Mealtime for your cat should be a happy, relaxed experience. Making mealtime peaceful can be challenging in multicat households, especially if cats eat at different speeds or require different diets.
Why do cats feel vulnerable at mealtime?
In order to understand why cats can feel vulnerable at mealtime, we need to look at life from the cat’s point of view. Margaret Gates, the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation, explains this perfectly in an article titled Your Cat Worries About This:
“How does a cat’s concern with safety intersect with food? There are some cat activities that even cats understand are less safe. Eating is one. When you are eating, your head is down and you are distracted. Plus, a cat’s usual diet in the wild is fresh prey; the meal itself may attract larger predators who may not only want your dinner, but you as well. So, it’s pretty hard for a cat to really relax when eating. There is usually lots of looking around and pauses to check the environment. They instinctively know eating is dangerous.”
The following tips will help you create a mealtime environment that allows your cat to feel safe and enjoy her food in peace.
Food bowl placement matters
Most cat guardians already know this, but it bears repeating: cats do not like to eat near where they eliminate. You wouldn’t want to eat in the bathroom, and neither does your cat! This, too, goes back to cats’ wild origins: in the wild, the scent of a cat’s waste may attract predators. And while cats will eat if having their food near the litter box is the only option, this will almost always create litter box problems: the cat will simply stop using the box and find another place in the house to do her business.
Don’t place food bowls in high traffic areas in your home. Keep them away from noisy appliances or cluttered environments.
Observe your cat’s body language during mealtime
Does your cat seem nervous while she eats? Does she frequently look up from her food to look around? If so, you may need to find an area that feels safer for your cat. Eating near a window can be distracting. Some cats don’t like having their back to a doorway when they eat. Some cats prefer to eat on elevated surfaces. Feeding a cat on a counter, table or even a cat tree platform can be a good solution in multicat homes or homes with other pets or small children.
Don’t feed from a community bowl
In multicat households, each cat should have her own bowl. Once again, this goes back to cat’s wild origins: cats are solitary hunters. Cats can become extremely territorial around food, which can lead to aggressive behavior in a multicat household.
Feed cats separately
In some cases, separating cats at mealtime may be the best solution for everyone, especially for more timid or nervous cats, or if you have that one bully cat that always pushes everyone else away from the food bowl. Setting up multiple feeding locations, preferably in areas where the cat can’t see other cats, or feeding one cat behind closed doors, will allow everyone to eat in peace.
When Ruby first joined our family, I fed both girls in the kitchen. Allegra explained in a post a month after Ruby’s adoption that that didn’t work too well. Allegra had to learn to eat fast, which couldn’t have been pleasant for her. I kept hoping that things would settle out and the girls could both eat in peace in the kitchen, but that never happened. I ended up feeding Ruby behind a closed door on the bathroom counter.