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Do you have a cat who always seems to be hungry? New research from the University of Guelph suggests that you may or may not want to increase the number of feedings.
Animal nutrition specialists at U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) have found that feeding cats one large meal a day can help control hunger better than feeding cats several times a day feed.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that cats who ate one meal a day were happier, which could lead to less begging behavior.
The results also suggest that reducing feeding frequency could help reduce the risk of obesity by controlling cats’ appetite and potentially eating less – an important discovery given that obesity is the most common nutritional problem in cats.
“These results may surprise the veterinary community and many cat owners who have been told that their animals need several small meals a day,” said study co-author Prof. Adronie Verbrugghe, a veterinarian with OVC’s clinical studies division, which specializes in pet nutrition. “However, these results suggest that there are advantages to this approach.”
Previous research has looked at the effects of meal frequency on cats’ behavior. However, this study is the first to use a comprehensive approach to analyze the effects on hormones related to appetite suppression, physical activity, energy expenditure and use of energy sources, said co-author Prof. Kate Shoveller, an expert in animal nutrition at the Department of Animal Life Sciences by U of G.
“There hasn’t been good research to support the approach many owners hear about multiple meals every day, so we wanted to put some real data behind the current feeding recommendations to make sure they are suitable for cats,” she said.
Eight domestic cats of healthy weight under five years of age participated in the study. Each cat was exposed to both feeding schedules for a total of three weeks, with the same diet and amount being offered in either one meal or four meals. Some of the cats were only fed in the morning while the others were fed the same amount in four smaller meals.
The cats were equipped with activity monitors on belts to measure their voluntary physical activity. Food intake was recorded daily and body weight was measured weekly. The researchers also measured cat metabolism through breath and blood.
Physical activity was higher in cats fed four times a day, but total energy expenditure was similar between groups. The weight of the cats in both groups did not change during the study period, regardless of which feeding schedule they were on.
Cats who only ate once a day had higher levels of three important hormone-regulating hormones after the meal, suggesting that they were happier. These cats also showed lower fasting ratios, suggesting they were burning their fat stores, which is key to maintaining lean body mass.
The cats that ate only one meal a day also had greater spikes in blood amino acids, which meant they had more protein available to build muscle and other important proteins. This is important because many cats lose muscle mass as they age, a condition known as sarcopenia.
“Physiologically, it makes sense to feed only once a day,” said Shoveller. “If you look at research in humans, there is pretty consistent evidence that there are positive health outcomes with intermittent fasting and improved satiety.”
Even large cats in the wild fast intermittently, according to the authors, and feast when they kill and fast before the next.
While their data suggests feeding them daily is a great way to promote satiety and muscle mass, the researchers want to conduct longer studies.
“This approach really is another tool in a veterinarian or cat owner’s toolbox for managing a cat’s weight and keeping their pets healthy and happy,” said Verbrugghe, the Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair of Clinical Nutrition for Dogs and Diets Cats is. “But we always need to look at each individual animal and consider the lifestyle of the cat and the owner. While this approach can be helpful in promoting satiety in some cats, it may not help others.”
The research was funded with support from the Winn Feline Foundation and Simmons Pet Food.