I cringe whenever I see an obese cat. Enabling feline obesity is almost like putting a gun to a cat’s head in a game of Russian roulette. Sure, he or she may dodge the diabetes or hepatic lipidosis “bullets,” but play the game long enough and the cat almost always comes out a loser.
Don’t get me wrong, I have sympathy for the owners of fat cats. Getting a cat to lose weight is no easy task. Reduced caloric intake in combination with increased physical activity stands the best chance at success, but put the words “cat” and “exercise” together in the same sentence and most owners will break out into gales of laughter.
But what if we could tie exercise and feeding together in such a way as to promote weight loss? A recent two part study published in the Journal of Animal Science points to a simple way to do just that. In experiment one, researchers measured how much voluntary activity ten adult cats engaged in when they were fed one, two, four, or a random number of meals each day. The effect of increasing the water content of the food on voluntary physical activity was evaluated in experiment two.
The study revealed that cats were more active in the two hours before meals when they were fed four meals per day or were fed randomly. According to coauthor Kelly Swanson, “If they know they are going to get fed, that’s when they are really active, if they can anticipate it.” When the cats were fed high water content meals, their activity levels increased even more, but mostly after they have eaten, perhaps due to an increased need to use the litter box, according to Swanson.
Now, the cats in this study were not overweight and the caloric content of the food they were offered never changed, so these results are not directly applicable to obese cats who are put on a diet. That said, I can’t see a downside to increasing the number of meals a fat cat gets per day while simultaneously increasing the food’s water content and decreasing its caloric content.
Most owners aren’t going to want to tether themselves to a feline feeding schedule that has cats eating four times a day, so it seems like an automatic feeder would be a good investment. Get one that allows you to offer canned food (the easiest way to increase the water content of the diet) every 6 hours or so. If your veterinarian has recommended a prescription weight loss diet, go with that one. Otherwise, try a high quality, over the counter, “light” variety. Start by offering the amount that is appropriate based on your veterinarian’s prescription or the label on the can. Adjust the amount based on how quickly the cat is losing weight. Around one percent body weight per week is ideal.
If you give this system a try, keep us updated on your successes or failures.
Dr. Jennifer Coates