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I finally bought one of these automatic cat feeders and I’m in the process of programming it.

How often during the day should I feed the cats? They’re both older cats.

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  • This really depends on the food. What does the packaging say?
    – SerenaT
    Dec 5, 2021 at 20:00
  • The packaging doesn’t mention my cats.
    – rbhat
    Dec 5, 2021 at 21:41
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    What's your current feeding schedule? Don't go try something wildly new, use the existing process.
    – Allison C
    Dec 6, 2021 at 14:36
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    I give wet food once in the morning and one in the evening to make about half the calories in the diet with dry food doing the rest. Dry food goes into activity feeders (ie: diggers, trees, puzzles, etc) and that keeps them busy for the rest of the day and lets them satisfy their hunting urges.
    – J...
    Dec 6, 2021 at 15:23
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    The tricky part about these auto-feeders is when you've got 2+ cats, there's nothing stopping one cat from eating the other's food. Unless it's the kind that responds to an RFID tag on their collars or something and won't dispense food for the same cat twice if it's already eaten. Dec 6, 2021 at 18:09

4 Answers 4

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It depends on the cats and the style of feeder.

Some feeders let you pick how much food to dispense at each feeding. In that case, I would do half of their daily food budget in the morning and half in the evening, to match when cats are most active (and thus most hungry).

Other feeders can only deliver a fixed amount of food. In that case, you must set it to deliver that amount enough times per day to equal their daily food budget. I would still put one serving in the morning and one in the evening, and spread any extras needed in between during the day.

For completeness: the ideal of two feedings per day is for adult cats. Kittens need smaller meals every 4-6 hours, or just free feed them since kittens rarely need portion control.

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Your cat might be automated already

Some cats overeat, so you can't leave extra food out. If your cat isn't an overeater, you can just leave out a pile based on daily calorie values, plus an extra error margin.

Everybody does this differently, but I have fresh water each day, some wet food each day ( the fussy mare only licks the jelly off, she doesn't eat the chunks) and a pile of enough dry to make up the remaining calories.

If she is extra hungry she will eat the chunks from the wet food instead of wasting them.

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We are free-feeding our cats but also serve additional regular meals.

Each cat has their personal microchip feeder with a measured daily ration of kibble, and we do four to six small meals a day with wet food. This will typically be one small package of wet food (85 grams / 3 ounces) shared among whoever is present.

We have a large outdoor enclosure that is right next to a field, and since two of our three are avid hunters, mice and occasionally birds are on the menu as well.

From our observation, if they are free to decide on their own, they tend to settle on around 8 small meals a day, which somewhat corresponds to the amount of small rodents they would have to hunt to survive in the wild.


Important to note here is that none of our cats overeat and are fairly active, otherwise free-feeding would not be an option.

The primary reason we free-feed is that one of our cats is a rescue with a history of malnutrition, and gets very anxious when there is no food out.

We also carefully monitor their weight, as free-feeding always comes with the risk of obesity, which leads to all sorts of serious health problems down the line.

Even if your cats can handle free-feeding at the moment, this should always be monitored as it might change later in their life, or even due to external factors such as stress, boredom, etc.

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We mostly free-feed, i.e. whenever the plates are empty, we add a bit. Cats aren't dogs and they don't over-eat (exceptions exist, of course).

When we are away for a few days, we have two feeding machines, and program them both to feed twice a day, but at different times. They are the kind of machines that rotate a tray, so at the programmed time, the food becomes available - and stays available. Our cats appear to manage well with that regime.

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  • Thanks. What feeding machine did you purchase?
    – rbhat
    Dec 6, 2021 at 13:59
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    Free feeding is the leading cause of feline obesity in the US. Free feeding and having cats who aren't overweight is actually the exception, not the rule.
    – Allison C
    Dec 6, 2021 at 14:35
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    It is worth mentioning that while it is true that the vast majority of cats (but not all!) have the nutritional intelligence to manage their calorie intake just fine when free-feeding, there are factors such as stress, boredom and even certain illnesses that can still lead to overeating. We do free-feed since in our group of three we have a rescue with a history of malnutrition that gets extremely stressed when there isn't any food out, even though she doesn't overeat. At any rate, monitoring weight is of utmost importance when free-feeding, as is observing the eating behavior.
    – bgse
    Dec 7, 2021 at 0:41
  • @AllisonC any sources for that claim? Virtually EVERYONE that I've talked to over the years - breeders, vets, other cat owners - disagrees with that. So I'd like to see some evidence.
    – Tom
    Dec 7, 2021 at 8:54
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    @Tom It depends on the cat and its living situation, there are a minority of cats that really are predisposed for weight problems, and many more where external factors will contribute. Especially indoor cats tend to be at risk regarding stress eating if there are conflicts with other pets, eating out of boredom, or food jealousy when multiple cats are fed from the same bowl or just in close proximity to each other. Also the amount of exercise they get plays a role, there are quite a few breeds that are less active, a british shorthair compared to a bengal for example.
    – bgse
    Dec 7, 2021 at 22:03

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