As I explained in Free-feeding vs. Portioned Meals for Cats and Shadowood’s Feline Fat Farm – A Weight Loss Program for Cats, after decades of free feeding my family felines, I switched to portioned meals back in 2007 when I got tired of tripping over tubby cats. I had been avoiding making this switch for a very long time, mostly because I had no idea how I would prevent 14 cats from stealing each other’s meticulously portioned meals. The problem seemed insurmountable, or at least too mind-boggling to attempt.
I tried first to feed the Pride in my tiny kitchen on 14 separate plates with each cat remaining obediently in its assigned spot until all plates were cleaned. Yeah, right. I can’t imagine what lunacy overcame me and made me think for a single addled moment that such a strategy would work. The cats had no experience or concept of “separate” where meals were concerned, so of course they raced from plate to plate, stealing bites where they may, leaving me to wave my arms uselessly in their midst, trying to shoo one away while redirecting another. Strike one.
Physical separation seemed the likely solution to this logistical nightmare. My house, however, does not contain 14 separate rooms, so I tried first to feed in shifts. Made sense on paper, created chaos in practice. Every time I tried to segregate a single cat in a single room with a single food dish, several more famished felines scooted in before I could get the door shut. With each cat, each room, and each food dish, the scene recurred, making the whole hair-pulling process untenable and unmanageable. To make matters worse, certain members of the Pride, who had always enjoyed communal meals, were adverse to eating alone. The ex-feral, Phantom, even went into a catatonic panic when left alone in a closed room. Clearly another solution had to be found. Strike two.
A melding of the two strategies held some promise of success, since there were a few cats who actually preferred to eat alone away from the madding crowd of felines in the kitchen. The trick was to shove each little cat butt through a narrowly cracked doorway so that no other cat butts could follow on their heels. This was accomplished by not attempting to put both cat and food into the room simultaneously. After I had as many cats segregated in as many rooms as possible, I accompanied the rest into the kitchen where I intended to once again try to convince them to eat off of separate plates. Now that half of the cats were safely tucked away in separate rooms, I was left with only seven to supervise in the kitchen.
I prepared all fourteen plates and put seven of them around the kitchen floor, positioning a cat at each plate. I then ran the other seven plates to each of the segregated cats while the “kitchen seven” were busy eating. By the time I got back to the kitchen, the faster eaters were finishing their meals, at which point I unceremoniously scooted each of them out of the kitchen before any cat burglary could commence. After all of the kitchen diners were finished, I waited another 5-10 minutes to give the various room diners time to clean their plates before reuniting the Pride and cleaning up the dishes. The system worked. HOME RUN!
Over the years, there have been necessary adjustments to accommodate individual feeding schedules of the very young, the very old, and/or the ailing. To my great advantage and relief, however, most of the cats have adopted their own preferred spots in the kitchen or their own preferred separate “dining” rooms, and they all understand that they are to eat only the food offered to them on their own plates (note that I typed “understand” and not “unconditionally agree”). There are still occasional minor indiscretions, but as a rule, the Pride now behaves in as civil a manner as innately wild carnivores could ever be expected to behave during mealtimes.