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As the proud owner of three cats I felt that it was time to invest in a reliable automatic cat feeder with a large capacity. These feeders can usually be programmed for a period of up to 24 hours ahead and are ideal for short holidays when it is not worth asking a friendly neighbour to step in. I researched my purchase carefully, looking at timing flexibility and food tray capacity and eventually bought a feeder from Argos, where it cost £24.99. It was listed as Pet Safe 2 Meal Pet Feeder in the catalogue, but when I bought it, it definitely was a bona fide Staywell PetPod, which is listed as £32.95 on Amazon, and was on sale in my local pet supermarket for £35. I bought the standard capacity unit, but later realised that there is a large capacity feeder on sale from Amazon for £41.95 which may have been more suitable.
The unit is made from a lightweight plastic which is silver in colour. The whole unit measures 30cm by 22cm and sits on four very stable rubber feet which raise it above the ground by 2cm. Two separate white polypropylene food trays sit inside the unit and measure 14cm square. They are 4cm deep and can hold up to 150g of dry cat food. There is no bottom to the unit, which is a great advantage as food cannot fall in between the dish and the unit and get stuck on the bottom. Any food that does fall lands directly onto the floor beneath the dish and as the unit is raised off the floor by 2cm, it does not fester underneath for long. The white food trays are dishwasher safe, but the rest of the unit is not, and must be wiped clean with a damp cloth.
To the rear of the unit, a hinged plastic plate covers up the LCD display unit. The lid can be raised to operate the four control buttons and the cover prevents food from clogging the buttons or inadvertent use by an inquisitive cat.
The batteries for the digital timer are inserted from the bottom of the unit. Turning the feeder upside down, two small Phillips screws must be undone to remove the casing and insert two AA batteries. The casing is then replaced and the screws tightened. I am in two minds about this system. On one hand it ensures that the batteries cannot fall out during a scuffle, on the other hand it is fiddly to put them in and out. I only use my feeder once every couple of months or less often, so I always take the batteries out when not using the unit. In the last minute rush before going on holiday, the last thing I want to be doing is fiddling around with screwdrivers, so a quick release system would be welcome.
The LCD display is initially a little confusing as it is cluttered with rather mysterious symbols - I recommend using the manual to interpret these symbols rather than trying to guess what they are. The display has a very useful battery full / empty indicator - essential to put your mind at rest when you are leaving your cats home alone. It also has a 12 hour digital time display, morning afternoon being indicated by a small dot next to the am / pm indicators. Days of the week run across the top of the LCD display, with a Daily option. A digital representation of on/off buttons lets you know if you are setting Timer 1 or Timer 2. Next to the display, four small rubber buttons at each side of the LCD panel control the functions.
Once the batteries have been inserted, the day and time must be set, much like the timer on domestic boiler. Having set the time, you must then individually set the opening time for Timer 1 (left hand feeder) and Timer 2 (right hand feeder). It is possible to programme up to 48 hours ahead.
The instruction booklet is very clear and takes you through these steps one at a time, with plenty of simple diagrams to help you through the process. As a person who hates user manuals, I initially raced through the process and set the timer for a trial run. I would recommend a trial run to everybody because, although I was convinced that I had understood the process and set the timers correctly, they did not open when I expected them to. It took a second pair of eyes to point out that I had forgotten to put the timer to am/pm - and instead of setting the lid to open in 5 minutes, I had set it to open in 12 hours, 5 minutes.
Once I had understood my basic mistake it was easy to correctly set each timer and having tested my timing skills twice and got it right, I felt confident in going away and leaving my cats.
~~Durability and Effectiveness~~
I am disappointed with the durability of the unit. After one use the silver polypropylene lids have deep black scratch marks on them, where hungry cats have tried to get to the food - this never happened with other units I have owned, which had basic white plastic lids rather than a stylish silver finish. However, a good point is that the cats both failed to prise the lids up and break into the food, and failed to overturn the unit, which has a nice low centre of gravity. Both of these things have happened to units that I have owned in the past.
The food trays came out of the dishwasher sparking clean and are obviously dishwasher safe.
Overall I am happy with my purchase, although a bit disappointed that the lids were so easily damaged. The timer system is very flexible and the whole unit worked effectively. The capacity was generous and kept my cats happy over the long weekend.
The only disadvantages are the fiddly battery cover and the lack of ice blocks for owner who prefer to feed their cats wet cat food.
The unit comes with a three year guarantee which I think is generous.