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Updated January 18, 2023
One of the most popular pet purchases these days is an automatic dog food dispenser. With many pet parents returning to the office, these feeders help households keep their pup’s mealtime consistent regardless of whether they’re at home or work. The best automatic dog feeders are easy to program, make pre-measured feedings possible, and may even include the sound of your voice.
The betterpet lab put some of the more popular products to the test. We looked at ease of use, clean, and stand up to clever pets that may try to topple them for an extra treat. Dogs aren’t the only pets that can benefit from these auto feeders. Many are suitable as automatic cat feeders — some manufacturers say their feeders are best for cats or small dogs.
At about $50, not only is the PetSafe Eatwell 5-Meal Automatic Dog & Cat Feeder one of the least expensive feeders we looked at, it’s one of the simplest, most accurate, and pet-proof for those dogs and cats that learn to tip over or break into other feeders.
It has a clamshell lid that reveals a tray with five spaces, each able to hold up to one cup of food. Load the feeder with 4 D-cell batteries, fill the spaces with food (dry food works best), and set the timer. The trays rotate, revealing a new space based on when the timer is set.
Overfilling the spaces risks jamming the feeder — veterinarian Dr. Erica Irish recommends daily maintenance, especially if you opt for semi-moist food. If mildew and mold accumulate, it can make your pet sick. The biggest downside: this feeder isn’t designed for wet food diets, though some owners still use it this way.
|✓ Easy to program in our tests||✗ Not designed for soft or canned food|
|✓ Flat, low design makes it more difficult to knock over||✗ Batteries not included|
|✗ Limited to 5 meals at a time|
This SureFeed microchip pet feeder is great for multi-pet households. Each pet can access its food without competition from other pets. If your dog tends to graze, saving some food for later, this feeder ensures the food stays fresh with its automatic open-and-close capability.
It’s not a good fit for large breeds — in our tests, our dog had problems getting their head to the food because of their size.
When it comes to cats, Dr. Irish warns that while this feeder can keep out other kitties, you have to be careful with cats that sneak in quickly. Some reviewers say when one cat tries to eat side-by-side with the other, the delay in closing the lid can allow other cats to take advantage (the feeder stays open if it senses something there).
|✓ Setup instructions are easy to follow||✗ Setup can be time-consuming|
|✓ Modern design||✗ Batteries not included|
|✓ Perfect for someone with multiple pets|
The Healthy Pet Simply Feed programmable dog and cat feeder has an advantage over its sister feeder, the PetSafe Eatwell, since it holds up to 24 cups of dry food, meaning you can set it and forget it for longer. It also has a slow-feed option for fast eaters. Pet owners can dispense meals larger than ⅛ cup over 15-minute increments. Scheduling smaller meals throughout the day helps manage pet obesity — you also might be able to replace or supplement your puzzle feeder, especially if your dog has already sniffed out the solution.
However, some customers say this feeder is harder to program. Dr. Irish points out that it’s battery-operated only (you can add an electrical power cord for about $14 more) and might be more difficult to clean thanks to the internal conveyor, which requires hand washing.
|✓ Schedule up to 12 meals||✗ Hard to clean|
|✓ Dispenses 1/8 cup to 4 cups per meal||✗ Doesn’t come with a power cord (batteries not included)|
One of our favorite things about this WOPET feeder is its simple design. Even though it holds nearly 30 cups of food, it’s capable of dispensing as little as 2 teaspoons (or as much as 4.5 cups) at a time. Customers like the ability to leave a custom voice recording they can set to play at specific times, though many say that the sound is faint. This version runs off of wall power with a battery backup (you’ll need to supply the D batteries), but a newer version comes with Wi-Fi.
|✓ Talk to your dog while you’re away||✗ Only works with dry food|
|✓ Dispenses up to 4.5 cups||✗ Programming can be tricky — you’ll need to translate grams to cups|
|✓ Dishwasher safe and easy to clean|
Smart feeders like this DOGNESS model give you more control over your pet’s feeding when you’re away from home, but Dr. Irish warns that the peace of mind may only be as good as your connectivity (or power outages). “As long as the feeder can still automatically feed when the Wi-Fi is down,” she said, “it’s a good feeder!”
The feeder will still dispense food even if it’s offline thanks to a battery backup, but the built-in camera won’t work without Wi-Fi. Some customers said they had issues with the smartphone app that controls the camera and disliked the fact that the camera isn’t motion-activated. Pet parents who use the camera and microphone to see and talk to their pets when they’re away love it.
One word of warning: a smart dog feeder, like all Internet of Things home gadgets, is vulnerable to hacking. While unlikely, hackers could take control of smart feeding devices.
|✓ Camera capable of night vision||✗ Camera isn’t motion activated|
|✓ Pairs with a free app||✗ Wi-Fi needs to be stable|
|✓ Compatible with wet food||✗ Made for small breeds|
Gravity feeders aren’t a good fit for every pet. They technically aren’t automatic feeders because they can’t be programmed. Instead, gravity sends food into the bowl until it fills. Dog owners who who “free feed” their dogs might find it convenient, but dogs generally aren’t good at self-regulating their diets. Free feeding might be right for kittens, but it’s not the best option for adult cats.
We included the Petmate Replendish because it’s an affordable way to keep pets fed in a pinch. It’s easy to clean and comes in various sizes, up to 18 pounds. We especially like that it’s possible to store food and water in these containers. “Make sure not to store too much food in there because food open to the air for a while can become spoiled,” Dr. Irish advises.
|✓ Great for dogs that can self-regulate||✗ Not a good fit for obese pups and cats that need measured amounts of kibble or wet food|
|✓ Helpful for multiple-pet households|
While most automatic pet feeders advertise the ability to feed more than one pet, this is one of the few that allows you to do so simultaneously. That won’t be useful if your pets eat different foods or amounts or if you have one cat and one dog. Dr. Irish discourages feeding a dog and cat simultaneously — one might eat the other’s food, or they could fight over it.
Like other feeders on this list, the HoneyGuaridan allows you to record a voice memo for your pets. We also like the built-in low-feeder LED light that flashes when it’s time for a refill.
|✓ Feed two pets at once||✗ No slow-feed options|
|✓ Stainless steel bowls||✗ Backup batteries not included|
|✓ Low-food alerts|
Automatic dog feeders save pet parents from needing a last-minute sitter, rising early, or staying up late for feeding times. They can bring needed organization to mealtime even when you are not at home to feed your pet. They are not, however, a replacement for human interaction and oversight. The best automatic feeders take into account:
Your veterinarian can provide an ideal body weight to use as an approximate target. From there, they can recommend daily portions based on your pet and the type of food you’re using. Dogs and cats need scheduled meals and portion control.
The type of automatic dog feeder — gravity feeder, smart feeder, and programmable feeder — will depend on your dog’s feeding schedule and diet. A plate feeder, like the PetSafe 5-Meal Automatic Dog & Cat Feeder, will be best if your pet is on a restricted diet. A large-capacity dispenser will be better for large dogs that need more food at each feeding. If you opt for semi-moist food, look for a feeder that will best protect it from drying out or becoming contaminated.
Pets on canned food are likely to be a poor fit with most automatic feeders. You’ll also want to take into account the bells and whistles you want (or don’t want) such as voice memos, Wi-Fi capability, cameras, and more. The best automatic feeder for you will be the one you can program most easily and match up with the amount of food recommended by your vet and food label instructions.
Watch out for products like the Little Giant Galvanized Steel Feeder which is advertised as a feeder but is in reality a better fit as a storage container.
👉 Do your research and look for feeders that align with your pet type, size, and dietary needs.
The betterpet lab developed a set of criteria and then put the PetSafe Eatwell, Surefeed Microchip, and Little Giant feeders to the test in real-world situations to give you the most accurate data possible. Those factors included:
The writers, editors, and staff of betterpet are pet parents, and we know the value of accurate, trustworthy information. Because of this, the content we create is reviewed and approved by our vets. We tested these automatic dog feeders so that when we say an automatic feeder is best, it comes from firsthand experience.
Absolutely. These feeders allow pet owners to leave for the day and program when they want their pets to eat meals.
This really depends on your preference and needs, but you want to look for an auto feeder that can serve up pre-measured cups of food.
The auto-feeders need to be cleaned at least once a week and sometimes every other day to ensure food isn’t getting jammed and stuck in the container.