It is a common practice among multi-cat households to have several cats eat out of the same bowl. To be perfectly honest, it's not something I had thought about until I saw a recent article on feeding dogs from separate bowls, which had me asking if it was a better thing for cats, too.
Obviously one bowl is easy. It saves space, less washing up, easier all around, but what about the cats?
I thought my own cats were happy to share a bowl until I started thinking about it. They are fed a combination of raw, chicken necks and dry biscuits. When I feed the raw, one cat in particular grabs it from the bowl and then scurries away with his chunk of food.
Assertive vs non-assertive cats
There's usually a hierarchy among multi cat households with one cat being more dominant. This can cause problems at meal times if the dominant one races in and eats a larger share of the meal than other less dominant cats. Also, you may find that one cat has a bigger appetite than another, and he can end up getting more than his fair share of the food.
As your cat ages, his nutritional needs may change, particularly if he develops a medical condition such as chronic kidney disease. Or an obese cat who is put on a low-calorie diet for weight loss.
Remember that cats aren't social eaters like we are, they are solitary eaters. Think about how a cat hunts and eats in the wild. Cats hunt and eat on their own (unlike large cats who often hunt in packs and then will share the prey). We have them in an artificial environment where they are forced to share bowls and litter trays. Many will tolerate this, but not all cats will. It is important to read the cues your cat gives you.
The best way to feed multiple cats is to create a feeding station and give each one his own food bowl, especially for his wet food (tinned or raw). Many pet owners have a shared bowl for dry food, which cats can access at any time. As cats tend to graze on dry, there is less chance of them all trying to eat from the bowl at the same time.
Some cats will stick with their own food bowl, but it's not uncommon for cats to swap between their own bowl and another cat's. In this case, you may try moving the bowls further apart or feeding in separate rooms, particularly if one cat is on a prescribed diet.
Do you have a small kitten and an adult cat? Most adults can eat considerably faster than a kitten, which could result in the kitten not getting enough food. Even some adult cats will eat slower than others.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to feeding cats. If it is possible, give each cat his own food bowl, but it's not going to be the end of the world if they eat together. However, if you do have one cat who dominates the food bowl, it will be necessary to step in and make sure other cats receive their fair share of food.
Any uneaten wet food should be removed after 20-30 minutes.
What about water bowls?
Water bowls aren't as big an issue as food bowls as most pet owners feed their cats at set times, and all cats jump in to eat. Whereas cats will drink when they are thirsty, so they're usually not all drinking from the same bowl at the same time.
Sometimes it is necessary to monitor a cat's water intake, for example if you think one is drinking excessively, which can be a sign of kidney disease or diabetes. Sometimes your vet will ask you to measure how much a particular cat is drinking.
To do this, he will need to be isolated and given his own water bowl. Starting with an empty bowl, add a measured amount of water into the bowl, the next morning, empty out the water from the bowl into a measuring jug to see how much water has been drunk.
Deciding where to locate your cat's food bowls
The first rule is that cats don't like to eat near their litter tray, just as we wouldn't want to eat near a toilet. The bowls should be as far as possible away from the litter tray.
The age and health status of your cat should also be considered. It is not ideal to expect a senior cat to walk up two flights of stairs to get to his food bowl. Senior and arthritic cats should have their needs met by ensuring their food and water bowls as well as bed and litter tray are all within easy reach. The same goes for kittens.
Ideally, if space permits, feed cats as far apart as you can, even in separate rooms. This can greatly help cats feel more secure when they are eating, and if the time comes that they need to be fed different kinds of food to suit their medical or dietary needs, it will make it easier to control.