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Feeding Cats In A Multi-cat Household: A Quick Guide

Dec 7, 2013 · Updated Jul 17, 2015 · ·
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  1. Anne
    It doesn't even take the sound of a tin can being taken out of the cupboard to start our cats going. Their own biological clock tells them food time is near and they get as excited as piranhas in an underwater butcher’s shop. Before you know it, it’s feline feeding frenzy time!

    Food makes up a major part of a cat’s life. Depending on the owner to provide them with the building blocks of life itself, cats take on the behavioral feeding patterns of kittens in the nest, meowing loudly to make sure you don’t forget they’re there and they’re hungry.

    Handling a single hungry cat is easy. Whatever your feeding schedule is like, your cat is likely to show some level of interest and you will provide her with her meal. But what if you share your home with more than one cat? The cats are likely to excite each other with their vocal meowing, and feeding time can become fairly intense. If the cats have to compete over food dishes, or if for any reason you can’t or won’t feed them at once, it could be very difficult to have them all together in the same room.

    The Challenges of Feeding in a Multi-Cat Household

    Owners of multiple cats can find themselves facing several feeding challenges. Just how challenging things can get depends on the -
    • Number of cats involved.
    • Temperaments of the cats involved.
    • Size of the feeding area and number of dishes available.
    • Specific dietary needs and concerns.

    Rivalry and Food-Induced Aggression

    Cats can have fairly complex social interactions with each other. They form their own social hierarchy and can form either friendships or bitter rivalries with their fellow felines Thus, in a multi-cat household there is always potential competition over resources. In Kitty’s view, these resources can include available napping spots, litter boxes, owner’s attention and of course, food.

    Some cats are more likely than others to share their food, allowing their feline buddies to stick their head right into the same food dish. Other cats go crazy when another cat, friend or foe, comes near their lunch. Competition over food can quickly deteriorate into rivalry in other areas too. You could eventually end up with a behavioral issue, whether cat-to-cat aggression, or stress-induced litterbox problems.

    As always, prevention is key. It’s always best to have enough feeding dishes with enough space between them to keep everyone happy.

    Feeding different diets

    Sharing food dishes, whether simultaneously or with one cat “finishing up” after another, may not always be a good idea. Sometimes, you have to feed different diets to different cats. This can happen when one of your cats -
    • has a medical condition requiring a specific diet.
    • needs to take medication mixed into his food.
    • suffers from a food allergy.
    • should have his or her food consumption limited due to weight issues.
    In each of these situations, you can’t risk having cats eat from food dishes other than their own.

    Practical Cat Feeding Tips for Multi-Cat Households

    • Have enough food dishes.
    • Keep enough distance between food stations.
    • Prepare food dishes in advance and only then let the cats into the room.
    • Don’t let cats go hungry for too long. This could make them even more agitated prior to feeding times, increasing risk of aggression.
    • If you need to feed separate diets - feed in separate rooms, or feed in the same room at different times, making sure the other cats are locked out of the room.
    • Switch to scheduled feeding and avoid free feeding, especially if you have any cats with special dietary needs.

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  1. camillaray
    We are the crazy humans owned by 12 cats! They have dry food outside & inside (they have a kitty flap), and each get canned food each morning (and some of them get a bite at night as well). The greedy ones have to be separated from those less demanding, so Felix & Oscar, (the Tooners, as in cartoon), and the kittens (half-grown, at least, now), Taz & Sprite, eat in one bathroom, while Houdini & Laurel eat in the utility room. Then, Max, Barnabus, Hardy & Turbo Charger eat in the kitchen, and Mary Jane & Ace eat in the other bathroom. It's a real task feeding felines in our house in the morning!
  2. louche
    The only way it worked when Sassy was still here was the microchip feeder. Grimmy wasn't persistent enough, nor Trubbles (daggy doo), to get to Sassy's food. And am very grateful for that.
  3. tarasgirl06
    Yet another update:  Since there are now only 3 felines in the family, I am feeding each cat wherever (s)he wants to eat.  Baby Su is feral and has only ever bonded to me.  She's scared of our newest member, Elvis, and so she likes to eat in the master bedroom.  Tarifa might be anywhere, so she eats wherever she is.  Elvis is the only one I feed in the breakfast room consistently.  It's not the ideal situation, but it's what works for us at this time.
  4. lisa snyder
    Our alpha cat, Cheddar Bob (which is a female w/a funny name, I know... haha) had 2 litters of 5 kittens each.  Both times, I was amazed at what she taught her kittens, especially in regards to food.  We had dogs too, so we had a dog door that led out back, that Cheddar Bob would use from time to time, even though, she mostly stayed in doors, especially during her pregnancy & while her kittens were little.  Anyway, one day I was watching TV in the living room & Cheddar Bob led the kittens into the living room, then went out the dog door.  A few minutes later she came back inside with a LIVE bird & released it.  I was amazed at what she had just done, but also a little frantic myself about now having a bird flying around my living room.  We had a vaulted ceiling in the living room, so the bird was up really high, frantically flying back forth, staying as close to the ceiling as possible.  As I was sitting there trying to decide how I was going to get this bird out of my house, the bird swept down a little bit & in a matter of seconds, Cheddar Bob jumped up onto the top of our entertainment center and then jumped from the top of the entertainment center and snagged the bird right in mid flight.  I could hardly believe my eyes... she then took the bird over to the kittens & proceeded to kill the bird & show the kittens how to eat the bird.  Being an animal lover, in general, I felt sorry for the poor bird, but I was in complete awe of my cat.  As I sat there watching them all eat the bird, I realized that she was teaching her kittens how to fend for themselves, by hunting... I went ahead & let them finish their meal before I took what was left of the bird & discarded it, but I must say I was impressed.  She did the same thing with her second litter of kittens, only she brought in a mole, rather than a bird the second time.  I'd forgotten how powerful animal instinct can be until that moment & it was awesome getting to witness it first hand.  We still have Cheddar Bob today, she's almost 16 now & is still the queen cat of the household.  We gave all of her kittens away, but 2 of them went to live with my parents, so I still get to see them all the time.  We have 3 other cats as well, another female, Bella & 2 males, Cooper & Jinx.  They all get along great, but they know who the boss is... haha... thankfully, I am able to free feed them, but I do use 4 bowls, because they occasionally will all eat at the same time, but usually only when I give them wet food, or if we've accidently run out of dry food without having another one on hand, so when I get home from the store, they'll all rush to the door in anticipation of getting fed.  As soon as they see me they start meowing like crazy, acting coo-coo, like they haven't eaten in a week, when its been a few hours at the most... haha... cats are so funny.. but they get their way, because it gets me to stop bringing in the other groceries and to fill their bowls with food.  But that's okay, cuz I love...
  5. satchmo4
    Satchmo, Sam and Max get separate dishes on the floor.  Felix gets his meals on the kitchen counter.  Something he set up himself.  They get wet food twice a day and I always leave a bowl of dry food. 
  6. tarasgirl06
    We've experienced a loss in our family - our beloved 21-year-old Mainey man passed last November.  Ever since, there has been a shakeup in the family, as there always is after a loss.  Though we have high-quality dry available free-choice and it is "grazed" on at times, the five senior "girls" now demand wet food morning, noon, and night, so that's exactly what they get.  Each has her own bowl, and even though they don't always go to the same places to eat as they used to, everyone has her own food. 
  7. felyne
    This might help someone. We had a heavy and skinnt cat. Once we built a small plywood box with a hinged top and enough room for a food bowl and the cat's body length. The hole in the front was only big enough so he could get thru it and not the heavier cat. Worked like a charm. Might have to do it again as our new one is on meds and needs food out all day or He'll vomit if he eats too fast.
  8. camillel
    I guess I am blessed with my three cats Tigger and Sam always ate out of the same dish No problem When we adopted Salem (the kitten) Tigger and Sam wanted the kitten food over their food. Now I have 3 small bowls and mix the kitten food with the adult food and all three eat together. I haven't gone to one bowl yet but will try when Salem gets older She is only 13 weeks old. Tigger is 12 yrs and Sam is 8yrs
  9. tarasgirl06
    Wanting to express gratitude to poster gladys and agree with every one of your thoughts!  My youngest is going on 11 and my eldest, 21; I credit their longevity and good health to high-quality wet food fed twice a day, high-quality dry food free choice, and lots of fresh water including from a cat fountain which they love.  And lots of love, of course!  Agree 100% about that reunification, too -- so MANY up there watching over us right now!  I grew up with cats and so far, there have been 67 in my life...:)
  10. tarasgirl06
    Me, too, mazie -- they are absolutely incredible!  My Queen Simba, when first inside after being emaciated, covered in sores, and on the streets for who knows how long, was a voracious eater who'd clean her dish and try to clean Marley's too, for a long time, before reassurance and steady supplies of food convinced her she could calm down and even let Marley have some food of her own ;).  Now, with 6, there is something of a feeding hierarchy even though each has his/her own "placemat" (an IKEA tray) with his/her own dish filled with good food twice a day (plus water and high-quality dry free-choice.  And no, there are no overweight cats here.)
  11. mazie
    That's exactly what I thought the first time a witnessed this behavior Tarasgirl06.   It just goes to show that feline behavior is ever so similar whether we are talking about the "big cats" or our small "domestic kitty cats".  This just makes me respect and be in total awe of nature even more.   I learn so much about cat behavior in just sitting in my chair and watching them play, eat, interact with each other, with me, etc. 
  12. tarasgirl06
    Mazie:  Just like lions!  ;)
  13. mazie
    In my household, the parents feed first, the kittens remain a few feet off, playing with each other, then when the parents are close to finished, the little ones will come and feed.  So for a short while, all 6 are eating at the same time.
  14. carla265
    My two girl shared until I had to move into a very small apartment; after the move they quit sharing so I have to put their food dishes in different rooms.
  15. gladys
    Awwww !!!!!!!!Will u be adopting any more furbabys in the future? I have had so many that have crossed over to the otherside. It is sad,but  i have managed  some that have adopted me in the past, I can't help but worry about them so I try to feed them the best food I can, and hope they will live into their twenties God willing.  We never really get over their loss, but at least we can love more furbabys that need us in this lifetime. They really heal us with their love, purrs,etc,,, and it is great to know that we will be  reunited with all of them one day.
  16. maureen29
    That was a nice article. I had 4 cats at one time. Sylvester our 1st adopted us at approx 1 year old. Shortly after I brought home a new kitten Miss Kitty. Sylvester & Miss Kitty were inseparable. About a year later we adopted a rescue kitten Possum found in a wall of a home being renovated. Possum was 9 mos old when he died 3 days after the Northridge quake. He just collapsed & died. He was a bit hi strung but was smart as hell. a month later we bought Elle from a pet store. She was a firecracker. That's when i got the idea to give each their own personal whistle calls. Amazingly they picked it up quick & all know their names & will come when called by name as well. i expanded on the whistle idea with a dinner whistle. Elle was always always playing & getting into mistchief. that when i had the idea to teach her to fetch - yeah like a dog.I bought a bunch of small toy mice that have a bean inside & rattle when shook. She would leap up into the air 6 + feet it seemed to catch it, bring it back to me & do it all over again. 
    About a year later my infant son & i brought home another kitten "Scratch" our #4. he was a really smart cat too, & always kept that wide eyed kitten look in his face. he picked up his name, his whistle, the dinner whistle, & best of all fetching toy mice. we would do this for hours on end. Scratch didn't have a mean bone in his body. he & my son were inseparable for 17 years. Sylvester was a big handsome beauty. loving & playful, # 1 in cat hierachy. Miss Kitty #2 cat, was just that. tender, sweet, dainty, uncoordinated & a very good communicator. Elle was Elle, extremely athletic, playful, loving, & fiercely loyal & i think would defend us if she had to,. bringing each in as kittens a few months apart worked wonderfully for us. the 1st day or 2 there was swatting & hissing, but was over quickly & we were one big family.my cats never fought each other. they played hard. i remember hearing them in the middle of the night running through the house sounding like a heard of thundering elephants. or the jingle ball being batted around the inside of the tub. All of them trying to catch the mouse on a string at the same time. all of them are gone now, but never will i forget what pure joy they brought us.
    Maureen
  17. tarasgirl06
    We're extremely fortunate to live in a big house and there are plenty of all of the necessary things for everyone.  Meals are eaten in the breakfast room, on IKEA trays; each cat has his/her own dish and wet food is offered morning and evening, with high-quality dry available free choice.  They have lots of water dishes, washed and filled daily, plus a filtered water fountain.  It's a pretty happy family of 6!
  18. pisces7386
    We have 3 kitties, one with a special diet. We found that the key to happy eating was supervision. We never had any aggression issues, they are a mom and two of her babies, but we had a lot of 'food sharing' at the beginning which was a no-go with the mom's special diet. We were patient and after about 2 or 3 months of bringing them back to their dishes when they wandered they have learned that they each have their own dish and they should sit and eat otherwise we pick up the dish. Now we are at the point where all we need to do is keep an eye out from the other room and vocally tell them to stop it if they go for another dish. We also try to keep the routine the same everyday.. we put their dishes down in the same order and they each have their own corner of the room. 
  19. lunariris
    We have 9 guys and one needs an expensive vet diet so she has to eat her own food while trying not to give it to the others, though the vet said it's ok if the others eat it as long as I have no one with kidney issues, and so far, so good. She is finicky and refuses to eat without being around the other cats, so we tend to put out a little of her food  with the usual food so she'll eat hers. We also have one or two who will pick a little at their food and come back later, and others who wolf down everything in sight. The issue we have is making sure there's always food out for everyone who picks here and there, and not so much for the over-eaters. More than half of the cats will gladly eat side by side, the other few like to eat by themselves, and I space their dishes accordingly. Sometimes one or two will chirp and ask to be fed away from the rest of the crowd, and I follow them to an appropriate spot and they are happy to eat there, the next day they may eat with everyone with no complaints. I guess it depends on their mood how it goes. As for preparing food, I get their food ready in front of them, but put water gallons on either side of me on the counter-leaving space for all of their dishes, and they don't go up there when I'm getting food ready because they know they can't get to it from there because of the water containers, so they usually just sit patiently on the floor. One or two will get up on something a little higher nearby to watch. They are very intelligent, and know I will put the dishes down when they're ready. But since everyone's a senior now, I'm getting nervous as I know I will eventually have multiple guys that may need different vet diets at once, and I need to figure out how to handle that problem should it arise. I guess everyone with a special diet will have to eat in a different room than everyone else at dinner time. But I also feel that eating together bonds the group more, too, so they see each other as part of the same group, sort of like lions in a pride.
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