Feline Feeding Logistics
March 10, 2017 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I have a new cat and he is great but what's not so great is how he eats half of my previous cat's food. Complication - previous cat is extremely NOT food-motivated.

Previous cat Korben is absolutely wonderful. I've had him for a few years and adopted him when he was about 4. Before coming to us through the Humane Society according to his medical records he lived with a 15lb female cat named Panda and was friendly with the other cats in the shelter during his time there. Korben was underweight when we got him, only just 7lb, but pretty quickly upon coming home with me he gained the weight back and has been a steady 8.5-9lb cat which the vet has said is exactly the right weight for his size, as well as commenting on how strong he is.

He does not care about food almost at all. We went through a few different foods and treats to see what tempted him and he only likes Wellness brand canned foods in tuna and salmon flavors, and we've just now after a few years managed to coax him into eating the minced varieties - before it was cubed ONLY. He also eats the Wellness Core grain-free indoor cat dry formula, but not very enthusiastically. We feed him one 3oz can of wet and 1/4 cup of dry every day, which he slowly eats most of over the course of the day and night, nibbling here and there. The only treats he likes are the cat greenies in salmon flavor - we've tried the tuna flavor ones and he turned up his nose. He doesn't care about people food at all, not milk or butter or anything, or salty stuff, and he doesn't like bonito flakes or raw sushi or even a can of people-grade tuna.

The new cat is Zevo. He is only 10 months old and already 9lbs, with a bit of growing left to do but not all that much. He is super sweet and very mellow for a kitten (I say this but am writing this question after running him into exhaustion after like two hours of solid playtime today.) We haven't had him for even a week but he and Korben are getting along okay, and I expect that they will be properly friendly soon enough.

Zevo is a piggy. He is very interested in people food and drinks and everything. He has a real problem with trying to be on my feet when I'm carrying his food bowl. He cries and cries all the time like he's staaarving when he literally just ate. He was with Purrfect Pals, an awesome cat shelter, and they were feeding him AvoDerm canned food and some unidentified crunchy food. So we picked up some AvoDerm but have been giving him the Wellness crunchy food, which he likes well enough but doesn't gobble down. The canned food though, he goes absolutely nuts for. We were going to slowly transition to a wellness canned variety but he loves everything so we're just feeding him the AvoDerm until we run out of it and then we'll switch to Wellness when we restock.

So the problem is this: I feed Zevo his squishy food and he eats it in two seconds. Later, I feed Korben his squishy food and he moseys on over and has like two bites and goes away to think about life and stuff. Zevo zooms on in and eats the entire dish of Korben's food. Korben is not bothered by this at all, he's just like, whatever. But before Zevo came along in another hour or so Korben would have another little bite, wait another hour, another bite, etc.

We live in a two story house with a door at the top of the stairs. So I've been feeding Korben upstairs, keeping Zevo out. But Korben wants to come downstairs after he has his first few bites. Leaving him upstairs (where he has everything he'd need, litterbox, comfy spots, window, toys) does not encourage him to eat more of his food, just makes him kind of upset, and I've already upset him by bringing a new cat into the home. I work from home but I can't realistically give Korben individual mouthfuls of food every few hours.

Should I feed Zevo more food? Should I try to keep Korben closed in with his food for hours and hours until he maybe eats a little more of it? Should I let him get hungry and see if he learns to eat faster? Should I take away all the food for everyone and only set it out during specific times? Are there super amazing incredible noms that Korben will maybe eat that I haven't tried? Some system of food placement and cat division that will encourage Zevo to forget the other food exists yet allow Korben to access it? Zevo is pretty springy and gets up in all sorts of places. Korben is okay with jumping and likes high places but hates being in cubbies and enclosed spaces, he doesn't even like boxes (I know!!! what!) but Zevo loves them. Aaargh

Summary: Cat 1 doesn't care about eating. Cat 2 loves eating. Cat 2 is eating Cat 1's food, Cat 1 is not bothered, but I am bothered because Cat 1 has trouble with being underweight. Cat 2 is still pretty much a kitten and will calm down with age, but at this rate will get tubby and we don't want that either. Solutions? Tricks? Techniques? Ideas?
posted by Mizu to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't used this and I'm sure there's a low-tech solution, but here's the high-tech answer to your question.

(that was the top search result for "personal cat food dispenser", there are probably other brands)
posted by aniola at 6:36 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

An internet celebrity cat - Skye - has the one aniola linked, as does the other, skinny cat in the house. Skye figured out that if she waited for skinny cat to mosey over to her food dish, that dish would open and Skye could eat skinny cat's food. So, not 100% guaranteed to work even if it "works".

I have seen a solution that is basically a plexiglass cube with the food dish inside, so that only the right cat can get inside, but it might have the same problem, plus be harder to get the food in and out.

Maybe you could get a microchip-activated cat door for inside the house and make an entire room belong to your mellower older cat?
posted by amtho at 6:54 PM on March 10

I have a very similar situation except with 3 cats. They all get fed at exactly the same times every day. The Zevo-like cat is segregated from the other two (who have lived together for 10 years). The Korben-like cat didn't eat hardly anything at first because he was soooo slow. Once he figured out that I would take the food away after 20-30 minutes (and let Zevo-like cat out), he started eating faster. Now he eats all his food in an acceptable span of time. Just keep shortening the length of time that Korben is allowed food, and serve it at the exact same time every day, spaced out so that he is actually hungry. You might need to feed them more times per day.
posted by AFABulous at 7:14 PM on March 10 [7 favorites]

I have the same problem. I have found no solution: my skinny cat would prefer to starve than eat on someone else's schedule. I open the wet food for her and stand over until she finishes, as the other cats do not like me to hover while they eat and she likes it. Then they finish off the wet food. I free feed dry food. I have one underweight cat, one slightly pudgy cat, and one balloon. This is not ideal.

If you are wiring from home, I would feed old cat in your office, if you can. When he wanders in, uncover the food. When he leaves or if new cat comes in, cover it again.
posted by jeather at 7:23 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Nth'ing that picky cat will learn to eat quicker. I had a dog like that, we just free fed her till we got her brother. After the first few horrifying incidents she learned to eat her food reasonably quickly. Although she still leaves toys on the floor when she goes to get a drink then is horrified and amazed they aren't there when she gets back.

Also- is the kitten sufficiently wormed? Worth checking.
posted by fshgrl at 7:30 PM on March 10

Heading this one off at the pass: Zevo's first vet appointment is already scheduled for Wednesday next week. We love our vet and they will be very thorough.
posted by Mizu at 7:42 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Your cats are lovely!

Agreed that there is no great answer. I'm in much the same position - I have a 7.5 lb. cat (Puss) and a 12. lb cat (Lewis - down from 15, much to his disappointment). It really depends on how much time you want to spend hovering over your animals. Maybe you'll be lucky and Korben will learn to eat quicker, I've had my skinny boy for ten years now and that has not happened. It seems like he's just genuinely not that interested in food.

I feel like you have two main options. You can feed less, more frequently - so basically, whatever he eats at a time - five or ten kibble, just offer it to him whenever he'll take it. Personally though, if you don't want to do that I wouldn't blame you in the slightest. I don't like having to follow a cat around.

Or I might just feed Korben less so that when he ultimately doesn't finish his food, there's nothing left for Zevo to grab. But I'd watch Zevo's intake, because that's how my poor Lewis got to be such a chubby dude. Maybe also get Korben's thyroid checked? Puss was fine most of his life, but as he got older he ended up needing a thyroid medication that also happened to be an appetite stimulant. It made things a lot easier.
posted by Bistyfrass at 7:45 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

I just clicked on Zevo's pics and I think we have the same cat
posted by AFABulous at 9:18 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

I had exactly the same situation and it sorted itself out. I worried about it forever - but it really was fine! Sweet Potato never cared about food and Fonzie (Arthur Fonzabelly, ironically became his nickname a year after I got him and his fatty belly grew and grew: destiny) ate like his depended on it. It caused me way more stress than it caused Sweets.

I used to be able to leave food out, but now feed them twice a day. Both are healthy weights - no one has gone hungry.

They don't get along particularly well, but have no problems sharing food or bowls whatsoever. They eat out of either dish, push each other out of the way with no malice.

So if they don't have an issue, don't make one for them. I spent too much time worrying for nothing. if they start tussling over food, that's when you should get involved.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:25 PM on March 10

If Korben can be trained to like it, you might consider making him a personal dining room: a large plastic storage container with a microchip cat flap installed, like this guy made. He describes training his cat to use it a few comments below.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:42 PM on March 11

We currently have two fairly dainty eaters and two hogs who will eat anything that holds still long enough. We deal with this by handling things similarly to AFABulous: everyone gets fed twice a day on a platform that really only has enough room per shelf for one cat to sit. The food shelves help discourage our piggy kitties (the tabby and white and the mostly-solid tabby) from muscling in on the bowls of the dainties while they're still consuming them. There are multiple paths down from the tree--cats frequently jump from second highest shelf or highest shelf to the windowsill and we're probably adding a window shelf--so no one gets trapped. Ours is made out of an Ikea IVAR set and a sisal IKEA rug cut to size and stapled along one end for scratching purposes, but I bet you could buy something similar if you wanted.

We feed only wet food, which is usually enticing enough that the Dainties will keep eating until they're done and lets us control everyone's intake a little better. If they wander away before they finish, they get returned to their shelf once before the piggies are allowed to wade in and eat what's left. Janet, the tiny black and white one, learned fairly quickly that if she wanted to eat her food herself she had to eat as much as she could hold in one sitting. Spock, my roomie's new cat and the enormous shy fluffy one, is easily startled right now but is quickly getting the hang of his new rules.

Cats are fed in the morning after humans are good and ready and in the evening right before bed so no one is too obnoxious in the morning. Everyone has their own shelf, and everyone has predictable mealtimes and meal quantities. (Each cat gets approximately 2.75-3oz per meal, usually eyeballed from a larger can of food.) As long as they eat enough, fatty lipidosis from missing a meal is unlikely, and everyone gets two opportunities a day to eat something and keep their metabolisms going, so a single missed meal isn't really much of a problem health-wise but usually helps motivate a dainty who misses a meal to eat her damn dinner next time. It's a pretty good system for managing everyone's intake; honestly, I think I'd prefer this even if I didn't have multiple cats with multiple hungriness levels because it makes it much easier to control what food goes into which cat.
posted by sciatrix at 8:58 PM on March 11

I've been in a similar situation recently. Here's my anecdote:

Wuggie, our older cat, loves canned food but prefers to lick off the gravy and walk away. Grudgingly, he'll come back for the chunks or to eat his kibble later.

When we first got him, he'd been a stray, and he was ravenous all the time. We fed him canned and kibble, whatever he wanted, whenever he asked. He got a wee bit fat, then realized there would always be food when he needed it. He stopped begging outside from meal times and maintained an ideal weight. After a few years, he even stopped waking us up for breakfast. He's perfect.

Freckles, the new cat -- who looks rather like your Zevo but is smaller -- has been going through the same binge. Always hungry, and happily dives into Wuggie's leftovers. She bullied Wuggie a bit at first, and we did feed them in separate rooms for the first week or two. When we started to feed them side by side, Wuggie was definitely losing quite a bit of food to Freckles for a while. (I gave small portions of extra food to Wuggie when he came begging later, and we'd toss Freckles in a room away from Wuggie while he nibbled at it.)

Eventually Freckles, like Wuggie before her, started to trust that food would always be available when she wanted it. And like Wuggie before her, she got a little round in the middle before she calmed down on the face-stuffing. We've had her about three months now, and she's thinning back down.

Wuggie started making a bigger dent in his food before he abandons it, but Freckles also stopped emptying both their bowls. They're both leaving food behind initially and going back for leftovers later. I still leave kibble out all the time for them. I think Freckles is probably still eating slightly more than half of the canned food, but Wuggie seems satisfied to make up the difference with kibble.

So long story short, I left the cats to negotiate their own compromise, and they worked it out mostly on their own over the course of the couple of months.

Now I'm just left working to convince Freckles that it's okay to let the humans sleep at night. (She never fails to sing us a "lullaby" or enforce wake up time.)
posted by katieinshoes at 10:45 AM on March 13

So I tried feeding twice a day, but that just made the annoyance happen twice a day. Although Korben very slowly did seem to be getting used to eating a bit more at a time it felt near ridiculous feeding them 1.5 ounces of squishy food and watching forlornly as Zevo vacuumed it up and whined for hours afterward for more and Korben nibbled maybe half an ounce if he felt like it. Korben also clearly learned that eating food meant he would be locked in a room and so he stopped coming after his squishy food, sometimes hesitating so long that Zevo would be done eating and barrel over towards Korben's food location before Korben was even in the room.

So a week or so of that and I decided to splurge on the fancy electronic cat flap and make a private dining room for Korben. We braved Ikea and got a wood coffee table to replace our particle board coffee table of nearly the same dimensions, and ordered some sheets of acrylic cut to size and with rounded edges from TAP Plastic. We did acrylic because Korben hates going into boxes (I know, is he even a cat??) and I wanted him (and me) to be able to easily see how much food was inside. At first it was cardboard around the table with tape "hinges", but my woodshop crafty BFF made doors on one side (for putting the food in) and an easily removable side for the cat flap out of plywood. We just finished it yesterday! Here it is in action.

Korben has figured out how to leave through the cat flap but he can't quite grok going inside through it, so I have to hold it open for him right now. I can see his slow tiny cat brain figuring it out though and it's so much better already because he knows he's not trapped anywhere. Unfortunately all together I've spent something like three hundred bucks making Korben's private dining cube, and probably if I had more patience and a schedule that was more consistent I could have avoided that. But now I'm confident that Zevo won't get hideously overweight and Korben is going to not associate food with anxiety.

Zevo, by the way, got checked out by the vet who was impressed by him. He said that Zevo had a gorgeous coat and an "excellent abdomen". :) He was also super relaxed at the vet and happy to be there! He's happy most of the time and other than the food drama (and how he is all over my kitchen counters when I'm not looking) he's a top notch very healthy kitty who is encouraging Korben to play and who cuddles and makes motor boat purring whenever he's on a lap.

Thanks for all your advice, everyone! In my research after asking this question it appears that this is a pretty common problem without a very good solution. Although I went with the big guns I'm sure that your other answers are going to be helpful and reassuring to people searching for solutions in the future.
posted by Mizu at 5:41 PM on April 10

Wow, nice looking solution. I'm surprised Zevo doesn't have his face pressed up against the glass though.
posted by AFABulous at 7:27 PM on April 10

Ha! Yeah, Zevo is pretty baffled by the invisible force field of acrylic so he mostly loafs a few feet away and seethes instead of getting really close. But he has started camping out right by the flap, causing Korben to not feel confident leaving, even though Zevo has no intention of attacking, just slithering past him to get the noms. We'll see how this develops - I think it will be fine with time because although Zevo never forgets there's food there he does get bored after maybe half an hour and takes a nap elsewhere, so hopefully after a couple months of never getting in he will stop trying, or at least Korben will gain confidence enough to ignore him and eat as he wishes.
posted by Mizu at 7:57 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]

« Older What's the flattest way out of Upstate NY?   |   How can I make more friends but not get used? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments