Cats at feeder
Whether it’s keeping the dog out of the cat’s food, feeding puppy food to the puppy while keeping the adult dog on her regular diet or giving a therapeutic diet for kidney disease to one cat and a therapeutic diet for diabetes to another, feeding pets becomes more challenging in a multi-pet household. Here are some ideas on how to manage the “many mouths, many menus” problem in your house. As always, though, before making any dietary changes, check in with your veterinarian:

1. Everybody eats the same thing.

Occasionally, if one of your pets needs a special diet, you can simplify things by having everyone eat the same thing. This of course will depend on whether or not your veterinarian thinks this strategy is medically sound. That will depend on the features of the diet and the life stage and health status of each pet. It usually applies to all-dog or all-cat households, since cats can’t be fed dog food (it just doesn’t meet their nutrient needs). Check with your veterinarian first to see if this is an option in your home. While it may be the easiest way, this strategy may not be in your pets’ best interest or it may not be the most cost-effective option.

2. Physical barriers can be effective.

For households with dogs and cats, an obvious part of the solution may be to feed the cats in an area that the dog can’t access. Feeding a feline behind a cat-sized door or in an elevated feeding location often works for this. However, having a cat-sized dog or a cat that can’t access an elevated location can make this strategy problematic. Further, if you have multiple dogs or multiple cats, you may still need to devise a way to feed all of them separately. Baby gates, large crates and products that only release food to a pet wearing a special collar are all potential solutions that can be investigated.

3. Don’t free-feed.

Having a dry diet available to pets at all times (“free-feeding”) is a convenient way to feed cats or dogs in same species multi-pet households. However, free-feeding makes it nearly impossible to feed different diets to different pets unless you are able to completely contain them in some way. First, free-fed pets have a tendency to eat too much and become overweight, which poses a number of health problems and ultimately negates the convenience factor of free-feeding. Secondly, unless you’re only free-feeding a single pet and keeping track of the amount fed (also inconvenient), it’s not possible to know how much the pet eats. That’s fine as long as all goes well, but a change in appetite can provide information about your pet’s health status, and not being able to tell your veterinarian about your pet’s food intake means he is missing important information about your pet’s health. Third, if a diet change needs to be made, knowing the current intake makes that process go more smoothly.

4. Start with a plan.

Whenever you need to feed multiple pets, make sure you have the necessary tools and procedures in place. Obtain additional food bowls as needed. Decide who will be fed what diet, how much he’ll get and where he’ll eat. Pets fed in the same room will need supervision, and pets that finish their meals faster should leave the area until everyone is done eating. It can be helpful to have a “dog room” and a “cat room” for feeding or to feed in shifts.

5. Teach your pets what to expect.

Make a routine for feeding and include some obvious signals for the start (think dinner bell) and end (think picking up food bowls) of feeding time. Be consistent about timing.

6. Involve your veterinarian.

He or she can give you estimates of how much each pet should be fed. Keep track of how much each pet eats and whether they gain, maintain or lose weight on that amount of food. Like humans, each pet’s exact calorie requirements can vary from estimates, so it’s important to adjust the amounts fed as needed. This is a good opportunity to check in with your veterinarian about all of your pets’ dietary needs and make any necessary dietary changes. Keep in mind that sometimes pets will eat less during a diet transition phase. This is usually not cause for alarm. If you notice this, discuss it with your veterinarian. Being able to describe exactly how much your pet is eating will help your veterinarian to decide if your plan needs to change. If your pet absolutely refuses to eat the diet, your veterinarian can also advise you on what to do.

Your first day or two probably won’t be as smooth as you’d like, but it won’t take long to figure out what does and does not work in your unique household. Keep in mind through the process that making the change will help you to provide your pets with the best care possible, which is definitely worth the effort!

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