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Mealtime is a dog’s favourite time of day, but if we’re being honest, sometimes our work and life schedules make it difficult to feed them at their preferred times.
Pet parents might be tempted to just put out an extra food bowl if they’re going to be gone through mealtime. But in some houses, that extra food will be gone as soon you turn your back, and a doggy stomach ache will soon follow (not to mention obesity: free-feeding pets is a leading factor among pets who are overweight).
But in this day and age, technology can help. Automatic dog feeders portion out meals for your pets according to a pre-programmed schedule. This can help with everything from portion control, overeating and pets who like to wake you up at 4am for breakfast, to pet siblings who like to steal each other’s food and those with health concerns who require strict oversight at feeding time.
Automatic dog feeders are also especially useful for dogs with specific dietary needs who have to eat the same amount of food at the same feeding times each day.
What should you look for in an automatic dog food dispenser?
Some automatic feeders are fairly simple, dispensing two meals a day. Others offer more servings and more complex features, such as:
- Sturdy design that can’t be easily tipped over
- Easy programming
- An easy-to-clean hopper (food container) and bowl
- The ability to schedule multiple meals with adjustable portion sizes
With these different needs in mind, we’ve researched the most popular, reliable automatic dog feeders available. Here are our picks for the eight best automatic food dispensers.
1. Best Simple Programmable Food Dispenser: Petsafe Healthy Pet Simply Feed Automatic Feeder
Think of this as a “starter” automatic food dispenser. It’s electronic and programmable but doesn’t have any extraneous bells or whistles. Just set it and go. Online reviewers praise the PetSafe Healthy Pet for its reliable function and versatile programming. You can program up to 12 meals per day, in quantities ranging from 1/8 cup to 4 cups.
- Stainless steel bowl is hygienic and easy to clean
- Runs on batteries, so no electric cords to trip over or pose a hazard for chew-curious dogs
- Online reviewers love the slow feed mode that dispenses food slowly to prevent rapid eating
- Programming procedure is tricky; keep the manual on-hand!
- Super-smart pups may be able to nudge the unit and cause extra food to fall out
2. Best “Smart” Dry Food Dispenser: WOPet SmartFeeder
If you’re looking for something truly futuristic, look no further than this app-connected “smart” feeder with a built-in webcam. The WOPet SmartFeeder can be programmed for up to four meals a day, and online reviewers praise its quick and easy setup (although it helps if you’re already tech-savvy).
- Reviewers love the voice record function, which lets you program a personal message for your dog to hear at mealtimes
- Relatively easy to program
- Timed meals help train dogs to eat more slowly, potentially preventing common digestive issues
- Compatible with iPhone and Android phones
- Some reviewers note difficulty maintaining Wi-Fi connection
- Unclear if app will continue to update with upcoming smartphone software
3. Best Automatic Dry/Wet Food Dispenser: PetSafe 5 Meal Pet Feeder for Dogs and Cats
Many of the most popular automatic food dispensers on the market are for kibble only. But if your dog relies on canned or wet food, you need a dispenser that can handle the mush (just keep in mind most canned food is perishable and left unrefridgerated for too long is likely to go bad).
If you’ll only be gone for a short time and must keep up with your pet feedings, the PetSafe 5 Meal automatic pet feeder is a convenient automatic dog feeder that easily handles both kibble and canned food. It has five separate compartments to dispense meals, snacks, and/or medications, and reviewers love how easy and reliable it is.
- Easy to program
- Attractive, modern appearance
- Food tray is dishwasher safe
- Great for small dogs who need frequent meals (and doubles as a cat feeder)
- Food compartments are a bit small for big eaters, holding only 1 cup each. But you can always schedule two “meals” in a row!
4. Best Feeder for Multi-Pet Households: Sure Petcare Microchip Pet Feeder Connect
If you have more than one pet at home, this SureFlap microchip pet feeder is the solution to ensuring that each of your animals is fed.
To do this, the feeder scans the pet’s microchip or the included RFID collar tag and only opens for that specific pet. This ensures that another dog or cat won’t end up stealing the food.
- Accommodates both wet or dry food
- Although one pet per feeder is recommended, the feeder can work with multiple collar tags
- Small capacity of about 2.5 cups cup of food, so best-suited for smaller dogs
- Hand-wash only
5. Best Value Automatic Dog Feeder: HoneyGuardian Food Dispenser
You’d be hard-pressed to find an automatic dog feeder that offers as much value as this HoneyGuardian one at such a reasonable price.
You can precisely manage portion control for each feeding in increments of one tablespoon, with a total capacity of 13 cups and a bowl capacity of 3 cups.
You can also set a 10-second voice recording that will call your dog to eat. These features, as well as the feeder’s simple and sleek design, make it our best value pick for an automatic dog feeder.
- Runs on either batteries or a power cable
- Motor inversion design to prevent food blockages
- LED light to show when food is low and needs refilling
- Once programmed some reviewers have said it can be tricky to change the portions
6. Best Gravity Dog Feeder and Waterer Combo: AmazonBasics Self-Dispensing Gravity Pet Feeder and Waterer
Since dogs need water as much as they need food, this AmazonBasics self-dispensing gravity pet feeder and waterer is a perfect combination product that will keep your dog both well-fed and hydrated.
Like other gravity feeders, you’ll simply need to refill the water and kibble containers, and gravity will keep the bowls at the bottom filled.
Since there’s no timer, the food and water will be on offer 24/7, making this feeder ideal for grazers but not for dogs who are prone to over-eating.
- Holds up to 12 pounds of dry dog food and 2.5 gallons of water
- Non-skid rubber feet keep the feeders from moving around
- Must be hand-washed only
- Water may spill out of the bowl if your dog is a messy drinker
Potential Drawbacks of Automatic Dog Food Dispensers
- Like any gadget, an automatic pet feeder has the potential to malfunction. This could leave your dog without any food. And while some more expensive feeders utilise an app to let you know when your dog eats, you may not be immediately aware of a malfunction with a more basic unit. That’s why we don’t recommend that pet owners rely on an automatic feeder for long trips away.
- While many feeders are pet proof, they’re not insect proof and could attract bugs or other pests.
Benefits of Automatic Dog Food Dispensers
- The biggest benefit of an automatic dog feeder is the convenience. You only need to refill it every few days. This saves you both time and energy.
- Because they work on timers, an automatic pet feeder can feed your dog on your preferred schedule, making it easier to maintain a regular feeding schedule. This is especially convenient if your dog is an early riser and likes to eat breakfast while you’re still sleeping. And unlike a person, an automatic feeder will never “forget” to feed your pet.
Take a look at our recommendations for other food-related pet accessories below.