Giving cats just one big meal per day can improve health outcomes

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The study findings contrast with popular advice given to cat owners about feeding habits

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Guelph has found that giving pet cats just one big meal per day can improve their health outcomes. The researchers explained that cats that ate once per day, as opposed to several times a day, were less likely to develop obesity and less likely to beg for food throughout the day.

“These findings may surprise the veterinary community and many cat owners who have been told their animals need several small meals a day,” said researcher Adronie Verbrugghe. “But these results suggest there are benefits to this approach.” 

Changing the feeding schedule

The researchers put two feeding schedules to the test with 80 healthy cats. For three weeks, one group of cats was fed four times a day while a second group was fed the same amount of food just once a day. The groups then switched for another three-week trial so that each cat experienced both feeding schedules. Throughout the study, the researchers monitored the cats’ health outcomes, including weight, physical activity, and metabolism. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that the frequency with which cats eat can make a big difference when it comes to their health. Eating once a day led to higher levels of protein in the cats’ blood, overall leaner body mass, and higher levels of hormones that are linked to appetite regulation. The researchers say this feeding schedule is beneficial for several reasons; firstly, the findings suggest that it allows cats to get more protein and improve their muscle mass. Secondly, it led to more satisfaction and reduced the likelihood that the cats would beg for food throughout the day.

The researchers also found that the cats’ weight remained the same regardless of how often they were eating. However, there were far more health benefits associated with the once-daily eating schedule. 

“Physiologically, it makes sense that feeding only once a day would have benefits,” said researcher Kate Shoveller. “When you look at human research, there’s pretty consistent evidence that there are positive health outcomes with intermittent fasting and improved satiety.” 

Not a one-size-fits-all solution

While these findings clearly showed how changing up cats’ eating schedules can be beneficial for their health, the researchers also noted that cat owners should think about the needs of their specific pets, as not every intervention is beneficial for every animal. 

“This approach is really yet another tool in a veterinarian or a cat owner’s toolbox for managing a cat’s weight and keeping their animals healthy and happy,” said Verbrugghe. “But we always have to look at each individual animal and account for the cat’s and owner’s lifestyle. So although this approach might be helpful to promote satiety in some cats, it might not help another.” 

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