How can we get our cats to share food better?
December 21, 2008 6:46 PM   Subscribe

We have two cats, Olive and Leo. Olive is really starting to put on the pounds, and we'd like to start restricting her diet a bit, but we can't figure out how to make it so she doesn't eat Leo's food.

When we first got them, I tried separating out their food, but the same thing that happens now would happen: Leo would wait, let Olive take her fill, and then Leo would take what's left. He seems to get plenty to eat--he's pretty big himself, but doesn't seem overweight, like she does (on a side note, we are taking her into the vet to get her checked out very soon, so yes, we know...). And it doesn't seem to work in any substantial way to keep her in another room while he eats, he...just waits. It's bizarre.

What should we do? We need to get this little chubby cat on a diet.
posted by dubitable to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do they usually eat straight away, and eat it all in one go? If so, when its dinner time, stick Leo in the bathroom with his food and close the door until both he and Olive are done.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:50 PM on December 21, 2008

Have you ever seen this? It might keep the chubby cat busy long enough that the slimmer cat has a chance to finish more food from the bowl. And if the cat likes it, it is fun for them and you.
posted by mjcon at 6:54 PM on December 21, 2008

Response by poster: Do they usually eat straight away, and eat it all in one go?

Naw, that's part of the problem--they're very much pick a bit, eat a bit later, etc. But Olive seems to be the major chow-er, and she always gets first dibs. I know this seems a little contradictory, but the pattern is basically like this:

We feed then twice a day, once in the morning and then once in the evening. Olive freaks out incessantly while Leo waits, letting Olive do the food wranglin'. Olive will pace around us, yowling like a banshee and trying to break our necks with her leg-winding-fu until we pull down the food bin, at which point she freaks out harder, then when the food comes she chows intensely for a little while. She steps away, Leo comes in and picks at it a bit. If they're really hungry they'll eat at the same time, but this is infrequent. Over the course of the day and evening, Olive eats more...apparently (as far as we can tell from how her little butt has gotten bigger...albeit she is just as cute, if not more...). And she definitely eats more at first.

It almost seems like she's got some psychological connection to eating, based also on how intensely she freaks out about it every day.
posted by dubitable at 7:00 PM on December 21, 2008

Response by poster: @mjcon: hmm, that looks interesting, thanks! Could be hit or miss with her, and might get Leo just as distracted...
posted by dubitable at 7:01 PM on December 21, 2008

Best answer: Are the cats different colors? Perhaps you could put the food into two different rooms and employ some form of this CHROMATICALLY SELECTIVE CAT FLAP CONTROL as devised by Mr. Arthur Paul Pedrick.
posted by caddis at 7:02 PM on December 21, 2008 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @caddis: best answer, clearly, although I'd also like to make it clear that I'd be interested in hearing more options from others, perhaps some that don't involve earth orbital automatic deterrent systems as I'm low on them currently.
posted by dubitable at 7:06 PM on December 21, 2008

I have this problem, and a vet gave us a couple of tricks you can try. Full disclosure: my fat cat is still fat, and we've given up on trying to restrict her diet. She's just happier this way, and mr. junkbox and I both found these suggestions kind of cruel, honestly. YMMV.

-- Put the skinny cat's food in a cardboard box with an entry hole big enough for skinny cat, but not big enough for fat cat.

-- Put the skinny cat's food up somewhere high, like on top of the refrigerator, where skinny cat can leap up to get it but fat cat can't.
posted by junkbox at 7:12 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Had the same problem. Pretty much had to retrain the cats. Feed them both in separate rooms. After a sufficient time, let them out and remove the food entirely from both locations. It'll take a little while, but they'll soon enough learn that when the food hits the bowl, it's time to eat or else the humans will take it away. It took our fat one less than a week to figure it out. I admit, that week sucked, so make sure it's a week that you can be around to ensure that Olive isn't tearing stuff up out of hunger and pique. Maybe slip her a little extra, every now and then, but always in her particular feeding room, under the same conditions (door closed, limited time, independent of whether she's finished).

Also, take both cats to the vet. Leo might develop some issues as well if he starts not having to share his food, and it's better to be forewarned.
posted by Etrigan at 8:03 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Once we started feeding our cats home made, high protein food, the hefty one slimmed down and the lean ones just got stronger and their fur softer. It doesn't seem to matter how much they eat, either. We use a recipe lightly adapted from Anitra Frazier's Natural Cat book, and recommend it to anyone who frets over their kitties.
posted by Scram at 10:43 PM on December 21, 2008

Put Leo's food in a box with a hole a size that only Leo can fit through.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:57 PM on December 21, 2008

What Etrigan said. It's better for cats if you feed them multiple times per day for twenty minute intervals instead of letting them eat whenever they want anyway. We feed our cats in the morning and evening in separate rooms.
posted by Anonymous at 6:00 AM on December 22, 2008

We feed our two cats a small amount of food three times a day. They split 1/4 cup of dry food at 6 AM, 6 PM and 9PM, roughly corresponding to when we get up, get home, and before we go to bed. They are fed in separate rooms, to stop my wife's cat from eating my cat's leftovers (he never eats all of his food at once). Both of the cats could stand to lose some weight (my chubby kitty especially) but neither of them is immensely fat; they're pretty big male cats, both about 16-17 pounds, and have been at or around that weight for the last 5 years or so.

While feeding them like this has enabled them to maintain their weight without getting bigger, there are two caveats: First, we really ought to be removing anything they don't eat at once, but we don't do this because (b) scheduled feeding is damned annoying: They know when food is coming, and start asking at least 1 hour prior to feeding time most days. The 9 PM feeding was a compromise to stop them from waking us up at 4 AM begging for their breakfast.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:21 AM on December 22, 2008

I'm not sure if this will work but I've seen collars that have either a magnet or some sort of RF chip that opens a flap intended for the flap to installed in a door so only YOUR cat can open it and not another cat or raccoon. If they have TWO of them then you could make two boxes with the door flap so only the first cat could open the first flap and only the second cat could open the second flap, to get at their respective food dishes.

A Start
posted by Kensational at 10:16 AM on December 22, 2008

Thought about changing their food? One of our cats was already on weight management food, then my two cats joined our living situation and she would gorge on their food and We switched to EVO, which has no grain, which would and does a) fill them up faster, so they eat less 2) no grain means that were Bella to gorge, the grain doesn't swell in her tum and then cause her to vomit (she still vomits occasionally, of course, because otherwise they would take away her cat lisence) 3) creates less poop overall!

Bella's weight is under control, and one of my other cats lost some weight this way, too.
posted by atayah at 11:27 AM on December 22, 2008

Put down only the amount of food that Olive is allowed to eat, wait for her to eat it, move her, then give Leo food. Food's only available at feeding time (no snacking) and feeding time is only for a set window twice per day. If they don't eat in that time the food is gone. Olive does not need to eat her fill. Yes there will be whining at first but they will adapt very fast. Good quality food also really helps, they should cat feel satisfied with a smaller portion that way.

Basically you need to only give Olive the amount of food that is healthy for her to eat every day. It's that simple. There's never an excuse for a cat to be overweight, you have complete control over how much they eat. And it's actually cruel to keep them fat and give them all the long term health problems that go with it. I have a previously fat cat that now has arthritis, a painful and debilitating condition. The arthritis is well controlled for now (as is her weight), which is expensive, but it will shortern her life. Feline diabetes would have been even worse. So suck it up, deal with some whining and some effort and feed them an appropriate diet.
posted by shelleycat at 6:02 PM on December 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, these are great suggestions. Of course I'm going to get some advice from the vet first, but it seems like the general consensus is that we don't leave food sitting around, feed them in a controlled fashion (i.e. monitor them), and perhaps separate them temporarily while each one is feeding. We'll give some of these suggestions a shot and see what works. Thank you all very much!!
posted by dubitable at 12:46 PM on December 28, 2008

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