Handling a single hungry cat is pretty simple. Feeding more than one cat in a household can be difficult. Many factors can present challenges: the number of cats involved, their temperaments, the size of feeding area and number of dishes, as well as any specific dietary needs that have to be considered.

Cats evolved as solitary hunters, and they ate many small meals in a day. Today, cats have one of two types of eating habits. The majority are “nibblers”—they’ll nibble at their food if it’s left out during the day (free-feeding). The others are meal feeders.

Free-feeding presents additional challenges in multi-cat homes, because it’s not easy to monitor each cat’s appetite and food intake. Also, assertive cats may prevent shyer cats from accessing the food bowl, or intimidate them into leaving the food before they have finished eating. Conflict among cats is often subtle, so you may not even be aware this is happening.

So what is the solution? Generally in most multi-cat households, meal feeding with individual stations is the best approach. This is especially true if any of the cats requires a specific or special type of food. One idea is to feed each cat in a separate room of the home, with the door closed. Ideally a regular feeding schedule is adhered to, and each cat is given a certain amount of time to eat.

At all times, water should be freely available in several locations. If separate rooms isn’t possible, setting up dividers or partitions might create enough division for everyone to eat peacefully. Or think vertically – cats like to jump and climb, so their food dishes could be separated at different levels of surfaces in the home.

Regardless of the feeding plan chosen, make sure to consult your vet about the amount of calories your cat should consume each day. Obesity is the biggest health concern facing cats in the US today, and by simply being aware of how much food your cat needs and avoiding overfeeding, you can greatly improve your cat’s health.