Feeding a cat is easy, right? You just put food into a bowl and away they go. What could be simpler? Well, actually, quite a lot of things. If you think keeping a cat fed and watered is as easy as pouring the contents of a sachet into plastic cat bowls, and sticking another plastic bowl under the tap, you’ve probably never had a cat. If you’re a cat owner, you’re already likely to know they can be surprisingly fussy eaters – not just in terms of the food they eat, but what they’ll eat it from. That’s why we’re just just talking about cat bowls in this article, we’re talking about the full range of cat feeders.
In truth, not all cats will go for standard cat bowls – especially if they were once feral, or weren’t domesticated during their early lives. Even those that do can have strange eating habits. Some cats wolf down everything you put in front of them and get indigestion! Others seem to enjoy taking everything out of the bowl and then chasing it around your home.There are cats who will insist on drinking water from just about everywhere they can find it – other than the cat water bowl you’ve so kindly laid
out for them. Mealtimes for pets can become something of a quandary.
But fear not! The clever people who make cat accessories have thought of everything, including your fussy furry friend, and help is at hand. Also, academics and experts have assessed the preferences of cats when it comes to how they like to eat, and we’ve taken that advice on board. Read on as we explore the full range of cat food dishes, cat feeders, and all that’s good and bad about them!
Types Of Cat Feeders
1. Cat Bowls
We know we just pointed out that not every cat loves a cat bowl or more ornate cat food dishes, but many – if not most – of them do. And even if they are a little fussy, there’s a few variations on the whole ‘cat bowl’ theme, from cat bowl size to cat bowl style. There’s no reason a bowl can’t become your chosen cat feeder if you adapt it to what your pet wants from it. Some of them might even help you to keep your floor free of stray bits of food, too!
1.1 Basic Cat Food Bowls
Description: Everybody knows what these are and what they look like. It’s a bowl or a dish, and it’s made of either plastic, steel or ceramic. In terms of cat feeders, this is entry level. Generally, you’ll have two of these – one for food and one for water.
Pros: They’re a basic tool to do a basic job. You put food in the bowl, your cat comes and eats the food, job done. Put a cat water bowl next to the cat food bowl, and that’s meal time sorted.
Cons: Your cat will decide when to eat and how much to eat. If that’s at a time that isn’t convenient to you, you may find yourself getting nudged by an agitated cat who’s hungry again in the middle of the night. There’s no security, so if the door is open, other neighbourhood cats may come in and help themselves to your pet’s intended meal. By the way, if that’s a problem for you, consider a cat flap. We’ve got a detailed cat flap guide here. Things can also get messy with two bowls – an enthusiastic eater and/or a cat with a swishy tale can easily send the contents of one bowl flying whilst trying to get at the other!
Typical price: $5 or less per bowl, although ceramic cat bowls and metal cat bowls can be a little more (although metal cat bowls are obviously more durable!).
1.2 Double Diner Cat Food Bowls
Description: These double cat bowls are intended for a more compact and convenient cat mealtime experience! Instead of two bowls, this is just one, with two compartments. One for food, and one for water. We’ve also seen variants with a third compartment for biscuits – but who doesn’t just sprinkle those over the top of the food? They’re usually made out of plastic.
Pros: Even easier than using basic cat bowls. You only have one thing to pick up, fill and put down again. You’re less likely to get mess, because there isn’t a separate bowl to knock over. Cats tend to prefer these to basic bowls, because it’s less effort or them. They can just sit or lay in the same place and alternate between one compartment and the other.
Cons: Most of the cons of the basic cat bowls also apply here. You’re still at the whim of when your cat wants to eat. You’re still at risk of food being stolen if your property is open to other cats, too.
Typical price: Still around the $5 or less mark – double cat bowls are a basic solution, and you shouldn’t be paying a premium for them.
1.3 Skidstop Cat Food Bowls (AKA Non Slip Cat Bowls)
Description: Sometimes, the best ideas are the easiest ones. Someone – probably a long suffering cat owner – saw a common problem and an immediate solution. They took a standard cat bowl and fitted a strip of rubber across the bottom of it. As if by magic, your cat’s bowl no longer slides across the floor! Aside from that, they look like normal cat bowls in every way.
Pros: You get all the benefits of standard cat bowls with less of the mess. Because your cat can no longer send their bowl flying, you won’t have food debris all over the floor because of stray paws and tails. The bowls should always be where you left them. Non slip cat bowls are a neater cat feeder solution!
Cons: Not all food spillage is because of bowls being knocked. Sometimes, cats just pick the food up and drop it elsewhere anyway. These bowls don’t solve that problem. Also, see above for the previously stated issues about meal timings and security. They all still apply with skidstop cat bowls.
Typical price: $5-$10. Still not hugely expensive, but you pay a little extra for the additional feature.
1.4 No Bend Cat Bowls
Description: Someone, somewhere, has thought of everything. This is such a basic idea, but such a great convenience for the people who’d benefit from it. No Bend Cat Bowls are just a pair of normal cat bowls on a stick. The stick has adjustable height. The idea is that for older cat owners, or cat owners with mobility problems, you don’t need to bend up and down from floor level to serve your cat’s meal. Picture a double diner cat bowl with a cane attached and you won’t be far wrong. They’re usually plastic cat bowls.
Pros: Just the same as the double diner cat bowl, with the added bonus that there’s less demand on you. You’re not bending down to the floor to place or retrieve the bowls, the adjustable height stick means they come to you.
Cons: This kind of cat bowl is solving a problem for you personally, not your cat in general. All of the weaknesses of the double diner cat bowl also apply here. Nothing’s changed apart from the addition of the stick.
Typical price: Around $20. Convenience always costs, sadly.
1.5 Catch Cat Feeders
Description: To the untrained eye, these may look like an upturned hair brush, or a toy hedgehog. They’re not. Catch cat feeders are designed to more closely represent the sort of conditions a cat might eat from in the wild. They’re modelled on tufts of grass, designed to encourage and sharpen a cat’s foraging skills, as they have to work their way between the plastic tufts to get at their meal.
Pros: First off, these might be an easier sell to a feral or less domesticated cat who’s never seen a bowl before. They’re also stimulating to your cat, as they present a problem to solve in order to get at its food. On the topic of stimulating cats, check out our cat furniture & scratchers guide! Because the food is distributed between the ‘tufts’ rather than heaped together, it’s harder for your cat to wolf it all down in thirty seconds. If your cat could stand to lose a little weight – or suffers indigestion – catch cat feeders can help. They slow mealtimes down.
Cons: We’re just going to come straight out and say it – mess. The food isn’t contained within a bowl, it’s spread between artificial tufts of plastic grass, which your cat is likely to paw at. It could end up going anywhere. If your cat is used to eating from a bowl, it might look at a catch cat feeder and wonder why you’re trying to torture it – they can be a challenge. Also – and obviously – you can’t pour water into a catch cat feeder. There’s no brim. You’ll need a separate bowl for that. All the security and timing issues with cat bowls in general also apply here, too.
Typical price: $25.00 or thereabouts. You won’t often find them in shops, and so they have to be ordered from specialist retailers.
2. Cube Cat Feeders
Owner of a shy cat when it comes to eating? Some cats – especially those who were raised as part of a large litter – can be nervous eaters. They give themselves away by repeatedly checking over their shoulders before settling down to eat anything. Even the process of eating can be stressful to them, because they’re constantly braced for another cat to come and challenge them for their food, and so they eat everything quickly and nervously. That’s why somebody invented cube cat feeders.
Description: Basically a little cat cabin. A solid (usually plastic) floor and ceiling, with three solid walls and an open front so your cat never feels trapped. There are compartments inside for food and water. There’s even enough room for a cat to sleep. By the way, did we mention our guide to cat beds?
Pros: This is great for nervous eaters. Because there are walls on three sides they’ll feel much more secure than if they were eating in an open space. There’s also the bonus that they’re tidier than having bowls on the floor; even if your cat does knock things over or play with their food, it’s unlikely to spread too far outside the box. As cat feeders go, these are a nice, self contained solution.
Cons: You still don’t have control on when and how much your cat eats, and you’re still at risk of other cats entering the house and helping themselves to the food. They’re also quite large, and visible. You’d have to be OK with your cat’s own dining booth being on display at all times! To the untrained cat’s eye, they can look like cat carriers (see our cat carrier guide for more information on those), so they may be reluctant to get in without a little encouragement.
Typical price: $40 or more, depending on where you find them. They’re a neat, elegant solution with a price to match.
3. Automatic Cat Feeders
Take back control of your cat’s feeding habits by making meals run on your own schedule! Automatic cat feeders mean that your pet learns a routine, and also improves food security, too. No more feeding the rest of the neighbourhood’s cats!
3.1 Basic Automatic Cat Feeders
Description: The clue is in the name! At heart, automatic cat feeders are a covered hatch. They come with a timer, and open up at a time specified by you. Once the hatch pops open, your cat is free to eat.
Pros: You can control portion size. Because the food isn’t there, open all day for your cat to go at constantly, you decide how much it eats and when. This is ideal for cats who are on a diet. It also means you have full control over time. How many times have you had a lie in ruined because your cat wants breakfast at the usual time? With a programmable interactive cat feeder, you don’t need to be there to serve meals. You can stay in bed, and your well fed cat will let you rest!
The same applies if you’re working late. Automatic cat feeders mean you don’t have to worry that your cat is at home starving whilst you’re putting the hours in. Even if you’re not home, the cat feeder will spring open at the required time, and your cat gets fed. Automatic cat feeders can even be useful for holidays. They come in various sizes, and larger models will allow you enough space to store a full week of meals. That’s why some people call them a vacation cat feeder!
Cons: Nervous cats might not like the noise. Nor might you, for that matter. Because of the moving parts, some models can be surprisingly loud, which can put your cat off going near them even if there is food in there. Also, like anything with moving parts, it can break or jam, leaving you with a hungry cat and a useless appliance. Also bear in mind your cat’s personality. Is it the type to destroy a box of biscuits to get at the food inside? If your cat is strong, skilled, and clever enough to know the food is still in there even when it’s shut, it may attack it until it finds a way in.
Typical price: Basic models start at somewhere around the $40 mark, although larger models will cost a lot more.
3.2 Microchipped Automatic Cat Feeders
Description: Exactly the same as the basic models, only with an extra security feature. A microchip cat feeder comes with a sensor that detects your cat as it approaches. If your cat isn’t microchipped, a special tag can be connected to its collar, doing the same job.
Pros: All the benefits of the basic model, with an extra layer of security. Because of the microchip aspect, there’s now no risk of any other animals getting at your cat’s food. When your cat walks away, these cat feeders automatically close.
Cons: Again, very similar to the basic model. There’s a couple of extra things to think about, too. If your cat isn’t chipped, and loses its collar, it can no longer open the cat feeder. It’s also battery operated, so eventually when the batteries run out, it will stop working until you replace them. That isn’t great if it happens when you’re away from home.
Typical price: This is the peak end of the market for cat mealtime solutions. Be prepared to pay $100 or more if you think this is the right option for you.
4. Cat Water Fountains
Description: These aren’t, strictly speaking, cat feeders. But when your cat eats, it should also drink. Staying hydrated is very important to feline heath, and doubly so in warm months. Not all cats seem to enjoy drinking from a bowl. A cat water fountain solves that problem. They’re exactly like drinking fountains for humans, only smaller.
Pros: They tend to hold more water than a bowl, meaning they need topping up less often. Because they generally come with a filter, they’re also better at keeping drinking water clean. Dust or food detritus in a bowl can put a cat off drinking from it. Remember, they’re very clean animals! Also, you know how your cat seems to love licking water up straight from the tap? That’s because their instincts tell them that running water is better for them than water that’s still. A cat water fountain will appeal to them in exactly the same way.
Cons: Well, firstly, they’re more expensive than bowls; but you’d probably guessed that anyway. They also require maintenance; the water filter will need replacing regularly if the water is to stay clean and the machine is to keep on working. You’re also going to need a power supply, which limits where you can install them in your home, as well as adding to your power bill.
Typical price: They range in design a lot from ugly to artistic, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get a good one for around $25.
There are options available for every type of cat, and every type of cat owner. If you and your cat are happy using bowls and doing things the good old fashioned way, who are we to disagree? Here are a few things to think about, though.
- What’s your lifestyle? Are you around at the same times every night and every morning? If you’re not, does that disrupt mealtimes for your cat? An automatic cat feeder might help you.
- Is your cat a house cat? If so, you probably don’t have any security concerns. There’s no need to think about the microchip options.
- Where does your cat eat? If you have carpets down around your cat’s feeding area, you don’t want food getting dropped and then pawed into it. Bowls are fine for wipe clean areas. They’re less fun around carpets.
- Is your cat drinking enough water? If not, it just might not like the look of the water in the bowl. Try making things more interesting with a cat water fountain.
Like we said, cats are fussy eaters, but there’s a whole industry built around catering for them, not to mention at entire Journal of Applied Animal Science to provide guidlines on how best to do it. We hope you now have a better understanding of the options, and you’re a step closer to hassle free cat mealtimes!