Solution: An automatic feeder that takes 5 minutes to make, and requires no soldering, no motors, and no batteries. Your cat's own clever paws knock just a few pellets out at a time, so this dispenser is self-regulating according to a simple algorithm: while your cat's hunger exceeds his laziness, he shakes the feeder, eats the pellets, repeats.
In addition to pulling the feeder by the lip of its base, Yoshi has also learned to lift and drop the feeder, pull it forward and drop it back, and even knock it on its side and then lift it upright again if nothing else works. He almost always gets a few pellets out each time, and can even run through a nearly full 8 oz cup in a day if he's really hungry. The idea isn't to deny your cat food -- just to slow him down so he notices that he's full.
Step 1: Eat at Baja Fresh
Well, okay, you don't *have* to eat at Baja Fresh. Anyway, their grilled vegetarian burrito does not come in an 8oz tub, so you'll have to buy their salsa or guacamole if you want this particular part. You'll probably find that your local deli sells cream cheese or chopped liver in a tub like this, and they probably have better matzo ball soup than Baja Fresh, too.
The key thing is that you find a tub that has a flat lip along the top edge, and fits into the top of your cat food dispenser, resting on that lip, so that the lid of the dispenser will close over it.
You'll also need a cat food dispenser with a circular, flexible pop top that snaps down over the tub from Baja or your deli. This sounds like a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, but I got it right on my first try, so hopefully you will too.
Finally, you'll need some cat food, and a pair of scissors. Without these, any attempts your cat may make to obtain food from your Yoshimatic Cat Feeder will be frustrated.
Step 2: Snip, Snip! Create Magical Food-Dispensing Baffles
Here's where the scissors come in; snip the bottom of the tub at the corner, to create a slit. Make a second cut about two pellets' length away from the first one.
Next, insert the point of the scissors and expand each slit until it's about four times as long as your cat food pellets. About half of each slit should be above the bottom corner (on the side of the tub), and about half below it (on the bottom of the tub). Try to make each slit straight across the corner (perpendicular to the bottom of the tub), but if they're off by ten or fifteen degrees, don't sweat it.
Push in the middle part with your finger to make a loop, then crease the plastic by pinching it upwards to keep it from popping back into its original position.
Step 3: Make Two More Baffles
You're all done making the dispenser now -- just pop the tub into the feeder.
Now it's time to get your cat interested.
Step 4: It Even Trains Your Cat
1. Fill the tub at the top of your feeder, but don't pack it to the top, or the pellets will be wedged in place. They need to be loose enough to easily spill through the baffles when your cat bumps the feeder.
2. Put some pellets of food in the back of the feeder's base, so your cat will have to reach up inside with his paw to get them. During one of these food-reaching endeavors, the feeder will probably get bumped and a learning event will occur.
3. If your cat doesn't seem to be getting it, try bumping the feeder yourself to show how it's done.
4. Make sure your cat's getting enough to eat by opening the lid and checking the food level. Put a limited amount of food into the base of the feeder each day -- just make sure your cat will run out at some point during the day, so that he'll have a reason to try to get the pellets in the tub.
5. Let nature take its course! Your cat will take a few weeks to get good at manipulating the feeder to drop pellets. Yoshi gets a refill once a day, whether he needs it or not, and we still put a few pellets into the base, just to give him the satisfaction of knowing he's been fed.