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Automatic feeders have the cat world divided. Some consider them a sanity-saving tool that keeps cats fed when busy schedules interfere. Others voice concerns that relying on a machine for mealtime could lead to negative feline behavior. This split left us wondering—are automatic feeders for cats a good idea? Are they safe, or are there risks involved?
To sort fact from fiction, we asked veterinarians Sabrina Kong, DVM, and Megan Conrad, BVMS, for their input. Here’s what we learned.
How Do Automatic Cat Feeders Work?
At their best, automatic food dispensers offer a convenient solution for times you‘re unable to feed your cat yourself—whether it’s due to late work hours or evening plans with friends. They’re also useful for streamlining your morning routine or eliminating an impatient cat’s 5 a.m. wake-up call.
Modern cat parents will appreciate more tech-forward models that come equipped with video cameras, voice recording capabilities, and diet-monitoring apps. Some feeders can even curb food stealing among household pets.
Ultimately, automatic feeders offer cat parents the peace of mind that their feline friend won’t go hungry (a worthwhile assurance, if ever there was one). And, like most pet tech out there, there are different ways they accomplish this.
At the most basic level, you have gravity feeders, which work by (you guessed it) putting gravity to good use. A vertical design allows dry food to continually fill your cat’s food bowl as they eat. Generally, these types of feeders aren’t recommended because cats are opportunistic eaters—meaning they tend to eat whatever is at hand, and most won’t have the self-control to stop when they’ve hit their calorie max.
Programmable cat feeders, like the Petlibro Automatic Feeder, let users schedule portioned meals ahead of time. Some run on electricity, others use batteries, and many use both. Models like the Petlibro measure and dispense food from a hopper, per your instructions. Times and meal sizes are entered directly on the feeder’s digital display.
Other programmable cat feeders are designed to let users portion out meals themselves into separate compartments, which rotate on a carousel. This approach requires slightly more effort upfront, but it allows for more precise portion sizes.
While the majority of automatic feeders (including the Petlibro) can only dispense dry food, that doesn’t mean folks who serve their cats wet food are out of luck. Wet food-compatible feeders, such as the Cat Mate C500 Digital Feeder, will incorporate features like ice packs and dishwasher-safe parts for fresh and easy serving. Most of these feeders are also compatible with dry food.
If you enjoy the convenience of operating things from your phone, a WiFi-enabled feeder might be more your style. They usually cost more than simpler devices, but “smart” feeders come with some neat perks. The Whisker Feeder-Robot, for instance, lets users control settings through an app.
You can schedule meals, track your pet’s eating habits, and receive alerts when it’s time for a refill—from anywhere, at any time. Most of these feeders also have internal memory, so your cat will still receive dinner even if the internet goes down.
One of the more interesting advances in the world of pet feeders is the use of microchips and RFID technology. These gadgets make food accessible only to designated pets, so they make the most sense in a multi-pet household where food stealing is an issue (especially when there’s an expensive prescription diet involved).
The SureFeed Feeder is a popular model that pairs with your cat’s microchip or an included RFID collar tag, opening just for them—and no other pets.
For more examples of automatic cat feeders, check out our lineup at The 6 Best Automatic Feeders for All Kinds of Cats—and All Kinds of Food.
What Do Veterinarians Say About Automatic Cat Feeders?
The main concerns circling automatic feeders involve safety and reliability. And rightly so—nobody wants their cat to go hungry or develop bad habits. So, we had to ask: Is relying on a machine to feed our cats ever a good idea?
In some cases, yes. But an extended trip isn’t one of them.
“Going on vacation and leaving your cat alone with a cat feeder may sound like a good idea at first, but there are so many things that can go wrong in this scenario,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, a veterinarian working with We Love Doodles. “Automatic feeders are better for use when you’re home and able to check it is working properly every once in a while.”
Like anything automated, a feeder can malfunction. And curious cats may tip them over in an effort to get at food. As such, an automatic feeder makes a poor substitute for a reliable pet sitter, according to Dr. Megan Conrad, a vet with the pet telehealth service Hello Ralphie.
“If your vacation will last more than a couple of days, you should definitely have someone checking in on your cat to ensure they’re safe and healthy. An automatic feeder is only preferable when you absolutely can’t be there to feed your cat at their regular mealtime, so their food routine is maintained,” Conrad points out.
That said, automatic feeders do have their place. Cat parents who work irregular schedules and can’t always be home at mealtime will benefit. As will those who have occasional duties away from home (i.e., every cat parent ever).
In these instances, it’s wise to test the feeder a few times while you’re present to observe how things go. This will allay fears about the feeder dispensing portions accurately and on time. And since cats aren’t typically fond of new things, this gives you the opportunity to see how they’ll react to this new addition: Are they afraid of it? Do they try to knock it over? Do they eat all the food it dispenses?
And what about claims that automated meals can negatively affect our cats’ feelings toward us? Does it really matter whether our cats’ meals come from us or a machine? Not entirely, according to our experts.
“Even though feeding a cat can indeed increase the chances of them developing some sort of affection towards you, doing so does not necessarily mean they will ‘love’ you,” explains Dr. Kong. “A cat’s love for its owner is developed through actual bonding activities such as talking, petting, and playing with them—so if you pass on the feeding responsibilities to a machine, there should be no change in your cat’s behavior towards you at all,” she assures us.
“If you are regularly interacting with your cat, using an automatic feeder shouldn’t change how they perceive you,” adds Dr. Conrad. “Just don’t use the feeder as a reason to leave your cat alone for long periods of time, thinking all they need is food and water.”
Final Verdict: Are Automatic Feeders a Good Idea For Cats?
They can be! If used with regular supervision, automatic feeders are safe for cats and won’t damage the bond between you and your pet. But it’s important not to use an automatic feeder as a stand-in for a proper sitter when you’re away from home. You’ll also want to test a new feeder thoroughly before leaving your cat alone with one to gauge the risk of malfunctions—or an uninterested cat.
Every cat parent’s mileage will vary, but we think automatic cat feeders are best for:
- Pet parents with irregular work hours
- People who want to discourage early-morning begging
- Pet parents who wish to streamline their feeding routine
- Multi-pet homes that use prescription or age-specific diets (only microchip or RFID feeders will be useful in these situations)
On the other hand, an automatic feeder won’t be ideal for:
- Anxious cats who are easily spooked by noises or new things
- Trips longer than 1-2 days (unless you also have someone checking in)
How We Chose
The feeders featured here were selected based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a deep dive into customer reviews across retail platforms, and interviews with veterinary experts. We prioritized feeders with intuitive programming, practical features like ice packs and locking lids, and consistent reliability.
In addition, we considered the various needs of different pet parents, taking into account a range of budgets, goals, and lifestyles. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated cats, who are never stingy with their feedback.