.
The feeder is not a guarantee that your cats won’t still eat each other’s food. Olaf can still push Ethel aside, and if he is quick and close enough the feeder will remain open as a safety feature, which allows him to eat as much as he likes even if Ethel moves away.
The food cover is not airtight, but it will help to keep wet food moist longer. You cannot fit an ice pack inside to keep wet or raw food cool.
I don’t like that the feeder is meant to be hand washed. While I hand wash everything when I am pet sitting, at the beginning and end of the day as a cat owner and busy working mom, I strongly prefer items I can throw into the dishwasher. A little-known reality of being a pet sitter (particularly one with eczema like myself) is that during the colder months your hands really dry out, morphing into raw, split, scaly things due to winter dryness, frequent hand washing, and frequent bare-handed dish washing (after scooping litter boxes, washing all the food and water dishes, cleaning up after pets, etc.). I use several different products to try to combat this and relieve the painful splits (O’Keefe’s Working Hands is great!), and when they get really bad I have to resort to wearing disposable nitrile gloves until my skin heals. I really try to strategize the number of times my hands get into contact with soap or detergent during any given day. So it’s annoying when I have to wash even more dishes by hand when I get home. The feeder itself needs to be wiped down periodically, too, though it is easy enough as everything comes off and goes back on without issue.
This feeder is not at all cheap. The Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder is $179.99 + tax from amazon.ca, which comes to $206.94 total for Quebeckers. The rear cover for the Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder is not available from amazon.ca, and must be ordered directly from Surefeed in the USA, at a cost of $10 USD + $20 USD shipping. With the current exchange rate of $1.31 CAD to $1 USD, this comes to $39.36 CAD. So together, the feeder and rear cover ended up being $246.30 CAD. Keep in mind, it requires 4 C batteries, which is roughly $7, which, from reading past reviews, will probably last about 6 months. This is by far the most expensive item I have purchased for my pets. I really hope it works out, and so far, it is working quite well. I have suggested this feeder to clients in the past.
Alas, I have no affiliation at all with Surefeed (though I am absolutely open to sponsors and collaborators). I wrote this blog post because I thought it would be helpful for some of my clients and other cat owners.
I’d love to hear your solutions for feeding cats who have different diets!