You’ve been dreaming of a magical weekend getaway with your loved ones. It may be the first time since the Covid pandemic that you’ll be able to let loose (even if it’s only with your immediate family). Everything is packed and you’re excited for the trip.
But there’s one thing you may have not considered -- what are you going to do with your cats?
Most pet owners run into the problem of worrying about leaving their pets at home at one point or another. Perhaps it’s a family vacation, an emergency or you simply forgot about your furry friends when you’re slammed at work or stressed out.
If any of the above scenarios sound familiar, you’re not alone. Don’t fret -- technology to the rescue because now automatic pet feeders are more affordable than ever.
In this best automatic cat feeder review we’ll uncover the best options on the market, and we’ll also show you why you need one even if you’re not planning on taking a multi-day trip.
Why You Need a Cat Food Dispenser and What to Look For
There’s no point in beating around the bush -- if your pet is overweight, there are severe consequences for their quality of life. Extra weight puts pressure on their little hearts and other organs, leading to nasty complications. According to Cornell researchers, “50% of cats seen at vet clinics are overweight, if not obese.”
The same researchers said that the biggest driving factor for feline obesity is “free feeding.” In the wild, cats don’t have 24/7 access to food, so it doesn’t make sense to just leave a big bowl of food out. And from what we’ve read, many cats are prone to gorging on food (sometimes until they vomit). Obviously, cats aren’t capable of regulating food intake, but as responsible pet owners, we should be in control.
One way this can be solved is by using an automatic feeder. We’ll look at the differences in feeders in the next section, but what other benefits are there to using an auto feeder?
Feeders Are Invaluable for Frequent Travelers
Whether you travel for business or pleasure, finding a minder or a pet hotel for your tabby can be a pain. Setting up an automatic feeder is a viable solution if you have to leave her for up to a week.
If you plan on leaving for a long time, you’ll need to take several precautions. First, supply enough fresh water to supplement the kibble. Second, consider a mechanical or battery-powered feeder in case your neighborhood is known for blackouts. Finally, add an automatic toy or two to your cat’s collection to keep her active and entertained while you’re gone. As long as you get the cat acclimated to the new feeding device beforehand, she should do fine.
Advantages of using an automatic cat feeder:
Your cat may be on a special diet that requires you to feed them at regular intervals.
If you have more than one cat, one may need to eat less (or more) than the others to stay at a healthy weight.
Your cat may need to take medication with their food
Finding a pet sitter/neighbor/relative may be unrealistic or too steep for your budget.
What are the important features to consider?
You may be looking into finding the best automatic cat food feeder for a particular reason or a combination of reasons. Whatever the case may be, we’ll show you what to look for when choosing one.
The most basic type of feeder is called a gravity feeder because it works by replenishing food in your pet’s bowl as soon as your pet eats from it. In other words, it’s like a never-ending bowl of food. Not ideal if your cat is overweight -- as we’ve already pointed out, “free-feeding” may lead to overeating and eventually obesity.
Smart feeders can be divided into several categories: automated feeders, automated feeders with smartphone apps, and RFID-chip activated feeders.
Chip-activated is the latest technology but requires your pet to either have a chip embedded in their skin or located somewhere on their collar. When your pet walks up to the feeding station for a meal, the machine senses and reads the chip, dispensing food specifically for that pet.
Unless you go with a gravity feeder, most automated models need power to operate. Some need an outlet, while others are battery-operated. The former will leave unsightly cables running the length of your kitchen, while the latter are limited by their battery capacity. Bigger batteries last longer between recharges, but they also add to the price of the feeder. If you have to leave your cat alone for a while, make sure to recharge or replace the battery before you depart.
It’s an important factor for two reasons. First, some cats startle easily, and a sudden whirring sound may lead to unpleasant associations with the feeder. Your kitty might prefer to go hungry rather than approach the noisy machine. Second, depending on your preferred feeding schedule, the feeder can disturb your sleep or rest, and no one wants that.
Cat food bowls are a prime breeding ground for bacteria, so an occasional thorough cleaning is a must to keep your tabby healthy. Automatic feeders are no different. So look for a device with a simple design that’s easy to disassemble, reassemble, clean out, and dry. Ideally, you want a feeder that’s mostly dishwasher-safe.
Reputable manufacturers of the best cat food automatic feeders offer at least a 12-month warranty. Most will replace or refund a faulty unit within this timeframe. However, you should read the warranty conditions carefully and follow the user manual. For instance, some brands will not replace a unit that’s been regularly tipped over by an overeager pet. Regular maintenance is also a must if you want your feeder to be liable for a replacement or refund.
The best automatic cat feeder models aren’t cheap because they come with a host of fail safes and extra perks. And they usually last much longer than the cheaper models. Besides, high-end devices include a longer warranty and reliable customer support. So we recommend you don’t skimp on your kitty’s safe feeding. It’s best to wait and save money for a reliable feeder than waste them on cheap soon-to-be-waste.
Depending on how long you’ll be away, you need to factor in the maximum food capacity. And also, it’s worth testing if the cat food stays fresh. Dry cat food is less of a concern, but even in the best automatic cat dispenser food that’s semi-wet or wet is likely to go rancid if left out for more than a day.
What you should know about automatic cat feeders for wet food
If you’re leaving for more than a day, you’ll need a feeder with a built-in ice pack
Wet food feeders are much more expensive than dry ones
Not all feeders have airtight compartments
They generally have a larger portion size, which may not be idle for health reasons
Some don’t have timers
It seems nothing is truly pet-proof judging by the automatic cat feeder reviews we’ve read. Be that as it may, a lot of budget feeders are easy to break into -- all cats have to do is stick their little paws into the feeding nozzle and jossle it around to sneak some snacks. Our picks are generally considered tamper-proof and they’re heavy enough that most cats can’t knock them over. RFID-chip activated smart systems can double as a dog proof cat feeder because you can program it so only certain cats can activate it.
Ease of use
Some automatic cat food dispenser devices are hard to set up at first. Instructions can be confusing and you might think it’s not worth the effort. Trust us though, when you need to leave on a last-minute trip you’ll thank us for this advice -- stay patient, look up video instructions on Youtube and set it and forget it.
Cleaning the hopper/plate/dish and the bowl is a must and thankfully, many feeders have dishwasher-safe parts.
Here Are the Top 10 Automatic Cat Feeders in 2021
This list includes hopper-style, plate-style, chip-activated, and gravity feeders.
Say hello to the future of feeders. It only opens when activated by an RFID chip. Perfect for pets on special diets or medication, and it supports both wet and dry food. It’s stylish, and doesn't take up too much space.
PetSafe Healthy Pet Simply Feed Programmable Pet Feeder
This is our choice for multi-cat households. The addition of a stainless steel bowl is perfect for preventing chin acne. It’s also the only feeder with a slow feed option that extends feeding time to a 15 minute window.
A hopper feeder that’s programmable for up to 4 meals a day. The large capacity kibble container has a transparent, locking lid so you can see how much food is left. Rest assured your cat will be fed for a long time.
The WOPET automatic pet feeder has a sleek design, a tamper-proof food nozzle and it’s very affordable. It has a host of programmable features to make your life easier. Additionally, it allows you to pre-record a voice message to keep your kitty company during your absence.
Ensures your cat gets the perfect amount of nutrition with every meal. The enormous capacity allows you to stay away for longer, if needed. The device is cat-proof and dispenses kibble at predictable, timed rates.
Unlike other feeders, this one has a magnetic lock so even the sneakiest kitties can’t get more than their share. This device warns you when kibble levels are low so you don’t have to constantly check and you’re less likely to forget to fill it.
One of the most popular plate-rotating options that holds 5 cups of dry food. Easy to clean, easy to use and it’s compatible with semi-moist food. Requires a refill every day so it’s a good option if someone is watching your furball while you’re gone.
This can feed a single cat for almost a month. Plus, it’s battery-operated and everything that touches food is dishwasher-safe. Leave on your trip with confidence knowing the Cat Mate won’t jam. It’s more reliable than the cheaper feeders.
This is the only gravity feeder on our list and also the most economically priced. It has a very simple design and keeps your cat’s bowl full. Comes in three sizes: small (3lb), medium (6lb) and large (12lb). No automation or programmable features make it foolproof and the best option if your cat can free feed without overeating.
Portion size: up to 8 portions per meal, each portion is about 1/24 cup (5g)
Power source: 3 D cell batteries + USB cord that can be used with a standard power adapter
Hybrid power supply
Ability to record personal meal call (up to 10 sec)
Infrared sensor prevents food from being dispensed if there is still kibble in the bowl
Stainless steel insert for food tray
Transparent locking lid
May be unreliable in portion size
USB cord/power adapter not included
The verdict - So what’s the best automatic cat feeder?
Not everyone has the budget to hire a full-time pet sitter. We understand that, and that’s why we highly recommend buying an auto feeder. Take that trip you’ve been wanting to take, and know your cats are well-fed and safe.
From what we’ve read, researched and experienced ourselves, we would suggest these three as the best automatic cat food dispenser options.
PetSafe Healthy Pet Simply Feed Programmable Pet Feeder -- Combines a large capacity hopper, excellent portion control and a hybrid power supply.
PetSafe Eatwell 5-Meal Automatic Pet Feeder -- Perfect for a one-day trip or for people that like their cats to have more variety in their diet (you can put semi-moist food in it). Reviews also state that this feeder can be used with wet food, however the manufacturer does not recommend this.
SureFeed Microchip Small Dog & Cat Feeder -- If you wanted to see the future of auto feeders -- this is it. An RFID-chip activated food bowl? Sign us up. Hopefully the next iteration will be an automatic cat feeder with a timer so you can make sure your kitty isn’t overeating.
Do automatic food feeders work with wet food?
There is a model or two, though we wouldn’t recommend using either. Once opened, wet cat food should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, or it will spoil. Adding new portions to the automatic feeder several times a day defeats its purpose.
How do I set an automatic feeder?
Check out the user manual that comes with it for detailed instructions. In most cases, you’ll need to program meal times and portion sizes before filling the feeder with kibble. Remember to test the feeder to ensure it keeps to the schedule before leaving for a week-long trip.
How do I get my cat to stop tipping over the automatic feeder?
Your kitty is likely trying to tamper with the feeder to get it to release more kibble. Try painting the hopper if it’s transparent, and seal the lid tightly to prevent the smell from getting out. You may also need to fix the base of the feeder to a plank or board to make it more stable.
Is Taste of the Wild that very cat food your feline craves? Check this article to learn their ingredient quality, and recall history, and more.