Kitchener-Waterloo

Feed indoor cats once a day, says new research from University of Guelph

New research suggests feeding indoor cats once a day is healthier for them, challenging the long-standing, universal recommendation to feed several small meals throughout the day instead.

There's little data to support multiple meal feedings per day, say researchers

Researchers at the University of Guelph discovered there was very little data to support the universal recommendation to feed cats multiple small meals per day. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

You might want to rethink your cat's diet. 

New research suggests feeding indoor cats once a day is healthier for them, challenging the long-standing, universal recommendation to feed several small meals throughout the day.

"We found out there was very little data to support multiple meal feeding," said Kate Shoveller, the study's co-author and a professor at the University of Guelph's Department of Animal Biosciences. 

Shoveller and her research partner, Adronie Verbrugghe, a veterinarian with Ontario Veterinary College's Department of Clinical Studies, conducted a short-term study on eight healthy-weight indoor cats under five years old. They discovered that once a day feeding helps cats lose weight and maintain muscle mass as they age. 

Each cat was exposed to both kinds of feeding schedules for three weeks. On one regimen, they were fed once in the morning, and on the other, they were fed the same type and amount of food divided into four meals throughout the day. 

Physical activity was monitored using activity monitors, food intake was recorded daily and body weight was measured weekly. Researchers also measured the cats' metabolism. 

Shoveller said they saw higher levels of three appetite-regulating hormones in the cats who were fed once a day —suggesting they felt more full. Cats fed once a day also showed they were burning more fat, which helps them maintain a lean body mass. 

But that doesn't mean it's time to dramatically change your cat's diet, said Shoveller.

A short-term study on eight healthy-weight indoor cats under five years old discovered that once a day feeding helps them lose weight and maintain muscle mass as they age. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Slowly limit food availability

Feeding regimens are very specific to each feline, and Shoveller said it might be worth a conversation with your vet before making changes. But for those who do want to adapt their cat's diet, she has some recommendations. 

"You don't go from making food available 24/7 to making food available for an hour," she said. 

"Depending on how much you're feeding, you would want to offer that food and then take it away for a period of time … what I would first tell people to do is you'd just want to making the fasting period longer. So if food is available all the time, you want to start limiting when food is available." 

Shoveller encourages people to work feeding times around their own schedule. For example, taking it away during the day when you aren't home, and then offering it again right before you go to bed and throughout the night. 

"As you limit food availability, they'll increase their meal size," she explained. 

Reduce begging

Shoveller said she was surprised to see that cats who were fed multiple times a day appeared to be more active not because they had more energy — but because they were hungry. 

"That higher physical activity is actually them seeking food, because they're hungrier. They're more active in trying to get food … and it's not affecting their energy metabolism." 

And that food-seeking behaviour might look like begging, she said. 

"A lot of the overfeeding that we see in animals ... we hear owners tell us, 'they're asking me for food, they're hungry. They're sitting at that place that they always sit when they're hoping for a meal or a treat." 

The study suggests cats fed once a day may engage in less food-begging behaviour, because they are more satisfied. 

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