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Altering Meal Size, Frequency May Cut Feline Obesity

Posted: Feb. 12, 2014, 5:15 p.m. EST

The secret to getting tubby cats to lose weight, according to a new study by the University of Illinois, may be as simple as feeding them more often but in smaller batches.

To test the hypothesis, animal sciences researcher and study co-author Kelly Swanson ran two experiments on healthy cats:

• Cats were divided into three rooms and given dry kibble four times a day, two times a day or one time a day. Cats placed in a fourth room were fed a random number of daily meals.

• In the second experiment, the cats were assigned to one of two rooms and were fed twice a day using a 70 percent hydrated diet.

In each experiment, the same amount of daily food was provided. The cats ate their meals in individual cages to measure their intake, and the researchers used collar monitors to evaluate food anticipation.

More than half of all U.S. cats are overweight, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found.
"If they know they are going to get fed, that’s when they are really active,” Swanson said.

During the dry kibble experiment, the researchers noticed the cats were much more active during anticipatory times, especially those fed four meals a day and at random times.

The cats showed even greater physical activity in the second experiment, particularly after they had eaten. Why that happened was unclear, but Swanson said factors such as increased use of a litterbox may have come into play.
Adding water to dry food, which bloats the kibble, or using wet canned food may benefit a cat by providing a greater gut fill, the researchers said, and by making the owner think the animal is eating more food than it really is, alleviating the fear of underfeeding.

"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,” Swanson said.

"When cats are allowed to feed ad libitum, it’s difficult to prevent obesity,” he said.

The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

Swanson acknowledged cat owner confusion over how much food to provide.

"It is tricky because labels on pet food provide ranges for how much should be fed,” he said. "If you’re feeding a cat, that food is supplied to thousands of cats with different metabolism. Some are spayed or neutered, and ages are different.”

Owners who are unable to provide multiple meals a day could try to feed two instead of one to promote more physical activity, Swanson said.

"There could be other strategies,” he said. "From a diet perspective, this is something that is relatively simple.”


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