Little Boy and Fat Man were adopted together from a shelter and right away became the best of friends. Adopted as adult cats, their names describe them perfectly.
Little Boy is a petite brown and black tabby with green eyes, weighing in at 6 pounds. His brother, Fat Man, is an orange tabby with an eating problem. Fat Man was already overweight when he was adopted and having eaten his way to 18 pounds, is at risk of becoming morbidly obese. Already, he can’t jump like he used to and he has trouble reaching to groom himself properly. As a result, the fur on his back frequently becomes matted and his skin flaky and itchy. His owner has to comb him regularly to keep his skin and coat healthy.
Part of the problem lies in the eating habits of the two cats. Fat Man scarfs down his food immediately and looks for more, but Little Boy is a grazer and prefers to eat small amounts throughout the day. Little Boy also eats a prescription food to control the pH of his urine. The food does it’s job, but it is also a high fat food, so when Little Boy leaves food in his bowl and walks away, Fat Man comes along to finish the meal, taking in far more calories and fat than he needs.
If you have cats with drastically different eating habits, or a cat with allergies or a prescription diet, or a cat that is dieting while other cats in the household are not, meal time can get sticky. Some prescription diets can be fed to all members of the household, but in some cases, it’s not appropriate. In Little Boy and Fat Man’s case, Fat Man didn’t have urinary tract disease and the prescription food for Little Boy’s condition was inappropriate for Fat Man.
Try these tips to make sure each cat gets what they need and not more.
Institute a 15 minute rule. Assuming your cats eat twice a day, offer them their usual portion, but then remove the bowls when 15 minutes (or time period of your choosing, whatever works for you) has passed. The idea is for the cats to learn that eating needs to happen when food is served and with a time limit. This is a great rule for cats that eat wet food, which tends to get dry and smelly if it sits out. It may take time for your cats to learn the rule, so stick with it! An added bonus is that cats will actually be hungry at meal time, instead of grazing all day and not developing an appetite.
Use an auto feeder. If the 15 minute rule doesn’t work for you, or if you have cats that only eat dry food, an auto feeder is a great option to deliver a set amount of food at a time of your choosing. One of our technicians has an inexpensive model that is set for 4AM, the time when her cats want to be fed. You can choose the times based on your cat’s schedule. They are also great for owners who work long or irregular shifts. When choosing an auto feeder, be sure to stay away from models that deliver more food as soon as the bowl is empty.
Establish specific feeding times and avoid free feeding. Most cats are not very good at self regulating when it comes to food left out all day. Controlling portions goes a long way in helping an obese cat slim down. If you don’t have a feeding schedule and just fill the bowl when it’s empty, stop free feeding and create a meal schedule. What that looks like will depend on your life and your schedule. Our technician with the auto feeder feeds her cats 1/2 can of wet food each in the morning and again at her family’s dinner time, and the auto feeder offers a small amount of dry food very early in the morning. Your cats will come to expect to be fed at certain times, and if they know there won’t be any more until the next scheduled meal, they will eat all or most of their food.
Use a feeding station. Our office cats, Rambo and Madison, have eating habits similar to Little Boy and Fat Man. Rambo eats anything and everything, while Madison is a grazer. To solve this problem, we got Madison a “meow space” feeding center. Made of clear acrylic, it’s a box that can only be accessed by the cat wearing the special collar. The door operates with a magnet, and Madison’s collar has a magnet attached to it. She can get in when she wants to and Rambo is forced to stay out. (This is also a great option for cats with territory issues related to the litter box.)
Feed the cats in separate rooms or separate areas. This method worked great for Little Boy and Fat Man. Little Boy didn’t take well to the 15 minute rule and was losing weight because he wasn’t eating enough. Instead, his owner put Little Boy’s bowl on a high shelf in her pantry. The normal weight Little Boy can easily access this shelf when he is hungry, but Fat Man is too heavy to make the jump. Simply separating cats can diffuse territory issues related to food bowls.