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Are Automatic Feeders For Pets Sending The Wrong Message?

on March 25, 2017
Posted in Cats

Next month marks the release of the Catspad, an autonomous device that provides dry food and clean water to cats based on a schedule created by the owner. Designed by a French startup, you can arrange portions by weight and track your cat’s calorie intake via a nutrition calendar that comes with the Catspad mobile app.

The device is clearly well-intentioned: Owners who often aren’t home to feed their cats can now give them balanced meals and keep tabs on supply as well as consumption. But what seems just a little odd is the device’s ability to hold up to 60 ounces of food and 8 liters of water. That’s enough to keep a cat well-fed and hydrated for about one month with zero involvement from the owner.

It’s almost as if the Catspad is telling cat owners that it’s perfectly fine to leave their pets alone for weeks on end. When tech website The Verge reviewed the Catspad earlier this year, the article was given a humorous but highly-appropriate tagline: “So your cat can embrace a machine instead of you.”

The Catspad is one of several automated feeding devices poised to take the pet world by storm. Others, like the Furbo, come with cameras that allow you to watch and communicate with your pets through your mobile phone. There’s the Petzi Treat Cam, which dispenses treats for pets who respond to a song that plays from a small speaker. Users can order a treat to be dispensed whenever they like and stock the device with several days’ worth of food.

The overwhelming concern with feeding gadgets is best represented by the existence of the Remote Dog Treat Dispenser, currently available on Sharper Image for just $59, about $100 less than the Petzi Treat Cam. This device is not made for pet owners who are out of the house but simply those who don’t want to get off the couch to interact with their pets. You push a button on a remote control and a treat is dispensed from a box on the other side of the house.

A survey conducted about two years ago determined that approximately 58% of cats and 54% of dogs in the US are overweight. Researchers concluded that those numbers are only expected to go up, and devices like the Catspad and Petzi Treat Cam will likely take at least part of the blame. After consulting the owners of these overweight pets, the research team found that 90% of them did not know their pets weighed more than they should. It’s difficult to imagine that number going down in a world where pet owners spend less time interacting with their pets and more time watching them on camera. You might be able to see if your pet is stressed but more scrupulous forms of observation, like physically feeling your pet’s side, are required for checking how much weight a cat or dog has put on.

Automated and remote control feeders have the potential to increase overfeeding and de-emphasize the need to exercise your pet. Far too many pet owners are already under the impression that treats are the best way to show their love, and it’s only natural for this habit to grow stronger when the owner is away, watching his or her pet looking sorrowfully into a screen.

Exercise is vital for keeping pets at a healthy weight but you can’t expect pet owners to understand its importance now that leaving their pets alone for the weekend has become significantly less stressful. Pets tend to gain weight because their owners are not home to give them exercise. Thanks to these new devices, pet owners will likely feel even less urgency to be home with their pets and when they do get home, they might rather push a button than get up to play with them.

It seems that every minute, humans are presented with more gadgets designed to make our lives easier yet the obesity rate continues to climb. The normalization of new feeding devices may very well spell the same future for our pets.

Read also: Feline Leukemia Virus (FELV)

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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