Skinny Cat. Chunky Cat. Closet Cat. Help me feed all three!
May 19, 2017 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a cat feeding conundrum. I have three cats who have recently been nicknamed Skinny, Chunky and Closet. (Obligatory pics: Chunky in a less-chunky state; Skinny & Closet). I am having trouble figuring out how to feed all three of them according to their own needs.

Chunky needs to lose a pound or two. She will gladly eat all her food, then attempt to eat the food of the others, depending on whether or not they will let her. Wet food, kibble, doesn't matter to her.

Closet cat will only eat if I'm not in the room, or if I'm out of her direct line of sight and not moving. Pretty sure she'd rather starve then eat while in the presence of humans. Other than that though, she's my least-problematic eater. She prefers dry kibble though over wet food.

Skinny's the one causing me the most problems currently, but they're compounded by the others. She's not eating enough, and pukes up horrible smelling bile every morning between 3-5am. I'm working with my vet on this problem, no worries there.

Up until recently, I had a system that worked. I work long hours, so I'm out of the house 12 hours a day M-F. I fed them each wet food until they were full in the morning, then free fed a good quality grain-free dry to tide them the rest of the day, with a small wet-food snack after I get home. Skinny & Chunky eat their wet food together; Closet eats in the bedroom after I've delivered her food to her highness and immediately left the room.

Then Skinny started losing weight, and puking. Every single morning, on schedule. And has becomed *obsessed* with human food; she never was before. Other than that, she's a perfectly happy healthy cat as far as me and my vet are concerned. The vet had me trying to feed her many smaller meals during the day, but it's not helping. The next step is to have her eat only novel-protein based food... (seriously... alligator has come up as a possible novel protein. How did cats evolve up the food chain so high they're having humans kill and serve them alligator??) But I digress. And with the novel proteins only diet I can't free feed the dry to all three.

So - I figure at this point I need some fancy cat-feeding solution that will allow each cat to eat their own food, without Chunky stealing the others food, and keeping Skinny to her new fancy-pants diet.

Any suggestions? I love technology and would be ok with throwing (some) money at this problem. I can get them to wear collars to identify themselves to their feeders, but giant attached do-hickies wont work. I'll admit to being a little worried about teaching old cats new tricks (they're 8 and 10 years old, so there's 8 years of routine to adjust...) But other than that... I'll be honest in that I haven't really started researching solutions yet. I was hoping the good cat lovers of mefi would have some good starting points for me. Thanks in advance!
posted by cgg to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I love technology and would be ok with throwing (some) money at this problem.

I ran across the SureFlap a while back when I was researching feeders - it's a feeder that recognizes your cats' microchip, no special collar required. I can't vouch for it as I didn't end up going with it but it has good reviews on Amazon.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:54 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have heard that the SureFlap (or another device like it) works, but that eventually a clever cat will start to wait for friend cat to open friend cat's dish and then wedge her head right in there and chow down on friend cat's food.
posted by amtho at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

It seems like the problem is separating Skinny from the other two. If that were resolved, Chunky and Closet could eat the same food during the day while you are gone. How would Skinny feel shut into a room alone during the day? Would that stress her out? If she would be ok with that, you could leave her special food for her in that room.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:19 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

We had basically the same problem with the addition of one cat who is allergic to chicken and one picky cat who refuses to eat any food that doesn't contain chicken and we got a SureFlap and it's been LIFE-CHANGING. LIFE-CHANGING. We used to spend so much time monitoring our cats while they ate. We don't have to do that at all, ever, and it's amazing. Our extremely intelligent 16-year old cat and our very dumb, extremely skittish 3-year-old cat both learned to use it immediately without any issues.

We basically put out chicken-free food for our allergic kitty and our eats-anything cat and then put chicken-containing food in the SureFlap for our picky cat and our eats-anything cat. (Our eats-anything cat basically gets double food choices because she's 16 and I'm a pushover.)

We saw a few instances of our allergy cat working her way in like amtho described so we put it in Intruder Mode which means it's constantly scanning for a microchip (rather than detecting the microchip and opening) and that eliminated that problem completely.

The SureFlap is expensive but oh my god, I would literally pay ten times the price for how easy it's made feeding the cats.

My sympathies on the novel protein thing, it's tough! In our case, at least, it was really easy to see that chicken was the issue and now she's got a nice variety of food chicken-free foods to eat. She's slimmer and happier now and her fur is thick and glossy.
posted by kate blank at 10:28 AM on May 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

One more note on the SureFlap -- the unit works with either an embedded microchip or a microchip tag on a collar. Our smart cat was too smart and our skittish cat was too skittish to keep the collar on (the smart cat would literally position herself in front of us and use a single paw to release the closure on the collar without breaking eye contact; the skittish cat would just struggle out of the collar every hour or so) so we had them chipped, it was another $50 or so on top of the cost of the feeder but it was well worth it for us, if your cats are happy wearing a collar you can save a bit on that.

We kept the microchip collar tags and use them to open the feeder and swap out the food/clean it/whatever; there's a button in back you can push to open the feeder but you have to push it again to close it so we just find it easier to open it with the tag and know it will auto-close when we walk away.
posted by kate blank at 10:39 AM on May 19, 2017

data point re: Skinny. Lana (my skinny one) was skinny because of a gastro-intestinal problem. It took a ultrasound to figure it out - her digestive tract was all inflamed. Apparently this is is either inflammatory bowel decease or gastro-intestinal lymphoma. Can't tell which, but they are treated the same - steroids. Once I started giving her steroids her appetite came back within a day, and she stopped puking (still has loose stool).

IANAV, but something you may consider checking with your vet, as well as doing bloodwork (the cheaper solution to rule anything out that is visible in the bloodwork).
posted by pyro979 at 10:50 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Check out this recent Ask for some other suggestions. Or this one.
posted by hydra77 at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2017

My cat loves the SlimCat food dispensing ball, which makes a cat push the ball around to shake loose a piece of kibble. This could help Chunky get a bit more exercise working for her food, and it might help Skinny slow down if eating too quickly is contributing to her digestive problems.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2017

Our three cats have slightly different issues. One is the 4 year old 'shove my face into all food bowls' guy, His same-age sister is suuuper twitchy and runs away at loud or unexpected noises. She will sometimes help herself to others' food, but not in the same stalking way. Fidget is 20, kidney failure, blood pressure trouble, and lost interest in food so was underweight. We now give her meds every 4 days to give her an appetite, to keep her weight up.

So, FWIW, mornings everyone gets measured wet food - (my partner puts him across the room from the others, but) I prefer putting the gobbler in the nearby laundry room so I can temporarily close the door, giving the other two (twitchy one self-positioned on one on the stairs/higher than everyone else), giving them plenty of time to eat what is in front of them, letting the gobbler out as soon as the other 2 are done.

After work, a small kibble treat for each/all, and that's when meds are given to the old girl. Then at the end of the day they walk themselves to the fridge at 8 pm when they know it's time, then they are served the last meal of the day in the basement. They're trained to go to their self-assigned places in the basement to be served, sort of a wide triangle, where Gobblepants is around a corner from the others so isn't as able to monitor and sneak the others' food. Twitchypants is up on a shelf where she can see everything/twitch less. Fidget is on a low trunk onto which she can still hop. They then stay overnight in the basement /door closed. They have litter boxes down there, some toys and approved scratching targets, and water all available, and they are let out in the morning for morning meal when we wake up.

We'll bring out treat toys, usually weekends only. One looks like this and makes gobblepants work for the kibble.

The other one looks like this and keeps the twitchy one distracted for upwards of an hour. The old girl can't be bothered with toys or extra food.

All of that is to say, they don't free-feed during the day and we divide them up and insert ourselves physically at feeding time to prevent escapes and overthrows. Works well for us. Might any of that translate to your situation?
posted by mcbeth at 8:43 PM on May 19, 2017

Hi I wrote that previous ask. The kind of crazy solution I ended up with is working extremely well a few months in. It's the SureFlap pet door (not the cat door, which is a couple inches smaller) installed backwards into plywood attached to an unfinished ikea table with acrylic sides and plywood doors and a latch bolt on the other end for human access. We went with this because our weird cat Korben hates going into small spaces and boxes and often refuses to eat unless very particular standards are met.

The SureFlap pet door works great, it's a nice straightforward piece of tech, and the thing that is relevant to you is that no collar or dongle is needed. It reads the microchip code that should be implanted in the back of your cats' necks. Your cats are chipped, right?? Especially if they don't usually wear collars. Korben is too dang fluffy to be comfy in a collar most of the time and the pet flap reads his chip every time, no problem. It can learn up to something like twelve different chips so you can feed skinny and closet through the flap and keep chunky out, or whatever combo makes sense.

Korben had trouble learning the pet flap at first. He isn't the brightest crayon in the box but he also is extremely not food motivated so we had trouble figuring out a reward for him. Turns out though the key with the SureFlap is that you have to install it a few inches off the ground, at about cat tummy height. As soon as we put it in the plywood at the right height and not taped into temporary cardboard, Korben took one day to figure it out. Now he is a pet flap master! In and out all day. He is something like eight years old now. I wouldn't worry if I were you about old cats learning new tricks. For the most part using a pet flap is a pretty natural thing and accessing food is a great motivational tool.

Since your cats are their own special brand of weirdo and probably like boxes and small spaces, you ought to be able to make a cat dining room much cheaper than my own with a big storage tub with a hole cut in the side. There is also a lot of different cat furniture intended for hiding litter boxes inside side tables and faux storage benches that you could look at. I imagine one of those would feel secluded enough for Closet Cat.

For ease of puke cleaning, get some inexpensive plastic trays (ikea was selling plain white ones for like a buck a pop this winter) for keeping the food on. Then you can just slide that out of the kitty dining area to clean, instead of scrubbing down a whole storage tub or side table or whatever. This assumes Skinny Cat obligingly pukes nearby, but it will also catch kibble crumbs.

Chunky Cat could benefit from an all wet diet. It takes some getting used to but since you feed twice a day you could increase the evening snack to a whole evening meal without much change in your routine. Admittedly the wet food doesn't work in those nifty feeder balls and toys, which are what helped my previous chunky eighteen pound lady to slim down to a healthy muscular fifteen. I think a lot of it depends on personality. If Chunky is chunky because she is bored and thinks food is fun, those feeder balls will probably help more. But if she is chunky because she has The Hunger, switching to higher protein food fewer times a day could help her change her expectations and habits.
posted by Mizu at 12:45 AM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

We have multiple Sureflaps. In part for the cats, in part to keep the dog out of the cat food.

All of our animals are chipped, but one of the cats is extremely large. (Really. Really. LARGE.) and the result is that the chip is too high up/far back for the chip to be read. We have had to collar him as a result.

Apart from that, they have been highly successful. It took a couple weeks to train them not to be nervous, but after that it was fine, and now at night you can hear the whirring of the mechanisms.

We have a Sureflap door installed into the basement as well -- and they couldn't get the hang of it. We taped it open.
posted by instead of three wishes at 8:49 AM on May 20, 2017

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