automatic cat feeder usage?
January 21, 2009 8:52 PM   Subscribe

I've had enough and I really need an automatic pet feeder so my cat will stop waking me up at 6am. However, her food situation is a little complicated...

My cat has a tendency to get UTIs and our solution to this involves giving her both wet and dry food every day, and soaking her wet food. However she wakes me up at 6am to be fed, sometimes earlier (it's been as early as 3) and I want to use one of the automatic pet feeders. Ideally I would like this only to run in the morning (with dry food) so I can give her wet food and soaked dry food later in teh day when i'm not sleeping.

My question is, is it possible to use these only some of the time or will the cat still ask me to feed her after this goes off in the morning? Does anyone do this part-time or do you just switch to auto-feeder-100%?

I'd also be interested in hearing experiences with the timed-food-dropper style (like this) vs the one that just pops open (similar to this) - you can put wet food in the latter but I don't trust my cat knowing food is there all night... it seems so vulnerable

posted by illegiblemess to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Couldn't you maybe just put out a portion of her dry food at night? Cats are snackers, at least in my experience, and my girls tend to work their way through a bowl of crunchies overnight, as and when they feel peckish, and I just put some more out for them in the morning before I leave. I've never been woken by them demanding food.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:05 PM on January 21, 2009

Actually one of my 3 daily feeding times is right before bed for that reason - however my cat seems to always want to eat more, if I let her eat all she wants she gains a considerable amount of weight so I have to portion out her food. Ive been cursed with one of those types of cats I guess.
posted by illegiblemess at 9:10 PM on January 21, 2009

Ahh, gotcha. Well, good luck!
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:19 PM on January 21, 2009

The cat is fed once a day, early evening, and then only if she's been quiet for a good amount of time first. She's still a little porker, but she certainly doesn't start meowing until a half hour before mealtime (and even then she knows better since we wait until she's quiet). For whatever that's worth to you.
posted by kcm at 9:23 PM on January 21, 2009

Most of the cats I have had have loved to eat. Earlier than the day before is better and an extra feeding when the current feedings get close enough together. Grace and Hanu don't agree on much but they both think 4p would be a good time for dinner. When I went for that, it seemed that 9p was a good time for a snack. My counter has been to feed them around sunset in the winter and 6ish in the summer for the evening feeding.

For the morning feeding: After I have been up long enough that there is no relationship between me getting out of bed and them being feed. It was tough for a while. They could wake me but it did not affect breakfast time. I was strong and now I don't hear suggestions, "feed me" until I leave the couch after my first cup of tea.

Your cat has been doing a good job of training you. S/he will keep working it until it is obvious that there is no profit!! in it. So I believe Yes your cat will bug you later in the day for that personal feeding. And more after that. You will have to do some training yourself. "Dogs have owners, cats have staff." It's only true if you let it be true.
posted by pointilist at 9:41 PM on January 21, 2009

Cats are very habitual. If you can come up with a time(s) of day (we have four feedings throughout the day, on a recommendation from our vet) that will work almost all of the time, just start doing that. It doesn't have to be early in the morning, just the same times, every day.

Somehow, the cat knows what time it is. She will try to trick you from time to time, but only halfheartedly, and will give up easily. Once it's time, though, she knows and will give you no peace until you keep up your end of the deal.
posted by ctmf at 9:41 PM on January 21, 2009

I have an Ergo feeder like the one you linked to. (Two, actually, one for each cat).
It comes with a fairly sophisticated timer that can be set to do just about anything you'd really need to do.
You can set it to feed 8 times. Each of those times can be of varying duration (1 second to, in theory, 23:59:59). You can also specify the day of the week each feeding happens (all days, Mon-Fri, Sat-Sun, etc).
I have mine set to feed at 3am (heh), 3pm and a small snack at 10pm.
I arrived at these times by basically seeing when my cats would bug me for food.

The version you linked to is apparently the older version, which I have. It seems to have been designed more with dogs in mind. An enterprising cat can easily snake some food out with a paw, which is what mine did. After a few modifications, I've arranged it so they can't get food out themselves.
It looks like Ergo have fixed this problem in the new model which is essentially what I came up with for my older model.

I started out with one of the pop-up feeder dishes like you linked. It lasted about 4 hours before my cat figured out how to open it. It was actually pretty impressive, as it involves holding down one piece of plastic with a paw, while popping the catch with a claw on the other paw.

I'd definitely recommend the Ergo, but get the newer design, it looks more cat-suitable than mine.

A few things to note: You need to keep it relatively full with food, as that makes it harder to tip and also makes the auger feed more consistently.
The auger doesn't measure, it just runs for the amount of time you tell it, so you'll need to do a bit of measuring to find the appropriate auger runtime. Keep in mind that the time will change if you put different food in the feeder. Also, if you put kibble that is too large, or is oddly shaped, the auger doesn't feed as reliably. Mine had a real problem with the "Hairball control" octagon-shaped kibble.
posted by madajb at 10:31 PM on January 21, 2009

We feed our cats twice a day: dry food in the morning and wet food at night. They were driving us crazy in the morning begging for food until one of us would sleep walk to their bowls and feed them. We bought this wonderful feeder and have been sleeping in ever since. They still pester us at night for their wet food, but it's much easier now that the dry food is automated.

I was worried that my little food-obsessed beasties would break open anything short of a safe containing food, but my worries were unfounded. They never really even paw at it, even when it is full of tasty nuggets. It's set to go off at five am and they still get a bit excited around that time of night especially now that we're nocturnal, but they learned not to pester us because it doesn't make food come any faster.
posted by nursegracer at 10:33 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I use this Lentek feeder, which you set to change every 6, 12, or 24 hours. It also has a freezer pack that you can put in a special compartment in the bottom of the bowl so that wet food keeps fresh.
Some people complain that it is easy to break into, but my cat hasn't been able to break it open yet.
The best part is that the cat doesn't beg ME for food anymore, she yells at the food dish.
posted by idiotfactory at 10:38 PM on January 21, 2009

We use this feeder from Hammacher Schlemmer. You can feed one, two, or three meals per day - but each meal has to be the same size. We've had it for several years, and it's worked pretty well, except our cat has figured out how to knock the food bin off the top to create an avalanche of kibble.
posted by candyland at 6:28 AM on January 22, 2009

We have the same food obsessed UTI prone beastie that you do, and we have the same petsafe feeder as nursegracer for... at least two years now? It's worked beautifully, the cat hasn't figured out how to get into it and stopped being unbearably whiny. He does run over our heads once in a while in the morning right before it goes off, but he knows he's not supposed to do that and it's FAR better than getting woken up and having to get out of bed.

We have feedings every eight hours, at night, morning, and afternoon. We usually feed him the wet food in the feeding after we refill it, but we've preloaded as much as 12 hours ahead and it's been fine - no nasty intestinal effects or anything. We're starting with cold from the fridge food and adding cold water, though.

We went to feeder 100% because he was horrible to deal with. He'd start whining (and fighting!) for food as much as two hours ahead of time, and it was driving us insane. After we got the bowl, he whined at it for a few times, and then he just waited patiently.

The only downside to the food safe is that he started eating fabric, so we're experimenting to find a feeding schedule that doesn't ruin our flannel sheets. If your cat is not stupid, you should be fine.

For the UTIs, in addition to the water - our vet told us to sprinkle glucosamine powder (from cosequin capsules) on his food. I think his lack of subsequent UTIs is more that we haven't hired the cat sitter who didn't do the litterbox again, but you can try it. Both cats love the taste.
posted by arabelladragon at 6:46 AM on January 22, 2009

We have the Petmate feeder, like the one candyland linked (but less expensive at amazon). It works marvelously. I feed the beastie 1/4 c. at 4:30 a.m., which seems to be the best time for keeping him from pestering me for food in the morning.

I had to tape some cardboard over the opening where the food falls out, as otherwise he can reach up and bat out more. But, seeing as it's the budget option for the bin-type of feeder, I'll take the $50 savings.

In the afternoon and evening I feed him wet food in hopes of staving off UTI-type issues.
posted by another zebra at 7:02 AM on January 22, 2009

The cat is fed once a day, early evening, and then only if she's been quiet for a good amount of time first. She's still a little porker, but she certainly doesn't start meowing until a half hour before mealtime (and even then she knows better since we wait until she's quiet).

This. My own cat gets similarly whiny a couple hours before feeding time -- and early on, I had the idea to simply switch to feeding him at night.

He still gets whiny a couple hours before feeding time, but when "a couple hours before feeding time" means "eight at night," that makes it a lot easier to cope with than when "a couple hours before feeding time" meant "five in the morning."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

This doesn't necessarily answer your question, but have you considered changing their diet?

My monster sized cat was sick sick sick with a UTI that kept him in the cat hospital for a full week. Since then, I am feeding both cats (the other never got a UTI) Purina UR, the kibble formula. It is a dry food, but something in it makes the cats drink more water, thus abolishing the potential for future UTIs (and costly vet bills). It has worked great, and my cats seem very happy.

The only down side is that I can only purchase it from the vet (however based on the link, prehaps not), at about $50 for an 18# bag. However if you got this, and the food dispenser, you wouldn't need to worry about wet food.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 7:55 AM on January 22, 2009

can you come up with a better trigger than you getting out of bed? Such as ringing a little bell right before you feed her. So she won't bug you until you ring the bell?

Or stick just a few crunchies in the autofeeder and then give her more when you wake up. You don't need to use it 100% of the time. In fact, if you are using saoked dry food and wet food I would definantly not use it for that as having soaked dry and wet food sit in an auto feeder probably isn't a good idea.

As for if your cat will beg you for more? That is going to be up to your cat. You probably won't know until you try it.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 3:10 PM on January 22, 2009

for anyone reading this later, I decided on the single-meal pop-open feeder. I have to feed my cat the same time I put the food in, right before bed, or else she will shake the feeder around (loudly), but she does not wake me up in the middle of the night anymore. so I consider this a success.
posted by illegiblemess at 8:11 AM on February 1, 2009

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