Do you have at least two cats, and at least one who’s pretty much always the perpetrator of an all-too-common-amongst-felines crime: food theft? I feel you; I’ve definitely had this problem in the past myself.
Luckily, I’ve managed to find a solution that’s perfect for both my cats, one that’s permanently resolved the issue of stealing food as well as a bunch of other problems I was having. Sure, if I walk away near the end of when I hand-feed my cats, which I still do twice a day, my second cat, Bjorn, will sneak-thief a munch of what’s left of my first cat, Avery’s, breakfast or dinner. But otherwise, food stealing is a now officially non-issue in my home.
I’m going to go over four different solutions to this problem. They’re all excellent, but some work better than others in particular cases.
What types of cases? One has to do with the reason behind why you want to stop a cat from eating another cat’s food. There are a lot of reasons you might want to stop food theft – from preventing obesity to preventing cats who like to graze from being without grub all day. There are cats who have specialized diets and whose special diet meals need protecting from other cats in the household. There are cats who need medications sprinkled into their meals as well.
Besides that, there are factors, like feeding wet versus dry, that will impact your decision on solutions that work out best for you. As a result of so many factors going into one solution being better than another, I’ve done my best to outline what amount to pros and cons of each within the context of the individual fix.
My particular solution is Fix #4. It’s a system I didn’t know initially would fix so many issues in my household between my two cats – ranging from behavioural issues like eating weird things to drastically reducing squabbles between my cats; it’s even helped substantially to reduce the amount of feline boredom my indoor cats have on the daily. Basically, it’s been wonderful. The fix actually went so far as to substantially enhance my cats’ daily lives, in my opinion. Which is a bit strange to say about a food stealing fix, but there you have it.
My fix is completely unnecessary for most, although it’s not much more expensive to implement than any of the other solutions. It’s certainly not DIY-intensive at all, but it is only for pet parents who feed their cats at least some kibble. If you’re curious about what it is, skip to section 4. I placed it last on purpose because I wanted the far more obvious solutions, which to be fair deal in a more head-on way with the problem of food stealing amongst cats, ahead in the discussion. Solutions 1-3 work just the way you need them to, especially fixes 1 and 2, which are absolutely more helpful to you if you really need food thieving down to zero than my odd set up.
Without further ado!
Easy Fixes to Keep Cats from Eating Each Others’ Food
Fix 1: Microchip Cat Feeders to Keep Cats from Eating Each Other’s Food
Microchip cat feeders scan the pet that’s in front of them for a microchip or (if your cats aren’t chipped) an RFID tag (that can be placed on a collar) that matches what’s allowed access to it, then if the right chip or tag is there, opens and stays open until the microchip or tag is no longer in very close range.
I frequently cat sat for an elderly kitty, Molly, who eats exclusively out of one of these, and has for years. It works perfectly well at doing what it’s supposed to: only opening up for cats who are supposed to be allowed in to eat. Molly’s pet parents first snagged one of these for each of their two cats to prevent issues with their other cat stealing Molly’s grub, but she continues to use it to eat out of to this day, although her brother passed away a couple years back.
I don’t know how many microchip cat feeders are out there. I’ve looked, and based on what I found, it appears there’s only one viable option, the SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder, which is the one Molly uses.
It has a lot of positive reviews, and most of the negatives are about the fact that if an approved cat is standing right in front of the feeder, the food bowl will open even if there’s another cat who’s not approved standing right next to the first. This means that often an approved cat will go in for some grub, and another cat will sneak in from the back or sides to get at grub. In situations like these, pet parents have improvised by placing the SureFeed in a cardboard box, a plastic container, or some other cute lil’ decorative box, or grabbing a rear cover for the pet feeder instead.
Others who have even more sneaky pets who stand right next to the approved cat and eat right next to him or her grab a box and create a hole just big enough for the approved cat to get his or her head in, without leaving space for a second cat. This works out pretty well, but in my opinion, it’s not as ideal a solution as fix #2 creates, so check that out if you think your cat who steals is going to be particularly clever in the theft department.
Upsides to this fix? You can feed kibble or wet food. You can make it completely thief proof with a little DIY, which means if your cat has a special diet that shouldn’t be stolen, it’s safe. You can keep track of how much each cat has eaten by monitoring the bowls and how long it takes before refills, or you can be sure to stick to regular portions delved out once or twice or more a day.
Downsides? May require a little DIY and may be tricky to get the perfect set up if you have a food thief who’s particularly sneaky. It can also be expensive if you have a lot of cats.
So what’s the alternative, that’s equally good for cats who eat wet, and even less likely to allow food theft than this particular fix?
Fix 2: Microchip Cat Doors to Completely Stop a Cat Eating the Other Cat’s Food
Now, you likely know what a microchip cat door does – allows or denies entry to a pet based on whether it has the right microchip or not. Again, a lot of these will include the option to use RFID tags instead of microchips in case your pets aren’t chipped.
But how would you use one of these to make sure one cat doesn’t steal another cat’s food in your home?
For one, you could put one into a door to a specific room in your house, like an interior cat door, but one that would allow access to only one pet. I’d recommend this option if the cat who has his or her food stolen also gets picked on or beat up by the other cat at times, and thus could really use a space of his or her own to retreat until the second cat’s anger has passed. In this case, I’d deck that room out with a scratcher, food, water, and a litter box, so that if the cat wants to, he or she can spend many hours there without having to leave for anything.
A second option, and one that’s by far the most popular based on what I’ve seen in terms of getting cats to stop eating each other’s food: grab a cat-sized container, make a hole in it, and install the microchip cat door to create a little eating room for a single cat.
There are a lot more options when it comes to microchip cat doors, though SureFlap’s microchip cat flap, which is from the same company that makes the SureFeed cat feeder, seems to have one of if not the best option.
Looking particularly at the SureFlap microchip cat flap, a lot of pet parents have integrated it into chests or into cheap see-through plastic storage boxes to create these sorts of little rooms for cats who often get their food stolen. One pet parent had trouble getting her cat to accept eating a meal in one of these DIY feeding rooms, so she wrote an amazing step-by-step guide on how to train timid kitties to be happy eating in one.
The door opening on the standard SureFlap pet door is: 4 3/4 inches high x 5 5/8 inches wide. Keep this in mind as if you need something bigger to ensure a larger cat won’t have difficulty going through, you might want to opt for a larger SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap instead, this one for instance which has a door opening 7 inches high x 6 11/16 inches wide.
Upsides to this fix? You can use whatever bowl or cat toy you want to feed your cat in. Which means if your cats eat food to quickly, whether wet or dry food, you can use a slow feed cat bowl like the Outward Hound Spiral Orange Fun Feeder or the Hyper Pet LickiMat Boredom Buster to slow them down. You can also use a cat food toy like the Petsafe Slimcat or the Ito Rocky Treat Boredom Dispensing Slow Feeder.
As I mentioned before, you can integrate the microchip cat door into an interior room door, or you can create a little feeding room for your cat instead. If you give your cat a dedicated room, this can help in the case of aggression from other cats, creating a safe place for him or her to withdraw and be on his or her own while the aggression passes. If you use a little feeding room instead, you really use very little space and the end result is quite an impenetrable room, with an un-steal-able bowl of food, more safe than any other fix I could imagine.
The downsides? Besides being pricey if you want to make a room for more than one cat, you also have to be comfortable DIYing a little bit. Just a wee bit. It’s also not so easy if you want to give your cats many, many meals throughout the day, which is what the next solution does quite easily…
Fix 3: Automatic Timed Cat Feeders to Stop Food Stealing Problems
There are a lot of automatic timed cat feeders out there, the two most common options being rotating ones that reveal food set out for the day at different time intervals, as well as ones that drop out food at different intervals of the day.
In terms of keeping cats from stealing food completely, this almost certainly isn’t going to work, but if what you need is to keep the cats in your household from having completely empty bellies throughout the day, it should do the trick.
One option is to have two rotating timed cat feeders, like the PetSafe 5 Meal Pet Feeder for Dogs and Cats sat side by side and going off at exactly the same time, so each cat gets to eat at their own bowl, and the cat that typically steals would have to get down his or her meal before eating the extra from the second cat. You can space out the bowls to make thieving a little more difficult to do.
Another option is to have one dispensing cat feeder, like the PetSafe Healthy Pet Simply Feeder drop food on a tray so that the food is scattered, like this pet parent does. That way, multiple cats can eat at once, and less-quick kitties can still get a bunch of food in their systems before the food thief gets at the rest of the grub.
In my opinion, this trick absolutely not ideal for feeding every meal of the day. I personally think it’s a bit better to have something like one meal a day where you feed the cats by hand on top of using one of these automatic timed cat feeder systems. Why? Your food thief will almost certainly eat more than the others, so you can give this cat a lot less food at dinner at the end of the day, while giving the other cats a little bit more food as they’ll have eaten less. You can lift each cat to feel their weight or actually weigh them every so often to make sure no one is gaining or losing weight and you’ve got the balance right.
The upsides to this fix? You don’t have to worry about food during the day being stolen, as it’s shared. Your cats will be eating incrementally, so no one cat will have an empty stomach ever. You will also notice a lot more activity if you schedule the feedings often enough, as cats will definitely wake up from a nap if they are gearing up for food.
The downsides to this fix? You have to keep an eye on the cats to make sure no weight gain or loss is happening. But this is easy to do in my opinion if you’re feeding one meal a day by hand. This fix is not possible for those who feed exclusively wet, or for those who need to keep food from a cat thief because that food is only meant to be eaten by one cat. It’s also not a good idea if your cats have different dietary requirements and can’t all eat the same food.
But if this particular system works out for your household, and you’d like what I consider to be the “upgraded” version of it – a system I personally use day in, day out, check out Fix #4…
Fix 4: My Ideal Solution: Automatic Timed Feeder + Food Toy Combo
I have a peculiar set up, but it’s one that works out so amazingly well for me and for the odd set of problems I’ve had to work around. First, let me tell you my problems.
The worst by far is that Avery and Bjorn are both voracious eaters; they scarf down everything in front of them in 10 seconds flat if they get a chance. They need to be slowed down when they eat in the form of a slow feed cat bowl or a cat food toy, or else for sure one (or both) are regularly going to vomit or have indigestion.
Also, what happens if Bjorn ever has an empty stomach for long enough – he’ll vomit bile; no good. So Bjorn needs to be fed throughout the day or I come home to a mess on the floor, and a really guilty feeling of having let my poor baby down.
While Avery doesn’t vomit if he’s too hungry, he’ll get really agitated and sometimes even pick a fight with Bjorn when he’s hangry. He’s the most calm, cool cat ever, and then on an empty stomach, he’ll get put on edge and moody and becomes not very nice to other cats.
Speaking of behavioural issues if my cats are ever hungry – Bjorn has eaten small pieces of a cork tray before (it was a terrible experience, he spent the next day throwing it all up) because he just went wild one day, many months after having used the very same cork tray to eat off of, and my guess is because he was feeling particularly ravished at the moment. He’s licked soap before… like he’d go onto the counter top in the bathroom and lick at it until I took it away from him, I think because it smells or tastes like animal fat. He nibbles and gnaws on soft plastic like the bag his litter comes in if he’s too hungry as well. Basically he just cannot stand feeling hungry too long, or he gets the urge to eat pretty desperately, and honestly, I can’t blame him, who doesn’t?
The one last thing I wanted to fix with my set up needs a little background information. Bjorn is very good at staying entertained and mentally stimulated, and will go out of his way to play with toys I leave out that cats can play with by themselves. His favourite? Little cat springs I place on the edges of cat trees and cat scartchers so he can knock them off and go running down the halls chasing them. Avery by contrast is probably the laziest cat I have ever met in my life, and that’s not an exaggeration. He’ll sometimes play with cat springs – they’re his favourite, too – but really rarely and only if he’s in the mood. Avery desperately needs me to provide him some sort of mental stimulation throughout his day.
Sometimes Avery would sleep in so much (because it’s his favourite thing to do obviously) he’d go practically the whole day without moving. If that happened he’d get wired all night and spend it hyperactive, keeping us up as well, get a bit of constipation, or both. So to give Avery at least a little mental stimulation around food times, I make sure to feed him in a cat food toy.
Which brings me to my set up. It looks like this:
One part automatic cat feeder, PetSafe Healthy Pet Simply Feeder, and one part cat food toy, the Catit Senses Food Tree. I use an IKEA BEKVAM wooden stool to prop up the automatic feeder, and keep the cat food toy in place. To attach the toy to the bottom of the stool, I took two strips of Velcro with sticker adhesive on the back, stuck them back to back and make one long strip that I could fasten onto itself. It works really well, keeps the food tree tight to the stool, and is easy to remove and place back for when I need to clean the toy.
This set up goes off nearly every 4 hours, 1/8th of a cup at: 7 AM, 11 AM, 3 PM, 7 PM, 9 PM, & 3 AM. Then at 8 AM & 10 PM, I feed the cats kibble mixed with water so I can pick them up and make sure they’re getting enough to eat each albeit the daily sharing, and to make sure they get enough water in their systems since sometimes male cats who don’t drink enough end up with UTIs. Typically I feed Avery about 3/8th of a cup of kibble at this point, and Bjorn 1/8th of a cup of kibble mixed with water since Bjorn eats a lot faster and more aggressively during the day.
I’ve discussed how happy I am with the whole set up in my review of the automatic feeder here, and spoken about how much I love that particular slow feed cat toy in my review of it here. In terms of food theft, none exists because I patrol mealtimes where I give out food mixed with water twice a day, and the cats share food when the feeder goes off every 4 hours. Bjorn eats a lot more during these times than Avery, as I mentioned, because he currently scarfs down food faster due to him being a stray more recently than Avery. Still, Avery gets quite a lot out of the feeder throughout the day considering it falls into the toy and onto the floor pretty scattered, so a mouthful for each cat is quite easy to get off the floor, then the remaining pieces are picked out of the toy one at a time to be eaten.
Since I’ve already discussed the upsides as I see them (mental stimulation, cats fighting less, cats never having an empty stomach, and all that jazz), let me get into the downsides as I see them.
The downsides: It’s a bit more hands on as if I were completely relying on this system, and not feeding once or twice a day, Avery would end up with less food than he needs and Bjorn more than he needs in the long run.
I absolutely couldn’t use this system if I had a cat with a special diet, unless of course that diet was also fine for the other cats. Bjorn can’t have gluten, but Avery can, so Avery eats the cat food Bjorn can have without tummy issues, but if one needed something specialized that the other couldn’t have, due to weight gain or allergies or both, this system wouldn’t work. I also couldn’t use this system if I fed exclusively wet food.
All in all, not bad, and for those who feed some or exclusively kibble, I think it’s incredibly viable. But definitely let me know what you think!
Your Thoughts on Cats Stealing Food?
Have you ever had a cat steal another cat’s food? Did you ever resolve the issue? If so, how?
Have you ever looked for a more fool-proof system? Which method do you think works best? Which do you think are not ideal or not practical in your household?
Do you have any tips for pet parents looking to curb food theft amongst their cats? Have you got any cats-stealing-food stories you can share with us?
Looking forward to hearing about your thoughts & experiences in the comments down below!