Feeding indoor cats once a day could boost your health

Have you ever seen a cat look hungry? New Guelph University research indicates you might want to minimize — not raise — how often you feed them.

Animal nutrition experts at U of G’s Ontario Veterinarian College (OVC) and the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) have discovered that feeding cats one major meal a day will help to control hunger than feeding them many meals a day.

The study , released in the PLOS One journal, showed that cats who consumed one meal a day were more content, contributing to decreased food-begging behaviour.

The findings also indicate that lowering the duration of feeding may help to minimize the likelihood of obesity by regulating the appetite of cats and eventually helping them eat less — an significant finding because obesity is the most prevalent nutritional issue impacting cats.

“These results can disturb the veterinary community and several pet owners who have been informed they need many small meals a day,” said study co-author Prof. Adronie Verbrugghe, a veterinarian with OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, who specializes in animal nutrition for the pet. “But some findings indicate that this strategy has advantages.”

Previous research has examined the effects of meal frequency on cat behaviour, but this study is the first to use a comprehensive approach to analyze the effects on appetite suppressing hormones, physical activity, energy expenditure and the use of energy sources, said co-author Prof. Kate Shoveller, an expert in animal nutrition with U of G’s Department of Animal Biosciences.

“There was no good research to back up the multi-meal-a-day approach many owners have heard, and so we wanted to put some real data behind current feeding recommendations to make sure they were right for cats,” she said.

The research included eight healthy-weight, indoor cats less than five years old. Each cat was introduced to all feeding schemes for each for a period of three weeks, providing the same diet for quantity in either one meal or four meals. Some of the cats were fed only in the morning, whilst the others were fed in four smaller meals, the same number.

To assess their voluntary physical exercise the cats were fitted with exercise sensors on harnesses. Regular food consumption was registered, and weekly body weight was assessed. Researchers have assessed cat metabolism by blood and breath.

In cats fed four times a day, physical activity was higher but total energy consumption was comparable across classes. The cats’ weights in both classes did not shift over the course of the analysis, no matter on which feeding plan they were on.

Cats who fed just once a day had higher levels of three main appetite-regulating hormones after meal, meaning they were more content. These cats also showed lower respiratory fasting quotient, suggesting that they were burning their fat stores, which is key to keeping lean body mass.

The cats who ate only one meal a day also had a greater increase in amino acids in the blood, meaning they had more protein available for muscle building and other important proteins. This is significant because that when many cats mature they lose muscle mass, a disease known when sarcopenia.

“Physiologically, eating will have advantages just once a day, it makes sense,” Shoveller said. “When you look at human research, there’s pretty consistent evidence that with intermittent fasting and improved satiety there are positive health outcomes.”

Even the big cats in the wild engage in a form of intermittent fasting, the authors note, feasting before the next one when they do a kill and fast.

While their data suggest feeding once a day may be a good way of promoting satiation and lean body mass, the researchers want to do longer studies.

“This approach is really yet another tool in the toolbox of a veterinarian or cat owner to manage the weight of a cat and keep its animals healthy and happy,” said Verbrugghe, who is the Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition. “But we must always look at each individual animal and take into account the lifestyle of the cat and the owner. Thus, although this approach may be useful in promoting satiety in some cats, it might not help another.”

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