Take the drama out of mealtimes with your pet
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
As a pet owner, illness and injury are the primary causes for concern, but the word "diet" is a very close third. Food is a natural way to express love for our pets, but, as with most things, moderation is key. When I had to put my cat on a diet, the Cat Mate C500 automatic pet feeder (which won an award in our best automatic pet feeders roundup) was my secret weapon when it came to reducing tension around meal times and cutting down on instances of my cat begging for food when it wasn't dinner time.
Before I got this feeder and started being more strict about my cat's feeding times, every hour turned into a battle between my willpower and my cat’s ability to meow pleadingly. As you might guess, on most days, it was a pitched battle.
Finally, I got an idea: Why don’t I try getting an automatic feeder that would allow me to set up specific feeding times while I was away at work? This way, I could give her food while I was away from the house, which would surely cut down on the begging for food when I was home, right? RIGHT?
When most people start looking into automatic pet feeders, it’s because they want to be able to keep their pets fed without being there in person—whether they want to work late or take an overnight trip away from home. Smart pet feeders add even more functionality to this idea: As long as you have wireless/data access on your smartphone, you can adjust your pet’s feeding schedule, give him or her treats, or feed your pet in real time.
However, if you’re like me, you’re looking at automatic pet feeders as a way to start working on portion control and take some of the stress out of feeding time. My theory was that if my cat knew that food would be available at a certain time, then she wouldn’t need to wake me up at 2 a.m. to beg for food. To that end, I looked around on Amazon, and found an automatic pet feeder that also worked for wet food. The feeder I ultimately purchased worked beautifully for a while.
My cat’s begging didn’t go away altogether, but it noticeably lessened; when she did whine for food, I was able to distract her with diet dry kibble. Gradually, though, my cat’s food-motivated behavior came back full force. She suddenly wanted more food all the time, and started waking me up in the middle of the night most days of the week, even if food had just been dispensed minutes earlier by the feeder.
Eventually, I discovered that she’d figured out how to manipulate (read: break) the automatic feeder to the point where she could get the food I’d left for her whenever she wanted, rather than when the timer went off. It became clear that that feeder was no longer working out.
Enter the Cat Mate C500, the feeder that fixed all of the issues I had with my previous feeder, and allowed the state of the food tensions between myself and my cat to once more fade into a tentative truce. I've used it for the past couple of years, and, to date, my cat has been unable to break into or manipulate this feeder.
The feeder is made of plastic that is both durable and easy to wash. The feeder has three pieces: the bottom piece that holds the digital timer and the control panel; the rotating food tray with compartments for four meals; and the cover, which snaps securely into place.
Two included ice packs fit into gaps in the bottom piece of the feeder, allowing you to safely leave wet food in the feeder for hours without having to worry about the food going bad.
With the three-button control panel, you can set the four meal times on the digital clock in 10-minute intervals, as well as reset the location of the tray, which spins on a cylinder whose motion is driven by a motor in the bottom piece of the feeder.
Every once in a while, the tray gets out of alignment after rotating a certain number of times, but by pressing two buttons, you can easily reset the tray location back to its proper spot.
Setting up a feeding is very straightforward: After using the buttons to toggle to the desired feeding time (don’t worry, it distinguishes between a.m. and p.m.), you pop the ice packs in as needed, set the meal tray in place, add the food in to one or more of the compartments, and snap the top on.
When feeding time comes around, the rotation of the tray is noisy enough that it will notify your pets that the food has arrived, but not so loud that it will disturb your sleep if the feeder is in another room (as I can personally attest). Additionally, the cover and the food tray are both dishwasher-safe, but it’s just as easy to wash these pieces by hand.
To make a long story short, this feeder is durable, easy to use, difficult for pets to break into, and it gets the job done. Naturally, I wasn’t surprised when the Cat Mate C500 was one of the highest-ranking products in our automated pet feeder roundup. No, it’s not a "smart" feeder, in that it cannot be controlled wirelessly, but because I’m a digital minimalist, that’s never bothered me.
Because the feeder is made of plastic, it’s relatively lightweight and therefore easy to push around. The fact that the feeder’s cover is internally anchored helps, but this feeder is probably not going to survive being pushed from a height by a seriously determined cat or dog. If you can, consider wedging this feeder into a corner or against a wall so that there’s less opportunity for wet noses to push the feeder around the kitchen.
Additionally, it’s not immediately obvious when the feeder’s AA batteries need to be replaced. When the batteries in my feeder died recently (nearly a year after I first put them in), it took me a while to figure it out because there’s no battery notification; instead, the feeder skipped a couple meals and randomly changed the scheduled feeding times without my input. Once I replaced the batteries, though, those bad behaviors all went away.
Lastly, because I mostly feed my cat wet food, I rely heavily on the included ice packs to keep the wet food safe for consumption. If you use the feeder twice a day or more, though, you may find yourself wanting extra ice packs so that you don’t have to wait for the original ice packs to freeze again. It’s possible to buy extra ice packs on Amazon, but because of their limited ability in the past, most C500 users (myself included) purchased Rubbermaid LunchBlox ice packs to supplement or replace the existing ice packs because they’re small enough to fit in the distinctly shaped ice pack gaps in the bottom piece of the feeder.
I have no qualms about recommending the Cat Mate C500 to anyone who is considering an automated pet feeder for his or her cat or small dog. It’s an effective way to feed your pets on a schedule, whether you’re home or not, and it can definitely help to take some of the stress and contention out of meal times. The fact that it also has the option for cold storage is the cherry on top.
Even better, its clever design means that my cat can’t break into it. In the escalating arms race between humans and cats, I've found that the C500 is the best weapon when it comes to feeding pets without overfeeding them.
Sign up for our newsletter to get real advice from real experts.