How to take in a second cat who also eats special prescription food?
January 22, 2013 8:31 AM   Subscribe

We have an old cat who eats special prescription food. We are thinking about taking in a friend's old cat who also eats special prescription food. Is there a convenient way to do this?

Hi! We have a 15-year old cat who eats Prescription Diet y/d Feline Thyroid Health food.

Our friend is moving out of town, and we'd like to take in his cat, who is about the same age. But my friend's cat eats Prescription Diet d/d Feline Skin Support food. Both eat a mix of wet and dry food.

Is there an easy way to keep both cats, given that they both have to eat special food, without making our lives a lot more complicated?

Some things we have thought about and/or looked into:

- I understand we can do this by doing separate feedings for each cat. This seems like more hassle than we want to undertake: Currently, we just refill our cat's bowl 2 or 3 times a day and don't worry about it. The prospect of having to sit there and wait for two cats to finish eating three times a day each seems like a lot of extra hassle to me (though maybe I'm overestimating it?)

- I have seen technological solutions like this Meowspace, that is supposed to only allow one cat access to a specific food. But I have no idea if it is any good. Does anyone have any experience with solutions like this?

- I wonder if maybe there's some cat-behavioral solution? Maybe the cats can learn to only eat their own food somehow?

Or of course, maybe there is some solution (or potential problem) I'm overlooking, in which case, I'm glad to hear about that.

Any advice would be very much appreciated!
posted by PersonAndSalt to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Another technology to think about is Neko Feeder.

It can work with a cat carrier. So you can see if your cat will go into a carrier for noms. If so, then you have your answer.

I've never known any cats to stick to just their own food. In fact, I have to actually monitor my little girl to keep her from shoving her brother away from his plate of food. It's not very pretty, but little girl is kind of a pig.

There's some weird dominance thing with cats that the beta cats will surrender some of their noms to the alpha cat. (Unless Mommy is activly holding the alpha cat and keeping her from eating the beta cat's noms.) Even with this, Malcolm still leaves a little something for Eartha.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:43 AM on January 22, 2013

We have to feed our cats separately -- one is very old and will wander away in the middle of his meal, the other is younger and will swoop in and finish off older cat's food. We used to allow our older cat to graze throughout the day, but younger cat's endless appetite meant this wasn't feasible anymore.

Our solution has been to feed them twice a day, at the same times every day, with the older cat isolated in the bathroom. It's unfortunately the only thing that worked for us. The older cat takes between a half hour and an hour to get through his portion, so we've timed their meals to allow for that.

Other than his pitiful meowing while we cruelly force him to eat his whole dinner, it really isn't so bad. Much, much less stressful than alternate methods of trying to keep them from eating each others' food.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:46 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I feed both of my cats twice a day, with their bowls about ten feet apart (and visually separated from each other). They finish their food in one go -- usually less than 5 minutes. I do keep an eye on them to make sure one doesn't sneak over to the other's bowl to steal food, but at this point that pretty much never happens. There will be a period of adjustment when you'll put the food down, leave it for them to eat (which they probably do when you first put fresh food out), and remove it once they walk away. They will get hungry and possibly complain-y. Wait until the next feeding time to refill the bowl and put it back down. They should get the hang of it and eventually eat it all in one go. Good luck!
posted by chowflap at 8:58 AM on January 22, 2013

Response by poster: Does anyone have any experience with the Neko Feeder, the Meowspace, or other technological solutions?
posted by PersonAndSalt at 9:07 AM on January 22, 2013

At maximum capacity, we had seven cats eating four different diets. Now I have five cats eating three different diets. They get fed twice a day and are grouped by diet. One gets fed in the bathroom (one diet), two are crated together (second diet) and I put bowls down for two others (third diet). Putting the food down and taking it back up takes about two minutes twice a day. I let them eat for about a half hour or so, then take it back up. It does not take long at all.
posted by crankylex at 9:11 AM on January 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all this! Maybe I have been over-estimating how much extra hassle it would be to have feeding times. I'd pictured the cats eating the way they do now: finicky, nibbling at food, being fed a few times a day, and so finding them (one of them is a sometimes outdoor cat), and trying to *make* them eat, three times a day, seemed crazy. But of course, they can lean and adapt. So maybe if they are accustomed to twice-daily feedings, it's not such a lot of extra work... (That does not totally obviate my desire for a magic digital box that knows which cat is which, nor does it totally cancel out my laziness and desire to avoid even minimal extra hassle. But it helps...)
posted by PersonAndSalt at 9:24 AM on January 22, 2013

Cats are trainable. Put the food in separate places, close one of them in (don't worry about making it "equal" and closing both of them in -- they're cats, not lawyers), and X amount of time later, open the door and collect the food. Do it twice a day, and make those two times the only times that food is available. After a week or so, you'll be used to the routine, and your cats will be used to "Food is out -- time to eat." They won't starve in the meantime.

Bonus: Use that X amount of time to do chores or something similar that you hate doing but has to be done or something pleasurable that you enjoy but that you never set aside time for. Either way, you're killing two birds with one stone.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I just installed a micro-chip reading cat door in a large clear tupperware container. It's big enough a cat can go fully inside. I drilled air-holes too. See it in action here.

It cost about $105 for the cat door on Amazon, and $9 for the tupperware container. That is way cheaper than the Neko thing.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:52 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I do not have direct experience with an RFID or microchip feeding box. However, we are planning on getting or making something like this.

Over the past 2 or 3 years I have seen and read about more and more variations (both commercial and DIY) of the "meowspace" idea. There was a recent askme that highlighted a microchip-controlled feeding box that the owner had built out of a large clear storage bin and a commercially available microchip controlled cat door. So it's not like this is a super new or unique idea. It looks like Meowspace was the one to refine and patent it.

We've looked into rolling our own microchip controlled feeding box, since both our cats are chipped and building the box doesn't seem that difficult. Our vet has a cat boarding setup at their office with several DIY feeding boxes that they built, and they recommend this as the way to go for multi-cat households with feeding issues (either cats requiring special food, bulliers, etc.)

We have a young alpha male cat who will gleefully bolt his own food, then push our other cat (slower eater) out of the way and eat 2 cats' worth of food at every mealtime were we to allow it (we don't). The older cat has always been a "grazer" by preference. To avoid dominance/aggression issues and the older cat starving while the younger cat overeats, we have been sequestering them during mealtimes which is, frankly, a pain in the ass, especially since we feed multiple meals a day.

A RFID or microchip feeding box for our older cat is going to be the way to go. Both cats already know how to use a cat door so training shouldn't be too hard.

I think the main perc of the Meowspace is that it comes with everything premade and doesn't require much assembly short of clipping it together. Also it looks like the inventor already thought about the problem of following-on by designing the "bully barrier" (which prevents the excluded pet from gate barging as the door opens to gain access).

We had been considering building our own microchip feeding box but after reading up on the Meowspace it maybe worth the extra $ to just buy the system outright.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:05 AM on January 22, 2013

We went through several years of one cat eating one diet and the other two something different. They each eat out of a specific bowl in a specific place and it hasn't been a problem to just feed them at their respective spots. They were completely habituated to eating out of their own bowls. This might work less well if one food is much tastier or more caloric but our cats are all so greedy that they snarf their food instantly so it's never been a case of leaving food out.
posted by leslies at 10:14 AM on January 22, 2013

I know someone with 2 dogs on special diets that just fed one type of food one day and the other type the next day as there is actually very little difference between most prescription diets and they figured that half a serve of the "extra" ingredients was better than none. Her dogs were fine and lived long and healthy lives. Of course if it's a food allergy problem or for a serious issue then check with your vet as this might not work.

Or just feed at a set time a day so the cats are hungry when it's feed time, and feed them in separate rooms so they can't see each other eat. Chances are they'll finish off at least most of their food before wandering over to see what the other guys got.
posted by wwax at 10:18 AM on January 22, 2013

I've fed my cats separately for years (to keep the voracious eater from stealing the other one's dinner before she's done) , and it's really very little trouble. We feed them once a day, and just keep a closed door between them for a half an hour or so. I'd guess that if your cats are used to grazing, they might not eat a 'full' meal right away, but then they'll just be hungrier the next day and eat more till they reach their own equilibrium (whatever that is).
posted by pennypiper at 1:01 PM on January 22, 2013

We had to start feeding one of ours special prescription food a few months ago. We feed him in a dog crate in another room away from the rest. Guess what he does at dinner time? He waits at the door and then heads to the crate. We went to specified feeding times a long time ago due to another cat with a. prescription food and b. weight issues, and it's really helped control things. They get used to it fairly quickly and they'll fall in line with the routine.
posted by azpenguin at 5:26 PM on January 22, 2013

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