Is your cat better than your alarm clock at getting you up in the morning? (Our youngest hits the bed five minutes before the alarm) Do you have an erratic schedule, leaving your cat staring at an empty bowl until you make it home? Maybe you take extended weekend trips with willing cat-sitters thin on the ground. There’s a simple solution for all of those scenarios: automatic cat feeders, available for dry and wet food!
Why Go Automatic?
Supposedly, cats can’t tell time. If you own a cat, you know that’s false. Even worse, cats prefer routine, and deviations – such as sleeping in on weekends – simply aren’t acceptable. They lead to stress and other problems. Automatic cat feeders not only keep meal times on track, but they also give you the chance to get a few extra hours of shut-eye, guilt-free.
The benefits of automatic cat feeders don’t end there, though. With programmability and portion control available on many models, owners with unique households have the opportunity to resolve thorny problems.
- No more free-feeding – a hazard with obesity-prone cats
- Keeping canine family members OUT of the cat food
- Eliminating competition, so submissive cats get a chance to eat
Problems With Automatic Cat Feeders
Of course, you also need to examine the other side of the coin. Sometimes, people rely TOO MUCH on automatic ct feeders. While it’s handy to have the backup of a programmable “robot” in your corner, cats aren’t meant to get left on their own all the time.
Despite the stereotype of the lone feline, cats ARE social creatures. And in “solitary confinement,” cats can develop separation anxiety. As Certified Pet Behaviorist Russell Hartstein states, “Leaving a cat home alone for more than a day is a recipe for a very unfulfilled, under-enriched cat and makes for a very dangerous situation for your pet.”
Setting up an automatic cat feeder while you’re at work is a great idea. But leaving it to cat-sit your fluffy friend while you head out for a weekend trip? That isn’t fair.
Make sure you’re bringing one home for the RIGHT reasons.
Types of Automatic Cat Feeders
Automatic cat feeders work along the same principle: dispensing a specified amount of food to your cat at set times throughout the day. You decide whether to program single or multiple feedings based on your needs. There are three primary types of automatic cat feeders:
- Gravity Feeders: Gravity feeders work with (you guessed it) gravity. The reservoir holds food and attaches to a bowl. As your cat eats, more food falls into the bowl from the reservoir. There’s no programming, so you can’t set amounts or timing. These feeders are NOT suitable for cats prone to obesity.
- Plate-Style Feeders: Plate feeders feature compartments on a rotating disc. At pre-set times, lids open to reveal the compartments. You determine the portion size, and you program the times to open. If you have a cat on a restricted diet, plate-style feeders are the BEST option, as you can measure down to the kibble the amount of food your cat receives. Plate-style feeders are also the only style that works with wet foods.
- Programmable Feeders: Programmable feeders have a reservoir over a bowl, similar to gravity feeders, but they also come with the ability to set portion size and timing. You have to rely on a power cord or battery, and they aren’t suited for wet foods, but you have more control than with gravity feeders.
Choosing an Automatic Cat Feeder
Your cat glares at you if you miss a meal by even five minutes. Or your cat has a medical condition – such as diabetes – that requires timed meals. You travel periodically – leaving your feline family member on their own for a day. All of these situations beg for the use of automatic cat feeders. However, before you rush to start combing the internet, keep a few things in mind.
- Food Storage: How many cats live in the household? How long are you planning to feed your cat with the automatic feeder? Now, how much food will that automatic feeder hold? Some reservoirs work for weeks, others for just a day before refills are required. Look at your situation and make sure the size works.
- Portion Control Settings: If your cat’s watching their waistline (okay, odds are YOU’RE watching their waistline), you want an automatic feeder with portion settings. A gravity feeder won’t cut it.
- Pet-Proof: Cats are smart. When you put your cat on a diet, they get smarter. Make sure your automatic feeder won’t succumb to an intelligent feline brain. The last thing you want is to walk in and find the poor feeder wide open and food scattered across the floor (or the feeder empty – not sure which is worse).
- Ease of Use: You can find high-tech automatic cat feeders. Can you USE it, though? Make sure the feeder you bring home doesn’t result in endless calls to customer service.
- Ease of Cleaning: Bacteria grows around food and bowls, so you NEED to clean that automatic feeder. If it’s impossible to take apart (and put back together), you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Automatic Cat Feeders: The Bane of Veterinarians
If you want to find automatic cat feeders with a vet’s seal of approval, you’re going to end up disappointed. The veterinary community HATES them. And not only because some people use them as a way to head out for a week’s vacation.
Machines like to break. And they usually do so when you DON’T need them to. Say, when you’re away. Plenty of owners return home to find their cat STARVING because the automatic cat feeder ran out of battery life or malfunctioned. You should always pay attention to charging needs and how your feeder’s operating, especially if you’re planning to leave town.
At the same time, you can’t rely on the machine to report feeding changes. As it dumps out food, is your cat still eating? Or have they stopped? If you have multiple cats in the house (or a helpful canine), food may disappear, but not from the proper eater. While it’s helpful to have the automatic dispenser around, you still want to monitor your feline’s eating habits yourself, so you know when problems arise.
Best Automatic Cat Feeders
It’s tempting to leave giant bowls of food out for your cat, especially if you have crazy schedules. Better than letting your cat go hungry, right? For some cats, that DOES work. Some cats free-feed without a problem (I have such cats). However, some cats view free-feeding as a green light to empty the bowl in one sitting, and the result is a furry bowling bowl (my parents have these cats).
Per Dr. Ernie Ward, the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, “Even if you overfeed your cat by a few kibbles per day per feeding, over a year, that results in a pound of weight gain.” A POUND! In a cat, that’s HUGE. Investing in an automatic cat feeder is a much better – and safer – option.
Best Automatic Cat Feeders for Dry Food
If your cat prefers dry food, automatic cat feeders with reservoirs are your best option. They hold the largest amount of food, and they offer extended time between restocking. For travelers, these feeders are the best.
Automatic cat feeders are great, but what if your cat drains their water bowl while you’re away? AmazonBasics thought of you. The gravity feeder and waterer set are both clear, allowing you to note when refills are needed. Rubber feet on the base of both units keep them securely in place, ensuring your cat won’t nudge them over to access the entire reservoir. The water unit holds a gallon, while the food unit holds six pounds of kibble.
Downsides? Again, the plastic isn’t dishwasher safe – you’re washing both sets of reservoirs and bowls by hand. Also, the same lack of airtight seals is present again, so watch your placement.
Honey Guardian knows you sometimes need to focus on that hopper. So they include a sturdy lock to prevent sneaky kittens from getting inside. You also get an infrared sensor to monitor the bowl’s food level and potential clogs within the delivery chute. If the sensor detects a problem, you’ll notice a red light on the front LCD. The stainless steel bowl detaches for easy dishwasher cleaning, too.
The downsides? While simple in design, people struggled with the programming aspect. This is because it can deliver six meals today, but it’ll allow up to EIGHTY portions (1/16 cup each). That’s difficult to follow. Some of the larger kibbles out there can also lead to clogs on the conveyor belt. And while the hopper locks, it doesn’t seal, leading to stale food.
Do you have a small cat or kitten? Iseebiz is the adorable automatic cat feeder for you. The reservoir only holds three pounds of food, but the robotic shape stands firm against inquisitive felines. You program up to four meals a day, and an IR scanner monitors for clogging or overflowing bowls. (Gotta love that!) You have both a plug and battery back-up, ensuring your cat won’t miss a meal, even if the power goes out. And, of course, with that robotic appearance, you can record your voice to call your cat to meal times.
So what are the downsides? The reservoir doesn’t have a seal, allowing the food to become stale over time. Also, the plastic bowl isn’t detachable, so you can’t put it in the dishwasher.
Maybe you want to get high-tech with your automatic cat feeder. That’s where PETKIT comes in. Instead of just the usual LCD screen, you can use their handy app to schedule feeding times and amounts! And they’ll warn you when it’s time to refill the hopper. You get 3.3 pounds of storage, without needing to take up much room on the floor of your kitchen. With the ability to set TEN meals a day of up to ten portions (anywhere from 5-50g), you have TONS of flexibility. That doesn’t even include the manual feed button.
Downsides? Obviously, you’re going to spend more to get all of the bells and whistles. Not to mention the extras they don’t include, such as the desiccant packs to keep food from spoiling too fast. And there’s a kibble size limit here. You need to stay under 12mm to prevent jamming of the mechanism. And while it’s not difficult to wash, you can’t put it in the dishwasher. Also, as with any app-based technology, you’ll find some software issues.
Petlibro offers plenty of different customizations for their automatic cat feeder. The hopper holds up to 4 pounds of food, and it works with various sizes of kibble. To make sure the dry food stays fresh, they include a desiccant bag to prevent the build-up of excess moisture. The LCD screen allows you to choose from up to four meals a day, and you can program up to nine portions (each one’s around 2.5 teaspoons). OR you can hit the button for manual feeding, for those times when you’re home. If your cat has a favorite food bowl, you can slide it into place, rather than having to use their bowls. You can also record a 10-second message if you want to call your favorite kitty to mealtime. And if the power goes out? The batteries will keep things running.
The downsides? As you might expect, the batteries aren’t included (you need three Ds). And while it’s a sturdy feeder, there’s no lock over the hopper, so clever cats WILL get access. It also uses a 24-hour clock, so make sure you take time with your programming.
Do you have a free-feeding cat with self-control? Just need a way to keep their food bowl from running dry? Petmate has you covered. Their plastic reservoir (don’t worry, it’s BPA-free) holds a whopping 12 POUNDS of food. With a clear view, you can see precisely when a top-off is needed, and the lid’s at the top for easy refilling.
So what are the downsides? Plastic isn’t friendly for feline chin acne, and this feeder is NOT dishwasher safe. Also, the feeder lacks airtight seals, so food gets stale over time. If your feeder gets set near an outside door, be warned: people found it attracted ants and other unwanted vermin!
Have a cat that bolts their food and vomits afterward? PetSafe developed a solution. Their automatic feeder distributes the portioned feedings slowly, over 15 minutes. The reservoir holds 24 cups of food, and you can program up to 12 feedings, ranging in size from 1/8 cup up to 4 cups (if you’re feeding 4 cups of food, I’m hoping you have multiple cats). Everything but the conveyor belt is dishwasher safe, and the bowl is stainless steel – no plastic to result in feline chin acne. The feeder’s powered with batteries that last around a year, and the display warns you when it’s time to swap them out.
Downsides? Again, the price tag is steep. Also, people reported the battery warning wasn’t reliable. If you’d rather skip it, you can purchase a power cable. The conveyor belt needs to be hand-washed, and smaller kibble CAN become lodged in the mechanism. If your cat’s smart, they might catch on and reach inside to finagle extra food.
WOPET’s futuristic look continues with the ability for you to record a message that plays whenever food gets dispensed. The reservoir holds three pounds, and you can adjust the mechanism for different sizes of kibble. No need to worry about the feeder’s noise – the food hitting the bowl is the loudest sound produced. The food tray slides out and is dishwasher safe for easy clean-up. The controls are easy to manipulate, allowing you to change the amounts and times. You can even adjust the quantities per meal if you choose. The lid locks, keeping sneaky cats out of the reservoir.
The downsides? This much technology doesn’t come cheap – WOPET is expensive. There’s a backup battery in case of power outages, but batteries are sold separately (of course). And while the lid locks, it doesn’t form an airtight seal so that kibble can grow stale over time.
Best Automatic Cat Feeders for Wet Food
Supplying canned food, pouches, or semi-moist food to your cat is tricky. There ARE automatic cat feeders that do the trick, but you can’t program more than a day at a time. When you consider using wet food in an automatic feeder, you need to keep a single fact in mind: wet or semi-moist foods left out for more than 24 hours start to spoil and develop bacterial contamination. Both the FDA and Pet Food Institute recommend refrigerating unused wet food or throwing it away after that time. (Which is why these feeders only function for one day)
Cat Mate pioneered the automatic feeder. Their C20 model works nicely if you have multiple cats and only need a meal or two covered. Each compartment holds up to one pound of food, with a handy ice pack underneath keeping canned foods fresh through the day. You can set individual timers for up to 48 hours, too. Each of the bowls and lids pops out and into the dishwasher when you’re ready to clean things up. And you only need a single AA battery to power everything!
Downsides? Okay, so you don’t get the battery. That isn’t too bad. The bigger problem is there’s no battery indicator, so you have no idea when it’s running low.
You like Cat Mate’s ice packs, but you need more room. Their C500 has the solution. The plate-style feeder comes with five compartments. They rotate, each meal appearing in the opening at the designated time. Both the top and tray are dishwasher safe, providing relief when it comes time for cleaning. If you’re worried about the unit tipping over, it mounts to a board without a problem.
The downsides? The feeding tray is plastic, unhappily. Also, people found problems with the plate failing to line up with the opening, though Cat Mate includes instructions for troubleshooting this issue.
PetSafe yet again. This time, they offer a plate-style feeder. You have the option of providing five meals, or one single meal, depending on how you set up the dividers and program the timer. If you’re available to refill the feeder, you can get nine meals scheduled. Each pocket holds up to 1 cup of food. The interior is entirely dishwasher safe, making clean-up a breeze (the outside cleans with a damp cloth). The price is very reasonable, making this an excellent option for people wanting to provide their cats with variety.
So what are the downsides? If you use all five compartments, the first opens immediately, so be careful with your timing. The entire tray is plastic, so you run the risk of feline chin acne. Also, this particular feeder isn’t as durable as people hoped, and smart cats figured out how to break the lid open, accessing the entire “buffet.”
Do you have multiple cats in the household? Do you have one cat that gets excluded from mealtimes? Want a unique way to handle the feeding situation? Are your cats already used to wearing collars or harnesses with ID tags? SureFeed has the answer. The sci-fi design responds to your cat’s microchip (or an RFID tag you put on their collar), only opening for the registered cat! The secure lid opens when your cat enters, keeping out other cats and unwanted vermin the remainder of the time. The battery lasts four months, and a low-battery indicator lets you know when it’s time for a change. Your cat is free to dine whenever, and for however long they wish. Best of all, SureFeed provides a three-year warranty for their feeder!
Downsides? There’s no way to program a specific time, as the bowl is keyed to your cat. However, if you’re not worried about that, it’s a great option (it also works for medications!). There is only one bowl provided, so you have to stay on top of refills.
(Automatic) Meal Time!
For people with uncertain schedules or a need to travel now and then, automatic cat feeders solve the need to scramble for a cat-sitter. When you’re struggling to worry over so many other things, feeding your cat shouldn’t be one of them.
You don’t want to deprive your cat of their regular meals. You also don’t feel like getting out of bed at 5:00 AM on the weekends (if you can help it). An automatic cat feeder strikes a perfect balance. Your cat receives their breakfast at their preferred time, and you get a few extra minutes of peace. It’s the perfect compromise!