18

I currently have three cats, one 1.5 year old and two ~6 month old kittens, all of which we got at the same time. As soon as we got the cats home, the older cat started eating the food from both bowls, hers and the kittens', causing her to gain a lot of weight. I feel bad for the kittens because they may not be getting all the food they need. However, I can't put more food out, and I don't want to lock them up specifically for feeding.

Is there a good way to keep the older cat out of the kitten food and keep her from eating 1.5x her recommended daily serving?

Update: Physical separation was the only way to get these cats to eat their share, but the two younger cats graze whereas the older cat eats her fill whenever she's hungry. We attempted to use PeterJ's response, but that only lasted until the cats were all about the same size. Flater's response about bowl availability and limiting eating time ended up with our two younger cats eating too fast and vomiting because they would try to eat everything before the older cat finished her food, skipping chewing in the process. This was mostly caused by our work schedules making us unable to feed them at well spaced intervals. We found Megha's response the most helpful, but not quite what we needed.

6
  • Are they all getting the same food, or do the kittens get a special (apparently tastier) diet? Also, are the cats all about the same size/weight, or is the older one also bigger? – Monica Cellio Oct 24 '13 at 19:15
  • The kittens get different food, but the older cat seems indifferent as to what she eats. She just eats everything. The older cat is moderately bigger. She is currently ~9lbs and the kittens are around 7.5lbs as of a month ago. – Nielsvh Oct 24 '13 at 19:18
  • Not seeing how you'd do this without separation really. – John Cavan Oct 25 '13 at 3:45
  • 1
    I think the kittens is relevant here, as it is discussing managing feeding a house hold of one cat and two kittens. – user6796 Oct 25 '13 at 7:32
  • 1
    @lila, I feel both are well written and correct to the extent of the information given in the initial question. The answer that helped me the most was Megha's answer, but I feel that Flater's may be a more universal response and therefore more deserving of the bounty. – Nielsvh May 19 at 19:35
4

We had a similar problem with our cats - in our case, our second cat, the younger (and more active) was eating both shares, while our first cat, the older and timider, was being scared off.

What we did was separate them while feeding. I don't mean putting their food bowls in separate rooms, that may not be a sustainable solution since you'll have to keep them in one room out of the other constantly. A different solution would be to hang around during feeding time and play wall for a bit to teach them manners.

When we put down the bowls in the evening, one is put down off to one side (the second cat runs and eats) and the other put down a few steps away to the other side. This is because cat-two is distracted with her own bowl, so the other has to be left alone, at least until she's finished, and it's far enough away so that the first cat won't be intimidated into not approaching to eat. And, whoever feeds them can usually spare a few minutes to stand between them about the time cat two is finishing up, and herd her away, scolding or distracting, to keep her from running off cat one until she's done.

It isn't perfect, especially at first (made worse since our cat two is a much faster eater) but cat one was getting a bit before being scared off, at least, and we had other measures (dry food out constantly, the issues were with meals of canned food) we weren't worried she'd starve. And over time, we had to do less and less herding as boss cat (aka human-in-charge) made it clear that one bowl was for each, so that second cat could go after leftovers - after first cat was done, not chase her off - and first cat was assured we wouldn't let her be chased off, so it was safe to claim her share.

Coupled with the fact we wouldn't put the bowls down until both were present, second cat got manners, eventually - as an example, recently, there was a problem with one bowl (wrong color or something, she would not eat from it) but she still waited until the other cat finished before snagging the rest, because she knew the bowl on that side was not hers.

In our case, we had dry food out all the time (they self-regulated once it's clear it could be relied upon) and one meal of canned food per day, so we could stand between for just a few minutes during the one meal without too much trouble - they could visit dry food at separate times, so that wasn't an issue. If you're doing only planned meals, or this is an issue with bowls normally left out, this may be a bit more time-intensive than it was for us - but maybe do precisely planned mealtimes for a while, don't set down the bowls until everyone's there so they eat at the same time, and you can get at least a bit of teaching done each time - and it's less irritating planning to teach them manners, than being distracted from whatever else you happen to be doing when misbehavior occurs.

As a side note, you might try giving your older cat somewhat larger meals - she may be stealing the kittens' food simply because she's still hungry, and if she just has a larger metabolism than the serving size accounts for, her recommended serving may not be enough. Second cat ate a lot, way more than first cat even at the same age (and cat-one was quite active when younger), but she also runs around a heck of a lot and generally has way more energy than cat-one, so the food was burned off. And at year-and-a-half, ours was still filling out her frame, so that may also cause increased eating to support growth (cat-equivalent of teenagers, always hungry).

I admit just hunger isn't always the problem, our first-cat would eat a whole can of food if we set it out in the beginning, even if she was so full afterwards her breathing whistled - which seems less about hunger than greed. But that was about 'treat' food, the canned food she got rarely, not the dry that was her daily fare - like I said, when they're sure food will be there when they need it, they only eat until they're full. Once canned food became a daily meal, she calmed down about it and became better about not overeating because she knew there would be more, and by now she often leaves leftovers for cat-two to finish.

16

One way that might work while there's a significant size difference is to place the kitten's food in a location that the larger / older cat can't physically get into. If you're a DIY type person you might be able to come up with something elaborate but a simple and cheap way that comes to mind is to use a document storage box such as the following:

enter image description here

You could cut a hole in the bottom using a box cutter until the kittens can just fit in while the older cat can't and keep enlarging a little as they grow older. The lid on most of these boxes are fairly tight-fitting and I doubt a cat would be able to remove them, but if that or it getting pushed around turns out to be an issue they are robust enough to cope with quite a bit of weight, so you could place a few bricks or similar heavy object on top to prevent it.

The tops are easy enough to remove for food replenishment and they're sufficiently cheap to replace from time to time if they get dirty or you could use a liner. As an added bonus kittens seems to like to get themselves into the smallest possible area so they'll probably enjoy their own little "getaway".

8
  • 2
    I like it... Though a lot of cats love boxes, you may find that the older one takes a run at it. I've seen some pretty funny videos of cats doing just that! – John Cavan Oct 25 '13 at 12:12
  • 1
    This is actually what I was thinking of when I asked about the size difference. Great idea; might or might not work in this specific case, but useful for others. – Monica Cellio Oct 25 '13 at 13:07
  • 1
    I don't know how well the box idea works, but I know that there is a location that the kittens go that the big cat does not. The other thing is that because cats don't have collarbones and are fairly good at squeezing into small spaces, the opening would have to be REALLY small. – Nielsvh Oct 25 '13 at 18:30
  • 1
    +1 for Schrödinger's dinner. You'll need to put a heavy weight in the box, like a barbell weight, so the large cat doesn't tip it over when the kittens aren't present. – JoshDM Oct 25 '13 at 22:21
  • 1
    @Nielsvh, I would have thought (although this is just personal opinion) that's it mainly a fear of getting attacked while they're eating so putting it in the box may also help them feel secure, although I guess every cat will be different in that regard. I've noticed our older cats are more cautious and look around when eating but our younger one doesn't seem to worry much. – PeterJ Oct 30 '13 at 9:16
4
+150

The older cat makes it impossible for you to blindly rely on the cats to fairly distribute the food among themselves, which means you need to be more involved in this process. There is a clash between your current feeding strategy and the ability of your cat(s) to self-regulate their food consumption.

If the older cat is eating more than the food you've "assigned" them, this either means you are not providing enough food for the older cat, or that the older cat is overeating.

If the former (I don't think this is the case, but I'm pointing it out as it is possible), the straightforward solution is to provide the appropriate amount of food. If you cannot provide the appropriate amount of food for the amount of cats you have, you have to reconsider how many cats you keep as pets.

You are currently feeding the cats on a freely available food basis, i.e. the bowl of food is available for long term and you replenish the food once in a while. In a multi-cat household, this relies on all cats being capable of self-regulating the amount of food they eat, as there will be more food available than one specific cat should eat.

If your cat overeats, it therefore has no reasonable ability to self-regulate, so you simply cannot keep food for multiple cats freely available without oversight and without the older cat being able to overeat.

The simplest solution here is to have specific meal times, and to not make the food bowls available outside of those times.

The older cat can eat from two bowls, but it cannot eat from two bowls at the same time. Therefore, by keeping the bowl time limited, each cat will be eating at the same time, each to a bowl (or sharing a bowl, if they are so inclined).

Because bowl availability is limited, this also makes it easier for you to intervene when needed. If the older cat eats significantly faster and outpaces the kitten, you might need to keep the older cat away from the kitten when it is still eating.
Depending on the older cat's behavior, this can be achieved using simple verbal feedback (it works for our cats), or by physically blocking the older cat (with your foot, or by putting it in another room).


Anecdotally, we were faced with this issue. Our first two cats were sisters who grew up together, so they always shared food. But the third cat, a street rescue, had gone hungry for much of its life and would easily eat all three portions if left unchecked.

By feeding them at the same time, he wasn't able to butt in to several bowls at once, and the girls could eat unhindered while he was busy on his own bowl.

We sometimes had to stop him from finishing early and butting into the other bowls, but we were already needing to train his other behaviors, so this was no different. Initially, we physically blocked him, but over time he learned to listen to verbal cues, being told "NO" is usually enough to get him to back off.

In his defense, he is much more active than the girls are and has always been skinnier than them (even years after he started living with us), even though he tends to eat significantly more. He's not actually fattening, he genuinely needs the food for energy.

Because he is a natural big eater (not leading to obesity) we do allow him to finish the girls' leftovers after they voluntarily walked away from their bowl, because that is considered "giving up" the remaining food. If your cat is eating to the point of obesity, you might not want to allow them finishing the leftovers.

Over time (a few months), we no longer needed to intervene here. He would sit and stare at the other bowls, well aware that he needed to wait for them to leave.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.