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DIY Food Boxes help manage different dietery needs of several cats

DIY: Make food boxes to manage different diets in a multi-cat household

Make private feeding stations with cardboard boxes and electronic cat doors to manage up to five cats' different dietary needs.

If you have several cats in your household, you probably know how difficult it can be to keep each cat away from another cat's food if one or more of your cats is on a prescription diet from your veterinarian, or if you have an overweight cat who needs weight-management formula.

This solution provides for the ability to isolate up to five cats food access to ensure they can each meet their individual dietary requirements.

Assumptions:

  • Your cats are already used to wearing collars
  • You don't mind spending a little time training your cats to use the food boxes.
  • You wish to isolate at least two cats dietary needs from each other

Products used:

One or more electronic cat flaps (See "By the numbers" below for details).
Note, try eBay for used cat flaps. You may be able to save a bundle.
Time needed:
About an hour per box.

Materials needed:

As many large boxes as cats. The boxes should be at least 30" wide, 20" high, and 20" deep (for most average size cats).
See "variations" below for additional box ideas.

Tools needed:

  • Box cutter
  • Yard stick or other straight-edge at least as long as the long side of the box
  • Duct tape or other strong, wide tape.
  • Medium-point permanent marker

Safety warning:

Please use all tools and materials with the proper safety precautions in mind.

By the numbers

One cat
If you just want to provide a safe eating place for one cat, you just need a single box with some kind of electronic cat door. Any cat door product that uses a magnet worn on a collar will work for this. I personally recommend the Cat Mate Electromagnetic Cat Door.

Two cats
If you need to completely isolate two cats from each other, you will need to make two food boxes, each with it's own cat door inaccessible by the other cat.
Note: two electromagnetic cat doors will not keep your cats isolated, because both types of collar keys are the same basic type in their respective products. 

Three to four cats
If you wish to completely isolate up to four cats, you will need to make a food box for each cat, each inaccessible by any of the others. For this scenario, I suggest purchasing electronic cat doors that operate on several different "channels". These are typically the "infra-red" style cat door products. The different channels are designated by different colored collar transmitters that use little button batteries. If you purchase infra-red cat doors, make sure you get different transmitter colors. I personally recommend Staywell 500 Infra-Red Cat Flap products for this purpose.

Five cats
lf you need to isolate five cats, simply purchase four infra-red cat doors, each with a different colored collar transmitter, and a fifth electromagnetic cat door which uses a collar magnet.

More than five cats
RFID cat doors are a good solution for multiple cat households where there are more cats present than the various combinations of other products can accommodate. There are also some newer products that use your cat's subcutaneous ID chip as the "key." These generally work quite well.

Step-by-step:

Repeat this procedure for each box.

Make the box and lid
Start with a box that has a bottom, and still has all four top flaps intact.


1. Cut the smaller/shorter flaps off the top of the box, leaving the two larger/longer flaps in place. Set aside the short flaps. They will be used later (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1

2. Tape down all the loose edges of the bottom flaps inside the box so they are tightly flattened (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

3. Close the two top flaps and tape the seams; middle and ends (Fig. 3).



Fig. 3

The box should now be completely sealed up.
4. Turn over the box so the bottom (with the four sealed flaps) is now on top.
5. Cut around the outside of the top edge. Remove the top (composed of the original bottom flaps) as a single piece.

Fig. 4

6. Check it for strength. It should be pretty solid. Put tape around the edges for a bit more strength and durability.
This wil become the lid. Set it aside (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

7. Use the yardstick and marker to draw a line all the way around the open top of the box, about two inches down from the cut edge (fig. 6).


Fig. 6

8. With the box cutter, carefully score along the line you just made, all the way around the box, just cut through the first layer of cardboard and not all the way through.This will become a fold line.

9. Mark 45-degree angled lines at each corner (you can use square piece of paper folded diagonally as a guide). Each corner should have two lines (fig. 7)


Fig. 7

10. Cut a "V"-shaped chunk out of each top corner. The angle of each side of the "V" should be about 45 degrees. You can cut right to the horizontal line or just past it (fig. 8).

Fig. 8

11. Fold each edge down and inward. The cardboard should "break" along your scored line and the edges of the "V" cut should come together evenly and allow the folded-over edges to lie almost flat (fig. 9).

Fig. 9

Tape down each folded-over corner.
You should now have about a 2" lip on the top of your box (fig. 10).


Fig. 10

12. Place the lid on the box. Line it up and create a tape hinge along one long edge by laying strips of tape along the edge on the outside and the inside on top of the lip. If the lid doesn't close completely by itself, it's okay. There should be a little bit of resistance when you push down on the front edge of the lid, but when you do, you should be able to close the box completely (fig. 11).


Fig. 11

Make a prop to hold the box open

1. Find one of the flaps removed earlier. Cut two 3" to 4" strips off with the long sides parallel to the grain of the cardboard. This needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the lid to keep it open. Overlap 4" to 6" of each piece and tape the two pieces together so they form a single, stronger piece that is longer than either of the box's short sides.
Using fig. 12 below as a guide, cut a notch out of one end; about 2" wide and 1" long. Cut a 2" slot about 2" from the end. Slot should be about 1/4" wide (fig. 12).
Fig. 12

2. Cut a 2"x1/4" slot in one short end of the lid. Where depends upon how far you want the prop to hold the lid open. Reinforce with tape (figs. 13 and 14).


Fig. 13



Fig. 14

Make a cat-proof lid latch

1. Using the remaining short flap removed earlier, cut out about an 8" square. Cut a 3" square hole in the middle. This will become the "hasp" of the latch (fig 15).


Fig. 15

2. Tape one edge of the hasp to the lid so it hangs down the front of the box naturally when the box is closed and held down. Cut a matching 3" hole in the front of the box, directly behind the 3" hole in the hasp (fig. 16).


Fig. 16

3. Cut a piece of cardboard (just under 3" wide and about 12" long). Make sure the grain is across (perpendicular to) the long edge of the piece. Using the natural structure of the cardboard, bend it into a "U" shape so that it fits into the 3" hold in the box snuggly (fig. 17).


Fig. 17

4. Position the "U" so there is at least 1" protruding from the box.

Fig. 18

5. Test the latch by closing the hasp and make sure the hasp fits over the loop and lays flat against the front of the box (fig. 19).
Fig. 19

6. Secure loop with tape (fig. 20).
Fig. 20

7. Cut one more length of cardboard 12" to 14" long and about 1-1/2" wide. Grain of the cardboard should be parallel to the long edge. Find the middle of the strip and cut about 1/2" way through across the strip so it can be folded in half (fig. 21).
Fig. 21

8. Completely cover this piece with tape. This is the "bolt" for the latch (fig. 22).

Fig. 22

9. Close the lid, fold down the hasp over the loop of cardboard, Insert the "bolt" to "lock" the box (fig. 23).
Fig. 23

Install the cat door

1. Determine where you will be installing the cat door. Using the cat door's installation instructions as a guide, measure, mark, and cut the opening for the cat door. Use ball-point pen or pencil to make the screw holes (Fig. 24).


Fig. 24

2. Install the cat door with the controls/dials on the inside of the box. If the screws will not secure the cat door frame to the thin cardboard, use tape to hold it in place (fig. 25).


Fig. 25

Congratulations!
Your home-made food box is complete!


Training:

Before training kitty with the food box, she should be used to her new collar with the "key" attached. Some cats will take some time getting used to the new dangly thing hanging off their neck. For us, the process of acclimating our cats to the collar keys seemed to take about a week.
Repeat this process for each cat, starting with the one you believe to be the most dominant:
  1. Make sure kitty is wearing her collar key.
  2. Put a bowl of food in the box, as far from the cat door as possible.
  3. Prop the cat door open with tape.
  4. Put kitty in the box through the top. Close the box lid.
  5. After kitty has eaten, only allow her exit the box through the open cat door. She may get distracted by the clicking of the cat door electronics, but she will eventually get used to it.
  6. If kitty does not want to eat, or leaves the box immediately after you put her in, try again. Only feed kitty inside the box.
Kitty needs to learn that the box is where she eats. Once she understands that she has to go through the cat door opening to get in and out, you can close the cat door flap and allow it to function normally.

Variations:

Using cardboard boxes will save you lots of money, but they aren't very pretty. Feel free to decorate your food boxes any way you like.
Alternatively, you can purchase manufactured products known as "litter box hiders" from a number of retailers. These boxes come in many sizes and styles, are attractive and fit into your home's decor. Some even have removable liners. All are designed to contain and hide litter pans but many of them can be adapted and turned into feeding station. Of course, never use one of these products for a food box if it has ever been used for a litter box. If you go the "luxury" route in this way, you just have to make sure one of the electronic cat doors can be installed in the entrance securely and still operate correctly. If you can determine the size of the entrance hole, and the size of the cat door, you will know if the two will mate properly. If the hider box entrance hole is too small, you may have to enlarge it by cutting away carpeting and/or other material so your cat door can be installed. If the entrance hole is too large, you can probably attach your cat door to a piece of cardboard or wood and attach that to the hider box.

See what others have done

Here is a box made for Monty by his owner, Dave.