Help me put one cat on a diet without starving another! Staying sane would be nice too.
November 1, 2011 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Please share your most brilliant advice on switching cats from free feeding to scheduled feeding in a multiple-cat household

I've been trying for years to get my cat to lose weight. Today he tops the scale at nearly 20 lbs and is having problems grooming as a result.

I'm feeding a grain free diet (Blue Wilderness I think its called) and my other cat has lost weight on this. Meanwhile Tobias is getting bigger and bigger.

I tried doing this in the past and gave up due to my irregular schedule (I now work 8-5) and my other cats tendency to announce constantly the empty state of her bowl. Also, the overweight cat will eat my other cat's food, leaving her hungry, which is no fair.

Separating them for eating hasn't worked in the past because they only eat a small amount when given the food and then are hungry later.

Please share your most amazing, genius suggestions on ways to make this work. I'm feeling very committed, and am willing to put up with some crying on their behalf in the short-term for some longer term health improvements. At the same time, I can't imagine how this is realistically going to work.
posted by gilsonal to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We've had a similar issue with our cat eating the other cat's food... and then vomiting, because he has a sensitive tummy :(

This is a bit different because ours get both wet and dry, but basically they get fed wet food individually and only a small amount at a time. This seems to sustain them longer than dry food does. They used to have unlimited dry food, but ants were getting in it (suburbs...) so now they only get a small amount of dry food at a time, which they treat more as a snack. They get more dry food if nobody will be home.

My cousin actually had a similar problem to yours, and his cats only got dry food. The fat one was too fat to jump, so they fed the more agile one on the counter top and the fat one on the floor. You probably don't want your cat eating off the counter, but perhaps you can put her food on a raised surface that the pudgy one can't get to. Then he can't steal her food, and you can give her unlimited food while controlling his food intake more.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:04 PM on November 1, 2011

when they cry, put them back in their separate rooms to eat more of the food that is theirs. I reckon they'll quickly work out that food is becoming a scarce resource, and will shift to meal time eating. This will require two rooms that the other cat (realistically, the fat cat in the other room is the minimum) isn't allowed in, which are kept closed.
posted by titanium_geek at 6:07 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I forgot the required photo. Toby is my overweight cow cat and Annabelle is the calico
posted by gilsonal at 6:08 PM on November 1, 2011

Separating them for eating hasn't worked in the past because they only eat a small amount when given the food and then are hungry later.

This will only be the case for a few feedings. Once they realize no more food is forthcoming during the day, they will eat until they are full when the food is offered. We transitioned seven cats who were free fed to 3x a day feedings and then to 2x a day feedings over the course of a year and there were grumblings at the beginning of each change, but everyone settled down eventually. I applied my grandmother's philosophy towards feeding children, either you eat what I put out or you starve, to the cats and since I don't have any stubborn eaters, they got in line fairly quickly.
posted by crankylex at 6:52 PM on November 1, 2011

I switched my two (one fat, one thin) from free feeding with dry food to 2x daily wet food. The best way to minimize hungry yowls (and binge/purge vomiting from overeating at mealtime) was a food ball. The holes are adjustable, so they can get a tiny bit of dry through the day to tide them over, but not enough to make it the centerpiece of their diet. The fat one did drop a couple of pounds.
posted by amber_dale at 7:21 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is there an irresistible treat you can offer as a reward for eating more-than-usual amounts of food? Our one cat used to stop eating as soon as he'd eaten enough to see the bottom of his bowl. It took about three years, but we managed to train him to eat more and more, using bonito flakes (aka kitty crack, I think I've seen some refer to it as). Now he finishes in one sitting, all but a kibble or two.

Our new cat is responding satisfactorily to a combination of 1. eat it when it's put in front of you, otherwise you don't get any until next mealtime which may be several hours away, and 2. "You only left 10 kibbles in your bowl this time!" [probably due to his having eaten only a tiny amount at breakfast so he was hungry enough to eat more than usual at the next official mealtime) "GOOD KITTY lookit here's a big handful of bonito flakes oh you're such a good boy!"
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:35 AM on November 2, 2011

This is if you feed dry -- we tried a food ball but our fat cat merely stared at it mournfully without eating while the skinny cat batted it all over the place. What worked for us was this feeder, which we call the UFO. The cats have to paw the kibble out of the UFO to eat it, which slows their eating down. The no-longer-fat cat doesn't gorge any more (which also cuts down on her throwing up), and she slimmed down a bit. She still resents having to eat from this instead of a proper bowl, but she eats from it.
posted by telophase at 9:31 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I had to do this, I fell back on classic Pavlovian training. I wanted my cats to learn that no amount of crying would get me to fill their bowl. Instead, the "trigger" for food was a small travel alarm clock. Cry all you want, but nothing will hit the dish until the alarm goes off.

To my surprise, it only took three days (three feedings) before they learned. Who says cats are dumb? They are supremely self-centered and focused on food; they learn very quickly when it's in their own interest.

Of course, the trade-off was that the instant the alarm went off, I had to drop what I was doing and be up and dispensing food.

This took care of the crying. The next thing I had to tackle was the problem you mention, of one cat eating the other's food. This one was hard for me, because I am a real soft touch. I had to stay focused on the long-term results.

In phase 2, I gave them 15 minutes to finish eating. That's enough time to eat the whole bowl without having to bolt it down. And it was a short enough period that I could distract the fat one by picking him up and fussing over him while the thin one ate.

At the end of 15 minutes, I picked up their bowls and dumped the leftover food back into the big tub. Didn't finish? Too bad.

The thin one quickly learned to eat up! See previous statement about cats learning quickly when they need to.
posted by ErikaB at 12:02 PM on November 2, 2011

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