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Feeding Strategies in the Management of Behavior Problems in Cats During Weight Loss

Marjorie L. Chandler, DVM, MS, MANZCVS, DACVN, DACVIM, MRCVS, University of Edinburgh


|August 2020

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In the literature

Ligout S, Si X, Vlaeminck H, Lyn S. Cats reorganise their feeding behaviours when moving from ad libitum to restricted feeding. J Feline Med Surg. 2020. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19900387


The health risks of overweight and obese body conditions in cats are well known; however, achieving weight loss can be difficult for cats and their owners. In this study, cats in the treatment group (n = 38) were fed a maintenance diet, with an average caloric restriction of 6%, and cats in the control group (n = 31) were fed ad libitum for 9 months. The cats were group-housed in 4 groups to explore feeding behaviors and interactions among the cats via electronic feeding systems and video recordings. The cats received 2 servings of food, the first being wet food and the second being dry food. The food was cut off for treatment group cats when their caloric allowance was reached.

As compared with the control group, the caloric-restricted cats ate fewer but larger meals. The meals were eaten at shorter intervals and the cats had a faster eating rate.

The average number of agonistic interactions (ie, fighting) during meal anticipation increased during caloric restriction. The food restriction thus resulted in tension and increased aggressiveness among cats. This could be unacceptable to an owner of a multicat household and result in failure of the weight-loss program.

The normal feeding pattern of cats is to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day and night.1 For cats, eating is a solitary—rather than social—behavior. Competition for food can cause conflict and prefeeding aggression, as demonstrated in this study. Rapid eating due to potential food competition may also result in vomiting or regurgitation.2,3

For cats on calorie-restricted diets, feeding strategies that maintain more normal feeding behavior should be used. These can include more frequent feeding either by owners or automatic feeders, using puzzle feeders to slow down the rate of food intake, and/or hiding food around the house to simulate hunting behavior.2,4 There should be multiple, separated feeding stations so cats feel safe while eating.2 Therapeutic weight loss foods may improve satiety and allow for increased food intake. Feeding less of a maintenance food rather than a therapeutic weight loss diet may also result in nutritional deficiencies.5


Key pearls to put into practice:


Feeding a therapeutic weight loss diet rather than a maintenance food should allow for larger amounts to be fed and may improve satiety.



Using puzzle feeders or hiding food can be useful to slow the rate of food intake and provide environmental stimulation.



A cat’s eating preference is typically private, multiple small meals throughout the day and night, which can be provided by owners or automatic feeders.


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