Thursday, June 23, 2011

Easy-to-Make Selective Cat Feed Crate

Instructions for assembling feed crate which allows access only to specific cats.

Cat Mate Elite-based feed crate (left) and SureFlap-based feed crate.

Nate eats slowly but does a good job of self-regulating food intake. Monkey eats like a vacuum cleaner and if allowed to feed freely would likely balloon into a 20+ pounder. For many years, twice a day, I supervised at feeding time to prevent Monkey from stealing Nate’s food. Usually I'd just put Nate in a separate room and close the door, but still this was a bit of a pain, and every once in a while I’d forget to let him back out. When going out of town, I’d just fill a big bowl to minimize the burden on the person checking in on the cats. But then I’d return to find Monkey bigger by about a pound for each week I was away.

A few electronic RFID-based cat flaps have appeared on the market in recent years. They’re marketed as a means to allow your cat or cats free access in and out of the house while preventing entry to other animals such as raccoons or the neighbor’s cat. This post provides instructions for putting together a selective cat feed crate which allows one or more cats to feed freely while barring access to others. Assembly is easy -- it takes about about ten minutes and the only tool required is a screwdriver.

Parts required for SureFlap version. Bolts shown here are 3" length rather than 2" length as specified in parts list. I happened to have 3" bolts on hand so that's what I used.

Parts List for Cat Mate Elite-Based Feed Crate
(1) Cat Mate Elite Selective Cat Flap (9.75"W x 10.375"H)
(1) Petmate Double Door Deluxe, Intermediate (24”L x 16¼”W x 14¾”H )
(4) ¼” bolts, 3” long (¼-20 x 3)
(4) ¼” nuts (¼-20)
(8) ¼” washers

Parts List for SureFlap-Based Feed Crate
(1) SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap (8¼”W x 8¼”H)
(1) Petmate Double Door Deluxe, Medium (23”L x 14½”W x 11¾”H)
(4) ¼” bolts, 2” long (¼-20 x 2)
(4) ¼” nuts (¼-20)
(8) ¼” washers

The “Double Door Deluxe” pet carrier by Petmate comes in three sizes -- small, medium, and intermediate. If you decide on the SureFlap, you’ll need the medium-sized carrier. If you go with the Cat Mate Elite, you’ll need the intermediate-sized carrier. The double-door aspect of these carriers is important -- the top door gives the owner access to the food bowl for refilling.

The SureFlap requires that your cat be microchipped, whereas the Cat Mate Elite requires that your cat wear a disc on its collar. Nate has been using the Cat Mate Elite version of the feed crate for more than three years and the flap continues to function reliably. The sound it makes when unlatching/latching is rather loud -- it will definitely disturb your sleep if placed in your bedroom. I have the "Super Selective" version of the Cat Mate Elite flap. From what I can tell, the super and non-super versions differ only in their programmability. The super version allows you to program times of day that cats are allowed to move in or out. I didn't need this additional functionality but the price difference at the time of purchase was slight enough that I just went ahead with the fancier one.

I can’t personally vouch for the functionality or reliability of the SureFlap -- I put together a SureFlap version of the feed crate for a friend but it hasn’t been put into service yet. The flap seems to get good reviews however. The unlatching/latching sound is significantly quieter than the Cat Mate Elite -- it's nearly silent in comparison.

Assembly Steps
Steps are shown for the SureFlap version. Assembly of the Cat Mate version is pretty much the same.

Remove front door from carrier.

Mount bolt with two washers and nut as shown. Finger tightening should be sufficient. Again, bolts shown are 3" length but only need to be 2". Use 3" bolts for Cat Mate version.

Repeat for remaining holes.

Place main flap body as shown. For Cat Mate version, place main flap body outside rather than inside.

Put frame in place, insert shortest screws that came with flap, tighten screws lightly. Center frame before tightening further. Do not over-tighten -- see next picture. For Cat Mate version, frame goes on inside of crate.

Tighten until you start to notice bowing. Not a big deal if you happen to tighten all the way down but it's probably better not to over do it.

Add screw-hole caps provided with flap. You're done. Cat Mate flap doesn't have screw-hole caps.

Cat Mate Elite version.

Nate had to get some snacking in while I was taking pictures.

Monkey is not amused.