Cat-Operated Cat Food Dispenser

Tired of being harassed by your cat? [MomWillBeProud] made a cheap, effective — and more importantly cat-operated — cat food dispenser.

The feeder is of an efficient construction — a double cat food dish, one container to store the electronics, and a Pringles can to act as the hopper. A simple servo rotates the hopper thirty degrees and back on each button press; using gravity to drop food through an opening that appears due to this motion. The button itself is an old IKEA timer and a piece of plastic large enough for a hungry cat to swat.

An Arduino controls the servo, and while [MomWillBeProud] skips over going into detail on his code, you can check it out here.

[MomWillBeProud] toyed with the idea of scheduled feeding, but believes his cat is smart enough to feed itself; indeed — training cats is hard work, and it took a couple of weeks for the lessons to sink in. He also recommends using an Arduino Pro Mini, since it consumes so little power that it can operate for months on one set of batteries. Since [MomWillBeProud]’s cat needs a refill only once a week, that’s a lot less time fussing with one’s feline companions.

If you want a similarly hands-off method to ensure your pets have water, we previously featured a project that keeps your pet’s water bowl topped off.

[via /r/DIY]

51 thoughts on “Cat-Operated Cat Food Dispenser

  1. I appreciate the design & execution, but I have to say: Dry food is terrible for cats. Check out catinfo.org for details on why.
    I had a male cat that was prone to crystals in his urine that would block his urethra, and he developed diabetes too. Within a month of switching to plain old Friskies Classic Pate canned wet food, all his health issues went away and he lived a long happy life.

    1. WRONG.

      Owner of two cats, and on wet food they had A LOT more problems. They were fat with greasy fur, smelly, and just foul all around. The Vet suggested dry food and many small meals throughout the day, NO open feeding or serving themselves, they are now both purfectly healthy and happy and their coats are shiny and soft and they don’t stink. No urinary problems at all. It depends on the quality of food. wet or dry, if you feed them garbage, they will become garbage. But fry food is better for them hands (and paws) down. But open feeding is the worst. Animals will eat until they are fat or dead because they don’t have to fend for themselves like their instincts tell them to.

      1. Perhaps generalizing from a few specifics isn’t the most productive means to an end.

        That said, I agree with you about food quality. All animals are GIGO. Run of the mill pet food is often garbage (some critters are able to tolerate it better than others, but it doesn’t follow that just because they’re not sick, they must be healthy), and frequently it will be found that by switching to a food of better quality, the quality of life of said critters will be greatly improved.

      2. I got to disagree with the no open feeding. That will depend greatly on your pet. I have 2 cats open feeding on dry food. They don’t sit and gorge themselves at the food bowl. To manage weight we get them to exercise daily (chasing a string on a wooden dowel, they both love it.) If either of them gorged, we’d switch to controlled feeding.

        1. Likewise. When our cat was a kitten, our vet told us not to let him get fat, and she told us the ideal weight for his breed. We’ve open fed him from the start, and he leveled off within a few ounces of what the vet suggested. 7 or 8 years old.

          With dry food, the thing we worry about most is whether the cat is getting enough water. It seems to not be a problem.

          There ought to be some kind of network where you can look up things about cats.

    2. Our cat refuses to eat anything but dry cat food from the discount grocery. He’s 4 years old and going strong. Actually he eats birds, chipmunks, baby rabbits, and the occasional red squirrel too. But he will not eat anything you offer him otherwise, except cheap dry cat food.

    3. OTOH my cat gets the runs if he is given too much wet food, or if he eats anything with fish. The messes I cleaned up in his first month with me means he only gets wet food once every few weeks and occasional treats of the water from a tuna can. Additionally, because of some strange dental and gum issues, he gets hair and other stuff wrapped around his fangs and under the gums. He lost one fang from this, and the vet’s first statement was “stop feeding him wet food every day”.

      But because he’s a not a short hair, he does get hairballs. Strangely, the vet suggested miralax added to his water or sprinkled on dry food; not wet food. And tooth brushing. Try teaching a 10 year old cat to sit still while he gets his teeth brushed.

  2. Definitely a cool project :)
    I broke down and got an auto feeder for my cats some time ago at a local thrift store, was tempted to change the electronics out but never got around to it. Took them about two days to realize where the food came from and that if they crammed their paw up the shoot they could jostle out a meal between meals…… which was problematic since the whole point of the feeder was to put them on a strict feeding schedule cause the are gettin to be fatties :P

    So right now I have parts of a candy dispenser strewn out across my desk that I hope to be able to get to dispense treats. Hope to hook that up to a 5ft cat wheel that is currently two pieces of Baltic birch (since it’s the only thing that I could find in 5×5) and some fittings from my old computer chair (may it rest in peace). Now I just need to get up the motivation to build a fairly large circle jig.

      1. Possible. Possibly very possible. But certainly not a guarantee. The ingredients and quality are key variables. Anyone who thinks that “one cat ~= all cats” clearly hasn’t been around cats very much. Your pet’s vet is a better source of information than a website.

      2. That vet on that site doesn’t know her ass from a hole in the ground. DOMESTIC cats are NOT wild animals that need pure meat to survive, that’s the biggest bull headed bunch of ass talk I’ve ever witnessed. She gives the real reason her cats were sick. THEY WERE DEHYDRATED. You have to give cats plenty of water. They will drink on their own, it doesn’t need to come from wet food. She needs to come out of the 1980’s and go back to vet school.

          1. Cat’s have a weird survival instinct: inverse thirst response. The thirstier they are, the less they desire a drink. That comes from long evolution, where getting really thirsty while waiting for prey to make a mistake would be the difference between a juicy meal and no food at all.

            I wish I could find the reference of where I first heard this, but I’ve seen it play out often. When the water bowl first gets low, the complaining is loud and constant. After an hour, or if I’m not at home, the complaints become sporadic and later non-existent. Luckily the water bowl is right in the kitchen, so when I get thirsty the feline can point out my lack of proper service.

      3. Wet, dry, meh. Cats are people, and for a modicum of respect will respond with some responsibility for their own diet. Except for birds, all catdiots vs. birds.
        My own cats actually prefer dry food; a can of the [good,poor] quality potted meat will remain untouched until I throw it out. 2/3 like tuna water, but neither oil nor salmon water. The other will demand a dish of cream occasionally.
        So we free-feed the really good stuff. No grains (none), and buying a bag really hurts at the end of the month. Two advantages: they respect the free-feed and don’t overeat, and they all stopped stinking and farting.

    1. I have an automated feeder that is two very high end auto feeders that were originally designed for koi ponds, but work great for dry kibble too, the cats figured out how to “strong arm” the feeders, so I housed the feeders in a small storage cabinet I bought at wal-mart and pipe the food out the sides to two bowls via some downspout guttering. I monitor the food levels in each machines hopper with IR “break beam” sensors, with modulated IR diodes and IR detectors on the opposite side of the hoppers. It works great. I could have it send me an SMS via smartthings, but haven’t had a need, a blinking LED on the front of the cabinet works well. Its set to go off when there is about 5 feedings left and the cats will start telling us when the light blinks too anyway.

      This person on here touting wet food is nutz. I bet that site is run by a wet food company all day long.

      1. Carbohydrates. Dry food is full of carbs. Cats are obligate carnivores, protein and fat are what they need. Their digestive system is not able to handle carbs very well. Any cat food wet or dry should have less than 10% of its calories from carbs. I’ve never found a dry cat food that meets that qualification.
        Hydration? Think about a cat’s natural prey and it becomes clear that they have also evolved to get most of their Hydration from their food. They have very little thirst drive. If your cat is drinking a lot of straight water, it likely indicates a health problem. Check out PU, PD.

    1. Set a timer which ignores button presses for 10 minutes, or dispense gradually smaller portions. Or put a weight sensor in the bowl so you can check if there’s still food left in the bowl.

  3. if you’d like to skip the mechanical aspects of making an automated dispenser, this place: http://super-feed.com/ makes a super-tough dispenser that spits out a more or less controlled amount of food every time it is powered on. i control mine with a raspberry pi that randomizes the dispense time, and lets me dispense more food from a web page. (next step is to have it dispense relative to sunrise/sunset, since the cats don’t care about DST.)

  4. Without starting an argument about the type of food, my understanding was that (generally), dry food was healthier in most situations, but that all animals are different, and the quality of food is key either way. My friend owns several cats, and feeds them mostly dry food, with the occasional can of wet food. His cousin, who fed her cats strictly wet food had two severely obese cats, and the vet told her that if she didn’t switch to dry food she’d be killing her cats. I’d assume the quality of the food combined with the amount you are giving the animals are both key factors. All cats are different, for sure, and one of my friend’s cats even loves playing fetch, which isn’t a behavior I’ve seen often in a cat.

    Cool build, interesting to see another ‘not quite’ automatic feeder, I’ve always felt the timer based feeders were a bad idea, but I’d be concerned about the cats overfeeding themselves if there isn’t a limit on the number of activations of the feeder per day.

  5. This desperately needs to be on the internet of things, that is the IoT. That way you can monitor and graph precisely everything about the cats eating, and, you can do it from your smartphone on the beach. You could probably do it from an airplane while commuting to important business meetings across the continent. Oh and does the arduino blink an LED?

  6. I built one for my turtles. I was going for a 6 weeks vacation, but when I was testing it I was afraid of its reliability so I bought a commercial one. I revisited the project again after the experience of leaving them for 6 weeks and I learned alot during that vacation.

    They survived food dispenser was perfect, but the auto water exchange failed half way. :/ I was checking them on an IP camera the whole time.

  7. My cat would keep pressing the button just to watch the food drop and then come and bug me to *re-load* it so he could have some more fun lol.

    It’s interesting that the cat in the youtube is right pawed and the button is left pawed.

    1. Mine too, then complain that he licked some of the pieces while eating a few bites, so the whole bowl is now stale so will I do my duty to the feline who runs the house and get him fresh kibble? Or, if it went far enough over the floor, he’d just consider it a toy to swat, chase, pounce, and then actually eat.

  8. Did anyone notice how the cat in the video showed the universal cat sign of disapproval? When it walked away it scraped it’s right paw on the floor. That essentially says “HATED IT!”. Cat looks bored too. Any one who uses a automated cat food dispenser PROBABLY doesn’t spend too much time keeping his cat entertained like with a LASER pointer or something. And who says don’t keep a bowl of freshwater near their food? Have they never watched big cats in the wild at the ol’ watering hole? No blood (from prey) is NOT a good source of hydration. It’s a good source of pathogens though.

    i agree with the posters that say their cat will push the button for entertainment like how they will play with the kitchen faucet to watch the intriguing water droplets fall down. They are so smart they might figure out how to dump the reservoir over to get at the food. All they need to do is watch you fill it for several days and they have it figured out. They can also open doors, flush toilets, etc. They are such opportunistic mimics.

    You want your cat to have a beautiful coat of hair? Put Brewer’s Yeast pills in their food (they love the taste too). Available at pet food store.. You want to eliminate hairball vomit around your house (ugh!)? Put a teaspoon of olive oil in their food. It coats their tongue so when they lick themselves the hair does not stick and get swallowed.

    Better yet research and design a Arduino based cat entertainment system. One that spins a red ball with a mouse tail on a stick under a circular drape. The Arduino is setup to detect the proximity of the cat via a PIR motion detector and it also starts up by itself at random times and changes direction randomly to not bore the cat. It automatically stops like around 5~10 minutes for awhile or when the PIR is not triggering any more (cat fell asleep?). Also has a master on/off switch for when you get sick of it too.

    Here’s an example of a commercially available one:

  9. I like the idea of the ballistic feeder. Shoot kibble all around the place. One at a time. Better if it detects if crunching happens before shooting another off. Possible by wearable on cat.

  10. I love how whenever someone comes up with something for their pet, the PETA crowd comes out and explains why [whatever it is that you are doing], you are doing it wrong and they (and they alone) know the PROPER way to feed/house/pet/nurture/play_with/hold/etc… YOUR animal. I got the same responses from an aquarium I did.

    I like this project. It’s simple, to the point and does what the designer intended it to do. It it works for his(her?) cat, that is all that matters and other people should leave the care of his/her animal to them.

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