You may have noticed that Steve and I spend a fair bit of time away from home. Tesla requires a great deal of playtime and attention, so she either goes to doggie camp, or if it’s a longer trip she either goes to Camp Nancy (a very dear friend of ours), or if it’s a long voyage like when we went to India, she stays with Lindsay and Nolan. She loves going to Lindsay and Nolan’s house. And by loves, I mean she does not want to go home. When we start packing up to take her back, she always hides – under the dining room table, under the desk in the guest room, wherever she thinks she won’t be discovered.
Our cats, Ada and Grace (named after Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer) and Grace (named after Grace Hopper, a Rear Admiral in the Navy and the inventor of the first computer compiler) require a lot less attention than Tesla. To be fair, they give back a lot less love and affection so it’s a fair deal. They’re actually the most affectionate pair of cats we’ve ever owned and do seem to notice when we’ve been gone. But to survive, they really only require their cat litter scooped, some food now and then, and fresh water.
Ever since our very first pair of cats, Halliday and Resnick (yes,that Halliday and Resnick) we’ve had a simple gravity-fed feeder for when we’re away. While Grace will eat the amount of food necessary to stay alive and healthy while we’re away, Ada seems to have some self-control issues in the food department. Each time we go away she seems to get bigger. When we return, we put Grace’s food up on a windowsill. We know that Ruben-esque Ada (a term coined by her vet) is too heavy to jump up there but Grace will be able to easily hop on up.
Finding a Smart Pet Feeder
With our recent trip to Mammoth, I decided to try to use technology to solve the problem. I went on the hunt for a smart cat food dispenser so that Ada wouldn’t have access to an endless supply of food while we’re away. I found a great rundown of The 9 Best Automatic Cat Feeders of 2023, Tested and Reviewed at www.thesprucepets.com/…. Some “best of” sites are just link farms or worse yet are paid placements, but The Spruce Pets actually did do in-depth testing and evaluation. They broke it down into the best of into best overall, best budget, and best for multiple cats, along with a few other options.
Their top pick for multiple cats was the $90 PETLIBRO dual-pet feeder on Amazon. This model would have met our needs, disbursing specified quantities on a schedule, but then I noticed that for $150 I could get nearly the same model but with 1080P HD video with night vision and WiFi. I really had no choice, right? For future reference, this PETLIBRO feeder is affectionately referred to as PLAF203.
Spoiler – we really like the PETLIBRO cat feeder and we’re especially glad we got the one with video and WiFi. Before I dig into the setup and why we like it so much, let me say up front that if you’re blind, just move along. The interface on the PETLIBRO cat feeder does not have real physical buttons you can feel, the app is pretty much inaccessible, and even the online manual isn’t accessible as it appears to be one giant image. It’s really a shame.
The PETLIBRO feeder has a 5L cylindrical chamber with a little window on the front so you can see how full the feeder is at a glance. You add food by simply rotating the lid on top to access the chamber. Below the chamber, it has a food chute that spits out the food on a schedule you define in the app. Since this is for two pets, there are two stainless steel bowls to accept the food. Stainless steel was a differentiator in The Spruce Pets reviews because many of the feeders only had plastic bowls.
You would think the PETLIBRO would send equal amounts down into the two bowls, but you’d be wrong. By default it seems to spit more into one bowl than the other, so there’s a small plastic piece called the meal splitter. You have to connect and then rotate to direct it to split the servings. It’s weird though because it barely moves between being centered (which oddly doesn’t make them equal) and about a 10° angle to one side that does make them equal. I have a feeling people really try to crank on the meal splitter because it doesn’t really make sense that it barely moves and because they included a spare.
Below the food chamber is a black angled screen that lights up virtual buttons. By default, the buttons are locked so that curious noses can’t trigger anything like manual feeding. One of the lit-up buttons is a lock that you can disengage to allow manipulation of the device.
The instructions that come with the cat feeder explain how to do this unlocking and then how to get it to pair with the phone app. I tried repeatedly to make the connection as instructed but it kept failing. The instructions explain that there are two different versions of their phone app: PETLIBRO and PETLIBRO Lite. That’s a bit annoying, but it’s even harder to figure out which app you need.
The instructions said to look at the serial number inside the battery chamber (which requires flipping the entire cat feeder upside down). If the number after the C in the serial number is a value greater than 43, then use the non-lite version of the app. While my serial number after the C was 55, the non-lite version kept failing for me. I tried the Lite version of the PETLIBRO software and instantly I was able to connect my cat feeder with the app. Now that I look back at it, technically the number after the serial number was ZERO 55, maybe that’s why? Anyway, it was annoying but once I used the Lite version of the app I was in business.
The app allows connection using Bluetooth, WiFi, or you can bring up a QR code on the phone and show it to the pet feeder’s camera. I’m not sure which one it used with the way I was doing it but at least it’s all working now.
Once I got it connected using the right app, it was all joy from there on out. You’ll get the typical permission requests, like whether to allow it access to the microphone. That makes sense because then I can chat with my cats while they’re eating. Who wouldn’t want to do that? It asks for permission to access your Photos Library, which allows you to put avatars of the pets into the device, but I don’t think I’ll need that. I also declined the option to let it use location services because I didn’t see any reason it would need to know where I was. If the app allowed automation based on location, that might make sense but I couldn’t find that option in the app.
The best thing about the PETLIBRO app is how easy it is to schedule feeding of your little beasts. It’s as easy as adding a time, choosing how many portions to feed at that time, and what days you want that scheduled feeding to happen. I’ve played with a lot of automations for doing scheduled events and PETLIBRO has nailed ease of use compared to them.
By the way, you can set up to 10 times a day to feed your pets, which is definitely not what Ada needs! Figuring out the portions was a little bit tricky because one portion is 20ML. I had no idea how much food 20ML was. We poured what looked to be a typical amount of food into two bowls, then combined them into one, then weighed the bowls with and without the food. That of course told us how many grams we fed the cats so it wasn’t much help at all. I think in the end we used the manual button in the app (or on the device) to spit out one 20ML portion at a time till it looked about right. If you’re curious, our two cats eat 3 portions served 3 times per day.
In addition to scheduling feeding, you can also manually feed the cats a serving or two if the poor darlings give you those sad eyes asking for more.
While cutting back on Ada’s endless access to food when we were away was my primary goal, we realized that it’s actually pretty handy to have them fed at intervals even when we’re at home. I think Steve secretly misses having the cats swarm around his ankles first thing in the morning, but the PETLIBRO is fun in so many ways he’s willing to sacrifice that joy.
A big concern with an automated feeder is what if something goes wrong. If the food level gets low, the PETLIBRO will send you a notification to your phone. I accidentally tested this by putting in a small amount of food at the beginning and sure enough it let me know the poor darlings would starve soon.
What if the food gets jammed? The PETLIBRO will also notify you in the app.
The PETLIBRO is powered via the included USB 5V power adapter, but what if the power goes out? Remember the battery chamber where the serial number was located? That’s for battery backup of the cat feeder. Since we have a whole home battery, in theory, we won’t ever experience a power outage again but we might slap 3 D-cell batteries just in case.
How can you be sure the little beasts are being fed? There are a couple of ways. In probably the only unintuitive part of the app, if you tap on the icon in the top right that looks like a phone and a tablet on top of each other, you’ll be shown the option to log the activity of the pet feeder. On the main screen, one of the buttons across the bottom lets you see the log, which will simply say the date and time, and portions of your scheduled events with the word “success” if all went as planned.
While reading text-based log files is super good fun for everyone, you might also enjoy actually watching your pets eat.
In the PETLIBRO app, you can manually turn on the camera and watch what’s going on in your house at ankle level, which would also include watching the cats up super close as they chow down. If you want to watch stored videos, you can either subscribe to their cloud service or pop a microSD card into the teeny-weeny slot inside the battery compartment on the bottom. I didn’t buy a new microSD card until after I filled the chamber so it was a bit of a challenge for Steve to hold it up while I was underneath trying to find that tiny slot and of course, putting it in backwards the first three times.
The instructions say the card has to be less than 256GB, but I’m betting they meant 256GB or less. I went for 128GB just in case it wasn’t a typo. When you put in the memory card (after flipping it 3 times), you’ll be shown the option to format the card. I tried repeatedly to format the card via the app interface, and it never worked. I finally ended up reformatting it with my Mac to get it to work.
While it’s fun to just spy on your kitchen floor at random times of the day, it might be a little more fun to look at the camera when the cats are actually there.
The PETLIBRO allows you to turn on notifications when it detects movement, so while we were off in Mammoth for a week we’d get notified and be able to watch them. Do you know how many times in a day one or the other of our cats went to the cat feeder? I’d estimate about 126 times apiece. We got notifications every single time and even sometimes when the leaves on the trees caused shadows to move in the line of vision of the PETLIBRO’s camera. We had the sensitivity set to low but I think they might need an extra low option.
They have a sound detection notification too and I thought that might work better since I thought it would only trigger when they’re eating or the food is falling. What I didn’t take into account was that when we’re home we make a lot of noise in the kitchen! So maybe I’ll leave alerts off altogether until I’m away from home again. I should mention that the alerts are on a schedule too so you can turn them off when you’re sleeping.
While we were away, I watched a lot of the stored videos, just to see if Grace was able to get any food at all. I’ll admit that it was Ada chowing down more often than Grace, but at least she was in some of the videos.
The video quality is very good – it’s 1080P with a 145° wide viewing angle. As you scroll through the recorded videos with the timeline, you can even download the videos from the memory card to your local gallery within the app. I have to give big credit to the PETLIBRO for how fast the app is in a lot of ways, including how easy it is to scroll in the timeline to a video. So many apps (Ring, Tesla, and YouTube TV, I’m looking at you here) are soooo bad at letting you get right to the recorded bit. With PETLIBRO as soon as you get close to a recording, the timeline snaps right to the closest video.
Of Course it’s Ada Who Comes Running First
Every time I play with the PETLIBRO app I find something new it can do. I’ve said the app is intuitive, but I found one really funny thing buried in an obscure location in the app. Remember I told you that you can turn on logging of events by tapping the icon with phone/tablet in the upper right? In that same menu, you’ll see “recording length”. This is the funniest thing – you can record your own voice with a feeding time message!
But here’s what makes it so funny. You use the app to initiate the recording of your voice, but it’s the feeder on the microphone that actually records your voice. So here I am down on my hands and knees yelling out my best hog call into the mic. Every single time the feeder starts spitting out food, I’ll have the joy of watching Ada come to a hog call.
PETLIBRO has a section on scenes and automations but it appears to only be possible if you own other products by the same manufacturer. The menus imply that you can do things like turn on lights when you feed the cats and such but I couldn’t really experiment with that.
While I’m very bummed that the PETLIBRO PLAF203 dual cat feeder is inaccessible, for those of us with sight it’s a really cool device. I should probably weigh Ada (and Grace) right now and see whether it has any effect on how much Ada will eat, or if Grace will just get thinner!
Check out the PETLIBRO cat feeder and their other products at petlibro.com/…