Are automatic feeders a good idea?

Are automatic feeders a good idea? Dog and cat sat inside next to a pet feeder
(Image credit: Amazon)

Are automatic feeders a good idea? Like most people, we were firmly in the yes camp, but after doing some research, it turns out it’s more complicated than we first thought.

The best automatic pet feeders have been designed to make your life easier, allowing you to come and go freely without worrying that your pet is at home starving while you’re stuck in a meeting that’s gone on longer than you expected.

Whether it’s the best cat food or best dog food, automatic feeders will release food at scheduled times throughout the day, in controlled portions that will stop your furbaby from over-eating.

Sounds good, right? In lots of ways, it is. But automatic feeders have their drawbacks, so depending on your reasons for wanting one, it may or may not be the best choice for you and your furkid.

What is an automatic feeder?

The pet supplies market has kept pace with technology, with everything from the best pet trackers and wireless pet cameras to microchipped cat flaps and fancy laser toys helping make a pet parent’s life easier than ever.

Automatic feeders were one of the first gadgets to appear on shelves, designed to take the hassle out of mealtimes. From budget to high-end, automatic feeders span a huge range, starting with simple models that offer basic scheduling and portion control to sophisticated wi-fi feeders you can take charge of from your smartphone.

While most automatic feeders are designed to hold the best dry dog food and best dry cat food, there are some models that are geared towards wet food if your foodie furbaby is more that way inclined.

Whether you need some extra time in the morning to sleep in, or you’re stuck in the office and won’t be home until late, automatic feeders take the stress out of keeping your pet’s tummy full, ensuring they never miss a meal.

The pros of automatic feeders

Furbaby looking a little fuller around the middle than usual? Have a dog that howls at the crack of dawn to be fed or a kitty who meows at your feet every time their food is running a few minutes late? If so, the benefits of an automatic pet feeder make it well worth the investment:

1) No more playing chef on demand

When your pet associates you with food, it makes you feel like a short-order cook that’s on call 24/7. But with an automatic pet feeder, you can schedule as many as 12 meals in advance and know that your furkid is going to be fed without you having to lift a finger. 

2) Peace of mind

If you’re out of the house all day, regularly go away overnight, or sometimes find yourself running late, automatic feeders can be a lifesaver. Pets often have specific internal clocks that mean they like to be fed at a certain time and, just like us, they can get hangry when it doesn’t happen! An automatic feeder will take care of the food so you can keep your focus where it needs to be.

3) Weight management

Our furkids aren’t always great at turning down food and some will happily keep scarfing it down until they’re fit to burst. Automatic feeders are great for pets who are overweight as they release food in healthy amounts and in correct portions, so your pet neither eats too quickly nor overeats.

4) The right meal for the right pet

If you have a multi-pet household, then a microchipped automatic pet feeder can be well worth the investment. These little beauties not only do everything a regular pet feeder does, but they’ll only open if the programmed microchip matches the one embedded in the pet trying to gain access. That's genius!

Are automatic pet feeders a good idea? Cat sat next to an automatic pet feeder

(Image credit: Amazon)

The cons of automatic feeders

As with most products, for every positive, there’s a corresponding negative and automatic feeders are no exception. Here’s what you need to be aware of:

1) They can malfunction

No gadget or device is foolproof and there may be a time when the feeder jams or malfunctions, refusing to release food and leaving your furbaby feeling famished. That’s why we don’t recommend you go away for the weekend and leave the pet feeder in charge of mealtimes.

2) It’s no substitute for you

While pet feeders are convenient, they can’t replace you or other human interaction. Regardless of how they’re marketed, they’re best used for those unavoidable times where you have to be out of the house, not as a stand-in for a cat or dog sitter or as a replacement for important mealtime bonding with their favorite pet parent.

3) Their powers only go so far

Sadly, a pet feeder’s powers extend to dishing out food, not to cleaning up and maintaining themselves, so you’ll need to ensure you monitor it frequently and clean it regularly to keep it functioning.

4) It may take longer to notice if your furkid is unwell

When you put down a bowl of food, it’s pretty easy to see if your pet has eaten what you’ve put in front of them, but with an automatic feeder, it’s not so easy. You’ll need to be vigilant about keeping track of when you last filled the hopper to ensure the food is being eaten and regularly monitor your furbaby to make sure they’re still displaying the same level of interest in food and eating it with their usual gusto.

Should you get an automatic feeder?

There's no doubt about it, automatic feeders can make your life a whole lot easier. Being able to schedule meals and set portions, offers great peace of mind, not only that your pet will be fed on time but also that they'll stay healthy. There are tons of other perks too, including no more early morning wake-up calls.

If you're someone who's out of the house a lot during the day or occasionally find yourself unexpectedly out of town overnight, an automatic pet feeder can be a lifesaver, but it's worth being mindful of the drawbacks.

While automatic feeders are certainly convenient, they have their limitations. They are prone to malfunctioning from time to time, so we don't recommend using an automatic feeder in place of a sitter if you're going away for more than a night. They can also prevent you from spotting if your furbaby has stopped eating due to illness, which is why we advise keeping a record of when you last filled it.

Those things aside, for day-to-day hassle-free mealtimes, automatic feeders are well worth the investment, giving you the freedom to go about your day in the knowledge your pet's tummy is being well taken care of.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.