Private Dining for Four Cats?
September 1, 2014 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Aargh. One sick cat who needs a special diet for the rest of her life. Three other cats, too. I need practical tips for how to handle this.

Okay, so I've got four cats who currently all eat the same dry food which is available 24/7. Now one needs a different diet and I have no idea how to deal with this. I need specific, practical tips for the logistics.

The cats: (Sorry, I'm not providing pix. Can't get my shit together for that.)

Cat #1: Elderly, can't jump. The dominant one, despite her increasing frailty. Pretty much needs to eat on her own, which she just manages herself now.

Cats #2 & #3: Adults. Healthy and very large cats -- taller, longer and all-around bigger, huge paws, longer tails, etc. They adore each other and can eat together.

Cat #4: Adult, sick, in a complicated situation that the vet hasn't entirely solved. But we know for sure she needs (expensive) separate food.

So 4 can't eat the food that 1, 2 or 3 can eat, nor can they eat hers.

So how can I accomplish this? They're all adults, and they're all 100% used to the idea of feeding on dry food at will. If I switch to some sort of food only at specific times and locations, how do I know how much to offer them? How many times a day do we do the feeding? Do they need to be fed in an area with a litterbox? How long will it take them to get used to this idea? How can I accomplish this without feeling like I'm spending my entire damn day managing how and when my cats are eating? Sheesh.

posted by BlahLaLa to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming they are all indoor cats? If not, then you are wasting your time, cat #4 is going to eat whatever it wants, whenever it wants. If they are then feed them once a day in separate rooms. They will get used to it. Also, consider, what is the worst thing that could happen if you continue as you are feeding them? Will a sick cat die a little faster and not suffer quite so long? Is it worth it?
posted by myselfasme at 7:26 PM on September 1, 2014

They're all indoor cats. Sick cat -- the situation is complicated, but for now start with the fact that she's just 5, so she potentially has many more years to live if we can solve the problem.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:32 PM on September 1, 2014

What kind of separate food does #4 need to eat? Is it just the cost that's keeping you from feeding it to the other three? One of mine is on a special diet for chronic urinary tract infections but my vet said it's fine if everybody eats that food. The extra $15 or whatever a month is definitely worth it to me to not have to worry about separating them at mealtime.

If you can't do that, you'll just have to have set feeding times twice a day and feed them whatever it recommends on the bag of food. All decent brands should have quantity recommendations listed on the bag, based upon the weight of the cat.
posted by something something at 7:35 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Relax, it's going to be OK. This will be a huge pain for the first week, then you'll settle into a routine.

For your own peace of mind, you might as well set up a room with its own litter box, a feeding area, water, and whatever else makes feeding more convenient and comfortable for you (a trash can? a mat? somewhere for you to sit and keep the cat company if desired? Maybe with the attached bathroom so you can rinse the dishes in there rather than hauling them to and from the kitchen all the time?). This way, if you forget that KatFour is locked in there eating, it won't be a huge crisis.

Keep the bag or unopened cans of food in that room, to cut down on transit time, but make sure it's well sealed to prevent bugs and theft-by-hungry-cat if needed (I keep a stash in a glass pickle jar; keeps it super fresh and keeps the smell down).

It's worth it to have one or two alternate brands of prescription foods planned in case the one you're starting with proves unpopular with KatFour. Royal Canin is supposed to be especially palatable. If you have an unfussy eater who will scarf down whatever, then you are lucky.

You can do this. You have a huge human brain :)
posted by amtho at 7:38 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you switch them all to the special diet without compromising the health(s?) of the healthy cats? That's basically what we've done with our kitties, one of which is supposed to get a different diet from the other. The have open access to the dry special diet food, but twice a day get different wet/canned foods. There is some occasional cross-over, but even if that happens, it's mostly right.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:39 PM on September 1, 2014

posted by feral_goldfish at 7:41 PM on September 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

The vet's 1st suggested food can't be fed to cats 1, 2 or 3. Right now we're using the vet's 2nd choice because it's safe for all four. It's so insanely expensive ($40/7 lbs) that I'm considering the food segregation issue just to keep me out of the poor house.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:43 PM on September 1, 2014

.5 cups of dry per cat per day is what ours have gotten for years and they are healthy and happy, but check your bag for serving sizes. Do 2 feedings per day, when you get home from work and right before bed; that way they are hungry at mealtimes and eat most of the food so it isn't just sitting around for #4 to get into. Put #4 into the bathroom by himself to eat while the others eat in their usual spot. You may want separate bowls for #1, 2, and 3 just to hasten the eating process so everyone eats at the same place. Once #4 is done you can let him out. IME 10 min is about right.

Do not under any circumstances do feeding time in the mornings unless you want your cat wakeup time to slowly creep earlier and earlier until cat is walking you up at
4AM for breakfast.
posted by gatorae at 7:43 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you don't want them to eat each other's food, there's really no solution other than to keep them away from each other's food, which means not having food out 24/7 and separating them during mealtimes. Shut them in separate rooms and feed them twice a day according to the recommended amounts. If they're used to eating whenever they might take a while to get used to it.

If one of them takes a long time to eat, you might set aside a room with a litterbox, water, and food bowl where they can stay all night.

There might be a crazy, expensive technological solution, like using four of those meowspace boxes (if all cats can deal with them), or electronic cat doors keyed to only different cats, but really, you're looking at separating them during mealtimes.

Really, I don't know what you're looking for. There's no great solution to having to feed your cats separately. I know, it's a pain in the butt, but you get used to it, and the cats get used to it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:46 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

You want a pair of RFID cat feeders, keyed to their microchips. Cat 1 can only eat the food out of feeder 1, cats 2-4 can eat out of the feeder coded for them. Not inexpensive, I imagine, but the best bet in the long run. Resign yourself to refilling the feeder for cats 2-4 multiple times per day. It will be easier I think if you do scheduled mealtimes and not free feeding but that is of course up to you.
posted by elizardbits at 7:49 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, ok. I'd leave a small amount of 2nd choice out for grazers, but also have a separate meal time. For 20 minutes 2 or 3 times a day, allow Cats 1-3 access to their preferred food, and Cat 4 the vet's first choice for him, in a separate room.

The trick I think is to limit the amount of food thats left out for grazing. All 4 cats won't feel like they can no longer graze (and some cats just prefer grazing unfortunately), but they should eventually learn that it's in limited quantity and will eat more during the scheduled feedings. You can gradually reduce the amount of expensive food out for grazing until they're all eating at meal times.

Good luck. This particular scenario is one I also fear with my 3 cats being annoying eaters at the best of times...
posted by cgg at 7:51 PM on September 1, 2014

A friend of mine has a situation similar to yours. She feeds Special Kitty in the bathroom, with the door closed. A closet would also probably work, or really any room you can temporarily shut Special Kitty into away from the other cats.

All cats have specific meal times, no free-feeding.

When I have fed cats with meal times, it's usually a quarter cup of (normal?) dry food per cat, in the morning, and again at night. But consult your vet. Also most pet food containers say how much to feed right on the bag/label/whatever. Most cat owners I know feed in the morning before work, and then upon returning home in the evening.

Yes, the cats will probably be pissed. So what? They're cats.

After a day or so of not free-feeding them, they'll be hungry enough that they'll get the idea. I wouldn't worry too much if Special Kitty misses a meal due to not catching on right away. But consult your vet?

Do not assume cats 1, 2, and 3 will be on board with the needs of Special Kitty, or that Special Kitty will understand that she can't eat the other food ever. You may need to separate everyone until all food is eaten.

Litterbox should be unaffected unless you end up having to shut Special Kitty away with food for several hours. But seriously, she'll figure it out after a skipped meal, if not earlier.
posted by Sara C. at 8:47 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you switch to twice a day feeding?

Estimate each cat's food needs with a calculator like this one.

Pick up the food. Feed at predetermined times. Separate Special Kitty from the other kitties--just in a separate room would be fine. One of my cats is on a diet so I put two cats in my bedroom while I get ready in the morning and Fat Cat in the kitchen. Leave the food down 20-30 minutes, then pick up and let the cats mingle again. They might not eat everything at first, but within a few days they'll figure out the new schedule and will chow down fast.

It is marginally more work than free feeding, but on the upside your cats are less likely to become overweight.
posted by schroedinger at 9:32 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have three, and the oldest can't eat what the other two are having and vice versa. Old cat doesn't jump very well anymore so he eats on the floor, the other two on a window sill. I feed them twice a day, no grazing, because old cat has weight issues. The amounts are based on recommendations from the vet (old cat) and the manufacturer (younger cats), but I'm going to double check the manufacturer info with the calculator above (thanks schroedinger!).

It would work well if the younger two weren't thieving jerks -- I have to keep an eye on them or they'll steal old cat's food once they're done with their own. It's annoying, but since they aren't free-fed it doesn't take that much time.
posted by hannala at 1:31 AM on September 2, 2014

My brother rigged up RFID sensors that respond to the cats tags (on their collars) which triggers a cardboard lid to swing over the "wrong" bowl for his two cats. He made it himself but apparently you can buy such things.
posted by stray at 5:29 AM on September 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

OK, I've commented on other questions you've asked about your cats and their health issues, and it seems to me (internet stranger who doesn't know more about you than your AskMe questions) that you have some ambivalence towards these cats.

Forgive me, but it sounds like you just want a fast, easy solution to complicated health issues. That was the theme of your last two cat questions as well.

Cats are complicated creatures. The reality is that this isn't going to have a simple solution other than maybe continuing to pay a lot for the cat food you're currently feeding all four.

Personally, I think the easiest solution here would be to go to a 12-hour feeding schedule. This is what I do now. It's not onerous, really. I feed my cat in the late morning (~10 am) and then again in the evening (~10 pm). That way, she doesn't wake me up early, and I always know it's time to feed her when the day is winding down.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:17 AM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Freefeeding is bad for cats anyway so it's a good thing that this is pushing you into a new routine.

Twice per day: SickCat is locked into the bathroom to eat his expensive food. Cats 1-3 are in a common room with separate bowls for each cat. (Probably move the bowls as far away from each other as possible so whoever's done first doesn't eat the other cats' food).

Check on the cats after about 20 minutes to see if they've eaten all their food. If not, it goes back into a container and in the fridge/cabinet.

If SickCat is generally good about using a litterbox, he will hold it until you open the door. I don't see a need to have the litterbox in the same room.

Your actual management time should be less than 5 minutes. While they're eating, you can go do something else.
posted by desjardins at 11:40 AM on September 2, 2014

When they're going from freefeeding to scheduled meals, they'll whine for a day or two and then they'll get used to it. It's very important that you ignore the whining. They are not going to starve.
posted by desjardins at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2014

I adore my cats. I really, really do. They bring me a ton of joy. My cats are always rescues, and I'm always their "forever home" so I see them through to the end, no matter what that is. I'm also a full-time mom, I have a freelance job, and my best friend is dying of cancer. So yeah, I adore my cats so much but I do want the fastest, easiest solution. That's why I asked.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:45 PM on September 2, 2014

I promise you, within a couple of days the switch to a feeding schedule will be easy as pie. Scoop food, sequester cats, 20-30 minutes later pick up all the dishes. It's the first thing I do when I wake up, so by the time I'm done getting ready everyone is finished eating. I also measured out how much my cats need on a scale, then dumped it into a measuring scoop so I can eyeball how much to scoop out each time without going through the weighing process every day. Now my cats also know where they're going to be fed, so they wait for me at their feeding stations once they see me getting the food and dishes out.
posted by schroedinger at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2014

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