Feeding obese cats more frequent, smaller
meals throughout the day could increase their level of physical activity and
help them lose weight, new research suggests.
Offering meals with water added to the food
also spurred adult cats to become more active, scientists found in their study
of 10 lean, neutered cats.
"I think veterinarians will be
interested in this information because it gives them evidence to be able to
recommend something to pet owners that could help with feline obesity and
diabetes," study leader Kelly Swanson, an animal sciences researcher at
the University of Illinois, said in a school news release.
Dumping a pile of food
"When cats are allowed to feed
[freely], it's difficult to prevent obesity," Swanson said. "It is
important to identify the right diet. Many owners are accustomed to dumping a
pile of food out for multiple cats, just once per day."
Read: Kitty kinetics
Swanson said cat owners must play an active
role in helping their pets maintain a healthy weight.
"It all comes down to energy in and
energy out," he said. "It's very simple on paper, but it's not that
easy in real life, especially in a household where there is more than one pet.
That can be difficult, but I think these two strategies are very practical
ideas that people can use."
In conducting the study, which was
published in the the Journal of Animal Science, the
researchers measured cats' level of physical activity between meals with
special monitors on their collars.
Water added to food
In one experiment, the cats were placed in
one of four rooms. They were fed meals of dry kibble either four times each
day, two times daily or once a day, or were given meals at random. All the cats
received the same total amount of food each day, but those that ate more
frequently ate smaller amounts at each meal.
In another experiment, the cats were split
up into two rooms, where they were fed twice a day. The amount of food the cats
ate was the same, but water was added to one group's food an hour before
To closely monitor their diet, the
researchers placed cats in individual cages during mealtime. During meals, the
cats had little human contact.
Read: 12 cool cat facts
More active before mealtime
The researchers assessed the cats' activity
two hours before they ate. In the first part of the experiment, cats were more
active before mealtime, particularly those who were fed four times per day and
those fed a random number of meals each day.
"If they know they are going to get
fed, that's when they are really active, if they can anticipate it,"
Cats were even more physically active when
they ate food with added water, the researchers found. The biggest spike in
activity occurred after the cats ate. Although it is unclear why the cats had
this surge in activity after eating, the researchers suggested use of the
litter box could have played a role.
Most owners make the mistake of overfeeding
their cats, the researchers said.
"Because most pet foods are so
digestible and nutrient dense, owners see that small bowl of food and think
there's no way they can survive on that – but they can," Swanson said.
"It is tricky because labels on pet food provide ranges for how much
should be given. If you're feeding a cat, that food is supplied to thousands of
cats with different metabolisms. Some are spayed or neutered, and ages are
Read: Is my cat crazy?
A greater sense of fullness
One way owners can help their cats lose
weight is to add water to their dry food to give them a greater sense of
fullness. Another option is to alternate between wet and dry meals.
Although many pet owners are not able to be
home to feed their cats up to four times a day, even just going from one to two
meals a day can help cats become more active and lose extra pounds, the
"With cats, one of the tricky things
is that few people can walk their cats," Swanson said. "We haven't
done studies looking at what happens if you are just in the room with the cat
more often and how active you can encourage your cat to be by playing with it.
There could be other strategies. From a diet perspective, this is something
that is relatively simple."
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