Help for Overweight Cats

Obese cats could lose weight if their owners feed them smaller wet meals throughout the day, according to new research from the University of Illinois.

But those methods, which work for humans as well, may be hard to implement.

 “It all comes down to energy in and energy out. 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,” said animal sciences researcher Kelly Swanson.

In the study, published in the Journal of Animal Science, the researchers evaluated the activity of the cats between meals, using activity collar monitors. In the first experiment, the cats were divided among four rooms and were given dry kibble meals four times per day, two times per day, one time per day, and in the fourth room, were fed a random number of meals per day. The overall amount of food fed to each cat in each room per day was the same.

In the second experiment, the cats were divided between two rooms and were fed twice per day with wet food, using similar amounts of dry kibble used in the first experiment. Water was added to the kibble an hour before meal time, Swanson explained.

During their meals, the cats were placed in individual cages so that their food intake could be monitored. The researchers evaluated the cats’ food anticipatory activity (FAA), which included the activity of each cat two hours before meals were given.

With the dry kibble experiment, they noticed that the cats were much more active during those anticipatory times, especially those fed four meals per day and those given meals at random times.

The cats showed an even greater in physical activity in the second experiment when they were fed meals with the added water.

“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. 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.

Adding water to dry food, or using wet canned food, may be more filling to pets. Swanson also suggested that rotating between dry kibble meals and wet or canned food could also help in maintaining body weight.

“The owner does have an active role in helping with weight management,” he added.

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