Do cats share food or should you feed your cats separately?

Two cats sharing the same food bowl
Photo: © Matthew Cole

In our recent newsletter, we talked to our readers about introducing cats. One of your responses led us to a question, whether it is necessary to feed cats together or separately?

No matter if you just want to know if it’s okay that your cats eat in a separate room,  should each of them have his own plate, or do you need to force your cats to eat together, you will find your answer in this article.

Cats do not share food

We will start by clarifying the basic thing – how would cats eat if they were living in natural, human unaltered location. And, to do so, we need to know, what cats eat in the wild. There are no kibbles, right?

Right! The most common food for wild cats are smaller rodents, and, while many would catch and eat rabbits or even hares, most cats still stick with mice and juvenile rats. Why? Because they are easier to catch.

But what does this food tell us about cats? It tells us that every prey they catch, is pretty small, and there is not much to share. So, yes, basically, cats would eat alone in the wild. That is, even if they do eat in the presence of others, they will still have their own food, in most cases.

So, it gives us an idea, how cats would want to eat at your home.

Food is a source of competition for cats

First, they each want their own food. That is, if you pour the food in the same bowl for all your cats, that may not be how they would prefer.

Of course, you might say: “My cats like eating from the same bowl, they are buddies,” and they might as well show no objection. However, remember, naturally, food is the primary resource for any animal. It’s essential for survival, and, if a threat is for it being taken away, a cat would defend the food at all costs.

If we adapt it to a household situation, it’s not a “touch my food, and you will die” case, but still, the competition is in there.

If your cats eat together – in the same room, from the same bowl with no apparent objections from either side – how friendly do you think they are in general? How often do they play together, how often they sleep together? How often they stare at birds trough the window side by side, or even how often they communicate to each other? If you do start feeding your cats separately, it may lead to improvements in all those areas.

But feeding cats together food can be a tool, as well

On the other hand. Yes, there always is an other hand. As we already talked about the introduction of several cats, feeding together may be a powerful tool for making them accept each other. How?

Food, as we already told above, is the number one resource for cats. And accordingly, it has come to food being the most common motivator of actions in the cat world. After all, a cat in the wild would spend most of its wake time either hunting or consuming the prey.

So, it turns out, if you give a meal to your cats in the presence of each other, you may teach them to accept each other better, as the presence of other cats is when the food usually arrives. That is a good sign.

So, how do we think cats should be fed?

There is no problem with feeding your cats separately. In separate rooms, with doors closed, or even at separate times.

However, you can also feed your cats in the aware presence of each other. That is, either in the same room, or adjacent rooms with open doors, but definitely from the separate bowls. In such cases, your cats will understand, others are there, it’s okay. But the food is still their own property, and no one is gonna take it away.

If you free feed your cats, it’s acceptable too; however, keep in mind the competition for food will still be there, no matter if it’s virtually inexhaustible  Reverting your cats to scheduled feeding may benefit their mutual relationship. Of course, if you do want to stick with the free feeding, make sure you have food available at more than one location.