Feeding multiple pets in the same household can be complicated, and it only gets trickier if you have dogs and cats who want to sample each other’s chow! We’ve got advice to make mealtime stress-free.
The Difficulties of Feeding Multiple Pets
Having multiple pets can add a whole lot of joy to your life, but there are some problems that can come with having a big pack! One common issue that pet owners face is their pets stealing each other’s food. While that might seem harmless at first, there are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to curb that behavior.
It’s important to feed each of your pets a balanced diet, and part of that is giving each of them a specific amount of food that provides all the nutrition they need. If one of your pets is noshing on another’s food, they’re getting more calories than they need while their companion loses out on essential nutrients. This is especially significant if your pets have special foods for any medical concerns or specific nutritional needs! Those formulas should only go to the pets who need them.
Sampling each other’s food is especially problematic in households with both dogs and cats. While sharing toys can be fun, sharing their food is not. Dogs and cats have very different nutritional needs, and chowing down on each other’s pet food can lead to health problems.
As obligate carnivores, cats need food that’s high in protein and fats. Those formulas can be extremely fattening (and tempting) for dogs, leading to excess weight and all the related health concerns that can cause. In severe cases, high-fat meals can even lead to pancreatitis. On the other hand, dog food formulas are higher in carbohydrates, which provide little benefit to cats and leave them deprived of essential nutrients like taurine.
While there are ingredients that you can safely feed to all your pets, there are no complete pet foods that are good for both dogs and cats. Their nutritional needs are too different to be compatible, so it’s important to keep their diets separate!
Finally, food stealing can lead to conflicts between your pets. Some pets are particularly prone to resource guarding and can respond aggressively when someone steals something they think is theirs—like their dinner.
It doesn’t help that dogs and cats aren’t always great at reading each other’s body language. Your sweet-but-doofy dog might not pick up on the warning signs that your territorial cat doesn’t want to share their precious wet food until it’s too late…and you end up with a scratched snout and two upset pets.
There are many good reasons to keep your pets’ food carefully separate—but that can be easier said than done.
How to Feed Multiple Pets (Without Conflict or Food Stealing)
For some affable pets, stopping them from sampling their housemate’s food can be as simple as a stern “no” and a redirection to their own food bowl. For most pets, however, things aren’t so simple. Food-motivated pets who are always scrounging for an extra snack and adventurous eaters who have gotten a taste for another species’s food are particularly prone to food thieving!
Every pet and every household is unique, so you’ll need a unique solution to solve your food robbery problems. There are many expert-recommended techniques to help, and you can experiment to find which solutions work best for your family!
- Stop free feeding. Having scheduled meal times reduces the opportunities for a scrounger to sneak bites of food that’s always available (and very tempting).
- Feed your pets at the same time. A shared feeding time might just keep your food bandit too busy with their own food to steal anyone else's!
- Adjust their eating speeds. Do you have a prize-worthy speed eater who scarfs down their food and starts looking for more in someone else’s bowl? Slow down fast eaters by feeding them with puzzle bowls and toys.
- Feed foods your cat or dog loves. If you have a pet who’s consistently leaving food behind in their dish, try switching to food they like better to leave fewer leftovers for their housemates.
- Remove food dishes after mealtime. When your pets are done eating, take the food bowls away to prevent anyone from snacking on morsels their friends left behind. This also prevents determined scroungers from crossing boundaries by licking anyone else’s bowl clean.
- Create separate feeding zones. While it might be convenient to serve your pets’ dinners up side by side, that provides more opportunities for stealing and conflict. Make sure each pet has a separate and distinct feeding area, like a mat that’s just for their food bowl. Consider putting them in separate corners of the room for more separation!
- Feed in different rooms. Sometimes pets benefit from being physically separated while they eat. This can help if pets eat at different speeds or exhibit any food-related aggression. Close doors or set up baby gates between feeding areas for peaceful mealtimes.
- Feed at different heights. Unless your dog is really athletic and determined, chances are they don’t jump up on the counters like your cat does! Keep your dog out of the cat food feeding the cat on an elevated surface like a counter, table, or cat tree. Boom—you’ve got a no-tech, feline-only cat dish.
- Go high-tech with pet-specific food bowls. Get food bowls for each pet with a secure cover that only opens for their unique pet tag or microchip. There will be no more swapping dog bowls, and puppy dog eyes don’t work on a robot so your cat feeding station will be dog-proof.
- Work with an expert. Anyone can benefit from a pet trainer or behaviorist’s expert advice to find techniques to make mealtime easier. You should definitely reach out to a professional if any of your pets exhibit strong food aggression which could be unsafe for you or the other pets in your home.
With a few adjustments to your routine, you can make feeding your dogs and cats a fun part of everyone’s day instead of a headache. Mealtimes should be about the love of good food, not trying to pry kibble out of anyone’s mouth, after all. Here’s to joyful breakfasts and dinners, pet people!