Downtime

I’m Worried My Ravenous Cat Will Steal My New Kitten’s Food

The tabby’s going to be tempted like never before.

A cat and a kitten descending on a bowl of food.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by LightFieldStudios and Ekkapon/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

I currently have a 6-year-old male orange tabby who lives up to Garfield’s image. He loves to eat and does not graze. He will eat any amount of food you put in front of him as soon as it’s available. For the past several years we have used an automatic feeder for him, which works great. It’s helped him lose weight and stops him from waking us up to feed him in the morning.

We are adopting a kitten, and while I’ve read up on how to introduce new cats, I’m not sure what to do about feeding them. How do we keep our current cat from eating the new cat’s food? How do we handle this when we’re away?

—The Real-Life Jon Arbuckle

Dear The Real-Life Jon Arbuckle,

I believe this is a first for Beast Mode. Never before have I been asked to solve a pet issue that hasn’t even happened yet. This is like Minority Report, and the precogs are convalescing in their tanks, shouting: Garfield … Watch out for Garfield … He hates Mondays but loves lasagna …

Predictive policing is a thorny issue, but I trust your instincts. If your tabby enjoys eating, then he’s going to go bonkers for kitten food. It’s higher in fat and extra-delicious. The guy’s going to be tempted like never before.

I talked to certified animal behaviorist Mikel Delgado about your conundrum. “In managing food problems between cats, you’d be surprised at how much time and energy people will put into closing doors or trying to get a cat to not eat out of another cat’s dish,” she says. Keeping the kitty in a separate room during feeding is an option, but it’s not the best route to take if you’re trying to be mindful of his natural habits.

“Cats prefer to eat several small meals a day, so you don’t want to force the kitten to eat all their food in a small amount of time because they’re worried about the tabby coming in and eating it all,” she says. While your ravenous buddy was intent on scarfing down big meals in one go, cats in the wild prefer to hunt for bite-sized prey several times a day on their own schedule. The automated feeder you currently use helps mimic this pattern, and a similar solution is just the ticket for your future kitten.

“Let technology be your best friend,” says Delgado. She recommends a device called the SureFeed bowl, which is a microchip-activated food dish that only opens for the cat who possesses the correct microchip (the one that’s implanted under his skin for identification purposes). This astonishingly futuristic solution will run you about $150 on Amazon. That’s a lot, I know, but it will solve your issue without you having to lift a finger. According to Delgado, “it may be the best way to feed the cats forever.” The tabby can stay with his existing feeder, and the kitty will have his robotic butler serve him on demand.

Because you’ve researched getting a new kitten, you should already be familiar with all the costs associated with adoption. If you can afford the fancy microchip bowl, that’s great. He’ll use it for life, which may help you justify paying so much for a cat dish that’s straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel.

If you want to eschew the sci-fi bowl but still maintain the kitten’s natural eating habits, then the alternative is to vigilantly monitor his dish. The tabby will be doing this as well, so it’s going to take some energy. He may be less tempted once the kitty switches to normal food (after about six months to a year), but, given his ravenous history, that’s not something I’d count on.

Mull all this over, perhaps during a meal with your tabby. He’ll surely lobby to keep a big, unguarded bowl of kitty food around at all times, but don’t fall for his charm. That cat’s got larceny on his mind.