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Best automatic pet feeder: Dish out the right amount of food at the right time

automatic pet feeders
(Image credit: Amazon)

An automatic pet feeder can keep your dogs, cats or rabbits well fed and happy throughout the day and night. This is perfect for anyone who has a busy schedule, or for when you know you’re going to be out of the house for a while.

There’s different types of automatic pet feeders that work for different pets and for different types of food. Our list features some of the best automatic pet feeders for both wet and dry food, and some which have more complex automation settings that you can tailor to your needs.

Most feeders will provide a certain amount of feeds per day, which you can program yourself, along with how much food you want them to dispense. Many feeders know whether your pet has eaten or not, and will not dispense more food until the previous portion is gone, which will stop any wastage.

We found the most reliable automatic pet feeders to be those with on-unit automation, as some of the smart feeders that use WiFi can be a little hit and miss. However, if you are interested in what smart feeders are out there, we recommend checking out Sure's SureFeed Automatic Pet Feeder Connected, a microchip pet feeder that allows you to set meal portions and times via an app. Check out our full list of the best automatic pet feeders below…

1. HoneyGuaridan A36 Automatic Pet Feeder: Best overall automatic pet feeder

HoneyGuaridan A36 Automatic Pet Feeder

(Image credit: Amazon)

HoneyGuaridan A36 Automatic Pet Feeder

Packed with technology, and secure enough even for the most persistent pets

Material: Plastic, stainless steel | Daily meals: Up to six | Battery life: Not stated | Battery Type: 4 x D cells | Dishwasher safe: Yes (bowl) | Suitable for: Cats, small dogs, rabbits

Great looking design
Clever feeding schedule
Anti-tamper lid
Dry food only

The technology in this automated feeder is absolutely on point. Excessive, even. It's packed with a laundry list of gimmicks that really should make it the most effective thing going as long as everything works together in harmony.

Powered either by four batteries or the included AC adapter, you can configure it for up to six individual feeds per day, with configurable portion amounts for each – meaning it can dish out both main meals and snacks, or just six full meals for particularly hungry pets or to quell those night-time pestering sessions.

There's an anti-tamper locking lid to keep curious cats out and food fresh. The controls are on the lid, rather than the lower side of the base, which makes it easier to change its settings. The screw-feed motor is backed up by a block sensor, so if your food happens to jam up it will invert its direction to free up the jam.

If your pet isn't particularly hungry, the Automatic Pet Feeder won't waste its time dishing any more food up; there's an infrared sensor built in that can tell when the bowl is full. You can even record a short audio message, calling your pets to dinner, which is played automatically at every feed. That's probably a good idea if you're feeding cats, as the default is a bark sound.

The 3.8l capacity could be a little on the low side, depending on the pet you're planning to feed; on the other hand, it could be perfect for regular dispensing of rabbit pellets or covering feeding duties for a night or two away.

2. Cat Mate C20: Best budget automatic pet feeder

Cat Mate C20

(Image credit: Amazon)

Cat Mate C20

A simple two-portion feeder that won't break the bank

Material: Plastic | Daily meals: 1-2 | Battery life: Not stated | Battery Type: 1 x AA | Dishwasher safe: Yes | Suitable for: Cats, small dogs

Simple to operate
Vague timer
No battery indicator

This is wonderfully cheap, but we should mention that it does come with a couple of pretty big downsides. The timer is imprecise, so if your pet has one eye on the clock (as many seem to do, somehow) they'll probably get a little grumpy about their meal being five minutes too late.

It's also battery-powered, and while you can see when the timer's running there's no indicator to tell you when those batteries are running low. You'll probably want to have some rechargeables on hand and switch them out on a regular basis just to make sure nobody inadvertently goes hungry. It also quietly ticks, which may or may not be an issue depending on your sensitivity to such things.

Those niggles aside, there's a lot to love about the C20. It packs in two full portions of wet or dry food, securely stashed below the two lids. Each portion gets its own timer, and there's no need to fiddle with any tiny buttons or LCD screens; just twist the timer to say how far in the future you want dinner time to be and you're set. There's a lot of value in simplicity, particularly for those who don't get on too well with technology.

Beyond its ticking, there's no huge noise to worry about. The lids open with a subtle sound, rather than the sort of buzz or whirr that could put off more timid cats.

Given that you can set the timers for up to 48 hours in the future, you (or, at least, your fussy pets) will be grateful for the included ice pack, which keeps wet food fresher than it would otherwise have been. Be careful to place it on the inside of the bowl, as it's not quite wide enough to cover the edges. If you're more interested in doling out portions of dry food, this is fine for that too. The lids and bowls can be removed for cleaning, and you can throw them in the dishwasher without worry.

3. Cat Mate C500: Best automatic wet food feeder

Cat Mate C500

(Image credit: Amazon)

Cat Mate C500

Keep four portions fresh for up to four days

Material: Plastic | Daily meals: Up to five | Battery life: One year | Battery Type: 3 x AA | Dishwasher safe: Yes | Suitable for: Cats, small dogs

Digital timer
Suitable for wet or dry food
Audio message could calm lonely pets
Limited timer options

The concept here is simple: place a portion of wet or dry food into each of the five segments of the Cat Mate C500's rotating bowl, set the timer, and it'll spin up a meal for your pet at the designated time while playing a ten-second audio clip. It uses a digital timer, so there's no awkward clockwork to deal with.

The top panel and bowl assembly creates a fairly good seal, keeping wet food that was dished up some time ago relatively fresh, and Cat Mate also includes two specially-shaped ice packs which install beneath the bowl, helping to improve freshness for up to a day. When it's time to clean, the top section and bowl can both go in the dishwasher.

If you're clever, you can set it to feed anywhere from four automated times in a single day (there's always one bowl open, so the first feed will be when you fill it), twice a day over two days, or once a day over four. It's perfect for cats who are most active (and hungry) at night: being able to offer up 3am wet food so they don't claw you awake holds a whole lot of value. If you're feeding over the course of several days, freezing the food to be eaten later should help with its eventual freshness; that's a pain, but...

We have no doubt that the fact that this feeder can contain inaccessible wet food will be infuriating for some pets, and while Cat Mate claims it's as tamper-resistant as possible, you'll certainly want to save it for those who won't bat it around too violently. For cats who are able to be patient, it will be a real treat.

If you need a smaller version, check out the Cat Mate C300, the exact same concept but with three bowls instead.

4. SureFeed Microchip Automatic Pet Feeder: Best microchip automatic pet feeder

SureFeed Microchip Automatic Pet Feeder

(Image credit: Amazon)

SureFeed Microchip Automatic Pet Feeder

Special diet, weight loss regime or food snaffling in a multi-pet household? No problem

Material: Plastic | Daily meals: N/A | Battery life: 6 months | Battery Type: 4 x C cells | Dishwasher safe: No | Suitable for: Cats, small dogs

Selective feeding for specific cats
Keeps wet food fresh
Suitable for wet food
Clever cats might defeat it

This one is all about solving a problem. If you have one cat who's not getting enough food because the other cats in your household are more brave, greedy or pushy at mealtimes, you can code this feeder to only allow that one cat to access the food within. If one cat is on a special diet and the others aren't, lock the whole machine down by giving each of them their own Microchip Automatic Pet Feeder. If the dog's constantly snacking on the cat's kibbles? You get the idea.

It works in much the same way as parent company SureFlap's microchip pet flaps: your pet sticks their head in, a reader checks their chip, and it opens if the correct pet is detected. Here it's not a simple case of unlocking, though, as the door covering the food bowl actively opens up while they remain in the vicinity, and automatically shuts a couple of seconds after they've left the bowl.

It's tough enough that the wrong pet won't be able to claw their way in, which is a great positive, but some users have reported that particularly canny cats have discovered a workaround. Pushing into the detecting halo once the door has opened, and barging the correct pet out of the way, leaves the food open for devouring because once the microchip reading is done the Automatic Pet Feeder is only concerned with proximity. That may not be the case for your pets, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on dinner time.

There's one more little benefit even if you only have one cat: the SureFeed Microchip Automatic Pet Feeder is suitable for both dry and wet food, with enough capacity for two pouches of the latter. If your pet is more of a nibbler than a gorger it can automatically cover that wet food, stopping the smell and keeping it a little fresher throughout the day.

5. Cat Mate C3000: Good automatic pet feeder for dry food

Cat Mate C3000

(Image credit: Amazon)

Cat Mate C3000

Dish up a perfect portion of kibbles on a regular schedule

Material: Plastic | Daily meals: Up to three | Battery life: Approximately 6 months | Battery Type: 4 x C cells | Dishwasher safe: Yes | Suitable for: Cats, small dogs

Easy to clean
Visible food levels
Quite noisy

This feeder is relatively similar to the HoneyGuaridan Automatic Pet Feeder, though as it's from a more established brand you may find a little more peace of mind by going in this direction.

Program in up to three daily feeding times, tell the unit how many feed portions (approximately 10g each) you'd like dispensed at each of those feeds, fill up the fairly large hopper, and you're all set. The Cat Mate C3000 uses a combination of gravity and a turning auger to pull the exact amount out and drop it into the included food dish. The delivery mechanism isn't the quietest, although the noise can act as something of a Pavlovian dinner bell for mealtimes.

If you're switching brands of dry food you may wish to alter the number of portions being dispensed. Kibbles up to 16mm in diameter aren't a problem, but the C3000's screw-fed mechanism (and the lower packing density of larger three-dimensional shapes) means a size up is likely to change the dispensed amount somewhat; it doesn't weigh the food so much as count how many turns of the screw it takes.

We've heard from at least one owner that their cat was savvy enough to claw the lid off the food hopper, although this seems to be an isolated incident, and it appears to be a fairly secure lid. Just bear this in mind if you're leaving it at home with a particularly mischievous kitty. The Pet Safe C3000 can also be screwed to a board if you're worried about more enthusiastic eaters knocking it over.

6. AmazonBasics Self-Dispensing Gravity Pet Feeder: Best automatic pet feeder for simplicity

AmazonBasics Food Feeder

(Image credit: Amazon)

AmazonBasics Self-Dispensing Gravity Pet Feeder

Gravity fed and incredibly simple, but perfect for controlled grazers

Material: Plastic | Daily meals: N/A | Battery life: N/A | Battery Type: N/A | Dishwasher safe: No | Suitable for: Some cats

Cheap and easy
Ready supply of food
Easy to clean
Won't suit over-eaters

Sometimes the solution to a problem isn't to throw technology at it, it's more an Occam's Razor type situation where the simplest answer is the one that works best. If, and only if, your pet is a happy grazer and can regulate their own overeating, Amazon's cheap-and-cheerful feeder might be all you need.

You simply fill up the generously-sized screw-top hopper with dry food, and gravity causes it to trickle down into the bowl. As your pet eats, the consumed food makes way for more to be released. There's nothing more to it than that. The AmazonBasics Self-Dispensing Gravity Pet Feeder is easily disassembled for hand cleaning, and (beyond the office water dispenser-styled hopper) doesn't look too shabby, with handy cut-outs on the bottom to make it easy to lift.

This certainly won't suit every animal. We doubt most dogs would get on well with it; the dogs in our life would do their best to get through its entire contents in one session and feel sorry for themselves afterwards. We'd probably avoid it for rabbits, too, as 'unlimited food' doesn't really match the proportion of pellets they're supposed to have in their diet. Take-it-or-leave-it cats, though? Go right ahead. They'll love it, and you'll love not having to fill their bowls as often.

Some users have reported irregular-shaped food getting stuck on its way out; a particularly hungry pet will likely solve that problem for you, and there's a lot less to go wrong than there is on mechanical feeders. However, it's worth bearing in mind if you're planning to fill up and head out for a couple of days.

How to choose the best automatic pet feeder

Look for an automatic feeder that is built well, because persistent pets, left alone, may well attempt to gain access to future portions by force. For wet food in particular you'll also want something with a good seal, to keep that food fresh between portions.

Consider your usual scheduled feeds and any changes you might like to make to those. If your pet is regularly bothering you for food at night, an automated feeder might give you an extra hour or two in bed. If your pet needs regular small portions, an automatic feeder with a timer that can cover that schedule is essential.

If you're leaving your pet on their own, reliability is key. Something that doesn't get jammed up, and something with reliable power and a long battery life, makes the difference between a happy pet and a hungry one.

There are a host of other factors to consider when buying an automatic pet feeder, too, not least of which is your specific pet. They're generally not suitable for larger dogs, for example. They may also not be useful for especially picky cats: if yours won't eat unless the food has been forked out of the packet in a particular artisanal manner, forget trying to get them to eat something which has been out for a day, however fresh your automated feeder keeps it.