Twice a day, I become a focused meal preparer for my five cats who range in age from 2 to 16. Based on their dietary needs and food pickiness, I must put the right food in each of their bowls or face a food boycott — or a food-stealing attempt. Each time I pick up their emptied bowls after mealtime, I feel accomplished and a little relieved.
But I’m definitely in awe of Jessica Bartlett and Samantha Martin, who make dishing out mealtime for far more cats seem quick, seamless and stress-free.
Jessica calmly aces feeding different diets to her seven cats near Bellevue, Washington. Samantha, on average, feeds 21 kittens and cats in her home outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Both verify all is well in their homes of many felines — and are here to help you, too.
Feed like a pro
Jessica and her husband, John, share their home with Libby, Trillian, Ruthie, Penny, Nakia, Bea and Harley, who range in age from nearly 2 to 11.
“Our meals are very calm,” says Jessica, who owns Whiskers At Home cat sitting company (whiskersathome.com) and recently launched Cat Lovers Academy (catloversacademy.com) to assist people dealing with feline behavior issues. “Once we start getting the bowls ready, they get in ‘position’ and settle down and wait patiently for their food. They picked their spots in the kitchen.”
What’s her secret to stress-free, no food-fighting mealtimes for her feline brood? “First and foremost is being consistent with the timing and the routine,” she says. “John does the morning feeding, and I do the evening feeding. Because there is a routine, there is never a concern that there won’t be food coming to any of them. Second, I encourage the use of food puzzles to keep an impatient cat (Bea) busy hunting for food between meals or while food is being prepared.”
Jessica also works in training time at mealtime by using a clicker. “If you and your cat agree on a spot in the kitchen, you can train your cat with a clicker to go to that spot knowing that he or she will be paid in treats to sit here,” she explains.
Meanwhile, inside Meowy Manor in Georgia, renowned animal trainer Samantha Martin averages about 21 cats inside her multi-level home that features many rooms with doors and cat-safe enclosed porches and decks. Samantha and her felines also travel all over the country to perform for audiences as the celebrated Amazing Acro-Cats (rockcatsrescue.org).
Currently, her cats range in age from bottle-fed orphaned kittens to seniors. The eldest at age 16, Nue, is on a special diet to aid her with her kidney issues.
Samantha has trained her cats to know it is mealtime when she blows a whistle. She has trained them to head for their designated rooms and porches and is able to close doors and gates to prevent any feline foodie from “trespassing” into another room after wolfing down his or her meal.
Unlike Jessica, Samantha prefers feeding at various times rather than a set morning or evening time.
“I want my cats to be conditioned to hearing the whistle rather than a specific time,” Samantha says. “I find variable time feeding keeps my cats guessing and strengthens them to respond and come to the sound of the whistle. Feeding time is a good time to look for any health issues because cats tend to hide their illnesses. If I blow the whistle and a cat doesn’t show up or is slow to show up, it may indicate a health issue. I am always watching my troop’s eating habits and behaviors to catch any medical problem early.”
Samantha also gets all the bowls prepared in advance in a room off-limits to any of the cats. Some need medicine added to their food. Others need toppings of boiled chicken to jumpstart their taste buds. Her cats eat dry and canned food, and she also prepares formula for fast-growing orphaned kittens in incubators inside her bedroom.
“From start to finish, it takes about one hour to feed everyone, but I don’t mind,” Samantha says.
Her bigger challenge is when the feline troupe is on the bus heading to various shows. She travels with 15 cats, three rats and a trained chicken aptly named Cluck Norris. Some eat inside their carriers while others eat in small groups in sectioned-off areas.
“Feeding time is a good time to look for any health issues because cats tend to hide their illnesses.”
Avoid mealtime mayhem
Dr. Hazel Carney is a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who serves on the American Association of Feline Practitioners board. She offers these additional tips to help you ensure mealtime in your multi-pet home is free of mayhem:
« Assign one bowl per cat — no sharing. This way, you will know how much each of your cats is eating.
« Spread out the bowls. “Your cats may be friends, but they do not like having to eat from a bowl lined up in a row next to the bowls of two or more other cats,” says Dr. Carney, who practices at the WestVet Emergency and Specialty Center in Garden City, Idaho. “If you have three cats, feed them in three areas of a large room or in three different rooms and then pick up and clean the bowls after each meal.”
« Think vertically. Keep an overweight or obese cat from accessing the bowl of another cat by placing that bowl on the top of sturdy surface, like a shelf that the chubby cat cannot access. Or, serve the bowl inside a cardboard box with a hole cut to fit the size of the slimmer cat.
“No matter how many cats you have, when you are able to offer each cat his or her own place to eat, there will be less stomach upset, less fighting and less stress,” Dr. Carney says.