Mealtime for your cat should be a happy, relaxed experience. Your cat shouldn’t have to worry about whether she can eat in peace. This can be challenging in multicat households, especially if cats eat at different speeds, require different diets, or one of the cats is a “food bully.”
Why do cats feel vulnerable at mealtime?
In order to understand why cats can feel vulnerable at mealtime, we need to look at life from the cat’s point of view. Margaret Gates, the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation, explains this perfectly in a recent article titled Your Cat Worries About This:
“How does a cat’s concern with safety intersect with food? There are some cat activities that even cats understand are less safe. Eating is one. When you are eating, your head is down and you are distracted. Plus, a cat’s usual diet in the wild is fresh prey; the meal itself may attract larger predators who may not only want your dinner, but you as well. So, it’s pretty hard for a cat to really relax when eating. There is usually lots of looking around and pauses to check the environment. They instinctively know eating is dangerous.”
The following tips will help you create a mealtime environment that allows your cat to enjoy her food in peace.
Don’t place food or water bowls near the litter box
Most cat parents already know this, but it bears repeating: cats do not like to eat near where they eliminate. This goes back to cats’ wild origins: in the wild, the scent of a cat’s waste may attract predators. And while cats will eat if having food near the litter box is the only option, this will almost always create litter box problems: the cat will simply stop using the box and find another place to do her business.
Observe your cat’s body language during mealtime
Does your cat seem nervous while she eats? Does she frequently look up from her food to look around? If so, you may need to find an area that feels safer to your cat. Some cats don’t like having their back to a doorway when they eat. Some cats prefer to eat on elevated surfaces.
Don’t feed multiple cats from the same bowl
In multicat households, each cat should have her own bowl. Depending on your cats’ temperaments, you may need to place feeding bowls in separate areas, especially if one cat eats faster than another, or if not all cats eat the same food.
Feed cats separately
In some cases, separating cats at mealtime may be the best solution for everyone, especially for more timid or nervous cats. Feeding cats separately, behind closed doors if ncessary, will allow everyone to eat in peace.
Get a programmable feeder
The Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder reads a cat’s microchip to determine whether to give the cat access to the food inside. When the feeder is not in use, the food compartment is covered with a clear lid. As the cat approaches the feeder, it reads the cat’s chip and the lid retracts.
Allegra and Ruby ate separately. Allegra eats super fast, whereas Ruby liked to savor her meal. When I fed both of them in the kitchen, Allegra would try to nose her way into Ruby’s dish after she finished her meal. This would inevitably lead to Ruby growling, and while Allegra would heed the warning and step away, it would take a while for Ruby to go back to her dish, and I had to work at keeping Allegra from trying to get to it again. This created unecessary stress for Ruby. After I started feeding Ruby on the bathroom counter with the door closed, everybody was happy.
In fact, it was almost comical in that Ruby ran into the bathroom when she thought it was mealtime (which, sometimes, could be hours before the actual event) as if to say “is it time yet, Mom? Is it time?” My cat sitter used to report that when she came over, Ruby barely greeted her before racing into the bathroom.
Do you have issues with your cats around mealtime? How do you handle them?
This article was first published in 2016 and has been updated.