Automatic Feeders: Are They A Good Way To Feed Your Cat?

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Not all pet tech is good pet tech. While I suggest you stick with a regular litter box or a DIY litter box over one of the fancy gimmicky ones, other pet tech products that are really good. Some particularly useful ones are microchip-activated cat feeders, cat doors, and cat water fountains. I’d like to highlight one of the most useful pet tech products out there as far as I’m concerned: automatic feeders.

Before we begin, I want to make one thing very clear: I’m in no way endorsing using automatic feeders as away to leave your cat unattended for the weekend. It’s not a great idea to leave them at home alone without being checked on at least once a day. They have some excellent utility for many behavior problems that occur while you are at home, though, so they’re something I suggest to clients all the time. I also happen to own one myself (more on that in a moment).

Why Are Automatic Feeders Useful?

Automatic feeders for cats are extremely useful for several unwanted behaviors I am consulted to help with regularly. The most common reason I suggest automatic feeders to clients is to help with their cat waking them up early in the morning. That’s why I got mine! I won’t name names as to which of my cats tends to wake me up early in the morning to solicit food, but one of them is much more likely than the other to scream at me until he gets fed.

Poutine, a lynx point Siamese cat, lays on a purple, blue, and white tie-dye blanket with his eyes half opened.
Here is a random picture of Poutine that I am including in this particular section for no reason at all.

An automatic feeder removes you from the equation when it comes to mealtime so your cat doesn’t need to come harass you in the morning until you feed them. Instead, the feeder will go off and you can continue snoozing peacefully.

You can also use automatic feeders to help with other feeding-related behaviors. If your cat is a bit on the food-obsessive side or tends to overeat, one of the best things you can do is spread out their meals into multiple small meals. This is closer to how cats naturally eat and keeps them satiated longer. Of course, it also requires them to get the meals during the day which can be practically pretty challenging. An automatic feeder allows you to feed your cat smaller meals without extra effort or to get your cat some of their meals while you may not be home.

Side note: Another great option for slowing down food-aggressive cats is puzzle feeders. I suggest combining them with an automatic feeder by using the autofeeder for morning feedings/feedings while you’re at work and using food puzzles for other meals.

Lastly, if your cat has a medical condition that requires them to eat consistent meals, an automatic feeder can help you remain consistent. Your veterinarian or a certified pet nutritionist can help you determine how much to feed at each feeding and how frequently they should be fed. The automatic feeder makes it easy!

Downsides To Automatic Feeders

Of course, there are some potential problems with using an automatic feeder for your cat. There is a chance they may malfunction and your cat would be left without food which is why shouldn’t rely on them while you are gone for a few days. Instead, hire a pet sitter to check in and make sure the feeder is working.

Many automatic feeders are designed for dry food, though there are options for wet food. If you don’t feed your cat dry food, you have limited options. Many of the wet food compatible ones require more maintenance than the ones designed for dry food as you have to make sure you freeze an ice pack to keep the food chilled until it’s meal time for your cat.

That said, there is at least one wet food automatic feeder for cats that doesn’t require the use of ice packs. PetLibro has a refrigerated wet food automatic feeder that can hold up to 3 meals for 3 days. You can schedule feedings using their app and set how long the food is available. I got one for my dudes and it’s pretty great for days when I’m out of the home!

Mechanical and Design Flaws

Another problem with automatic feeders is that they can get clogged. Remember how earlier I said it’s not a great idea to leave your cat unattended for the weekend even with the automatic feeder? That’s part of the reason why you can’t get away with relying only on an automatic feeder.

Some feeders are better designed than others and have limited options for how much or how frequently to feed your cat. In general, the ones that are a bit higher tech tend to have more flexibility or the option to control the feedings through an app, though this varies depending on the manufacturer.

Finally, depending on your cats, they may not take to the automatic feeder if the noise of the food being dispensed scares them. Generally, though, they’ll hear the noise and come running for food, but if your cat is particularly jumpy, maybe stick to food puzzles as a feeding method.

Features To Look For In Automatic Feeders

There are a lot of automatic feeders available and some may meet your needs better than others. What should you look for when evaluating an automatic feeder?

Cost

This one is pretty obvious, but your budget impacts what kinds of feeders you can get. Some of the fancier feeders may be outside your budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a reasonably priced feeder that also meets your needs. It also doesn’t mean that you should just go for the most expensive feeder as it may have features you don’t need.

Control

Different feeders have different methods of controlling how much food you can dispense. Some feeders have compartments you can measure food into while other feeders dispense the food. Some just let food fall out as needed. Those offer the least control and really don’t offer much advantage over just filling a bowl with food.

For electronic feeders, check to see what increments food can be dispensed in. Also see if you can program the feeder while you’re there or if it can be done remotely. Speaking of which…

Wifi Connectivity

Do you want a feeder that is controlled via an app or is that unimportant to you? Most wifi feeders allow you to see when food was dispensed, control the schedule and amount of feedings, and access other features. Some even have a camera so you can watch your cat nibble away!

Ease of Cleaning

You’ll want to clean your feeder once in a while so you don’t want something too complicated to wash. That makes it less likely you’ll actually clean it and… things… gross things… may grow. It will become unhygienic and the food may become stale. Nobody will enjoy that. Usually, a stainless steel bowl is going to be easier to clean than a plastic one. Plus, plastic bowls aren’t great to feed your cat with in general.

Wet vs. Dry Food

Does your cat eat exclusively wet or dry food? Depending on what you feed them, there may be more options out there. There are plenty available for dry food as they’re easier to safely manufacture, but there are a few that can keep wet food cool until they’re ready for your cat to munch on.

Other Features

There are a lot of automatic feeders available with some quirky features. These may or may not be important to you or might be kind of fun extras. It’s up to you if they’re worth any extra cost. For example, my automatic feeder lets you record your voice to call your cat to come to eat. This wouldn’t be great for cats that are skittish and it’s not really necessary, but it’s very fun that before my cats get fed they hear, “My dudes, it’s time to eat.”

Is An Automatic Feeder Right For Your Cat?

So how do you determine if your cat would benefit from an automatic feeder? Ask yourself the following:

  • Is there an automatic feeder within my budget that I can use the type of food I feed my cat?
  • Can I find an automatic feeder that has the features I need or want?
  • Am I willing to keep up with maintenance of the feeder?
  • Will I miss out on caring for my cat by not directly feeding them?
  • Am I able to enrich my cat’s life in other ways so they won’t miss out on the benefits of puzzle feeders?
  • Is there a behavior problem that may benefit from an automatic feeder?
  • Would my cats benefit more from something like a microchip-activated feeder?

If you determine that yes, an automatic feeder is a good choice, it’s time to pick one out. While there are a few good ones out there, I have some suggestions of which ones seem to be the best as reported by my clients and personal use.

Dry Food Compatible Automatic Feeders

The options for dry food feeders are more numerous and harder to wade through. I personally have two of the PetLibro dual food tray feeder. While I normally don’t recommend feeding cats near each other, my dudes tend to try to just eat out of the same dish. I have them set to go off at the same time so if they don’t go to the separate feeders, at least they’re not forced to eat out of the same bowl.

Prozac, a flame point Siamese cat, sits with his nose sniffing close up to the camera and his cute little paws below him.
How could you not love this face? Or those paws?

I like that I can program the amount of food they get down to 1/12 cup equivalents which allows me to multiple snack-sized meals for my cats. This is better for keeping them full during the day and reducing begging for food. I only feed them a few meals with the feeder and do wet food for the rest of their meals.

Concerned about your cat not getting enough water due to an automatic feeder with dry food? Combine it with a water fountain. I also happen to really like PetLibro’s water fountains. They make really good, quality cat products and I’ve been really satisfied with everything of theirs I’ve bought.

Add Enrichment

One benefit of dry food automatic feeders for cats is that you can add a bit of enrichment to them. Puzzle feeders are a great way to add passive mental stimulation to your cat’s life and, while automatic feeders normally go into a boring regular bowl, you can combine them with a slow feeder.

One option is to find a ceramic slow feeder bowl that is about the size of your bowl and place it where the food dish would normally go. If you can’t find one that fits, you can also purchase a silicone slow feeder insert for the bowl to add ridges. The insert attaches via suction cups so it stays in place. The ridges slow down your cat from inhaling their dinner so they have to eat slower so even the most food frenzied cat can experience the joys of automatic feeders.

Wet Food Compatible Automatic Feeders

There are fewer automatic feeders compatible with wet food available, but they do exist. The biggest challenge with cat automatic feeders for wet food is keeping the food cool and pest free until your cat is ready to eat it. Most wet food compatible automatic feeders for cats rely on ice packs, but some use refrigeration. As mentioned earlier, Polar by Petlibro is a newer option that uses refrigeration rather than ice packs so may be a more reliable choice.

Alternatively, some automatic feeders that offer single compartments for wet food. These are good options for a single meal while you are at work out of the house. A cool option by WellToBe combines a dry food tank and a single wet food container with an ice pack. Otherwise, the Cat Mate C500 comes with a stainless steel insert and uses ice packs to keep your cat’s meals cold.

Ultimately, there’s a lot to consider when deciding if your cat would benefit from an automatic feeder. There isn’t one right choice for every cat. They can be an excellent choice in the right situation.

Need help with your cat’s food aggression or feeding behavior?

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!