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Smaller meals more times daily may curb obesity in people and cats

Smaller meals more times per day may curb obesity in cats, says new study. Just as with people, feline obesity is most often linked to excessive food intake or not enough physical activity. Attempts to cut back on calories alone often result in failed weight loss or weight regain in both people and their pets. But how do you encourage your cat to get more exercise?

Helping to prevent severe obesity in humans and cats.
Anne Hart, photography and novel.
Smaller meals more times daily may curb obesity in people and cats.
Pottenger's Cats, A study in Nutrition. Book cover is on site.

Researchers from the University of Illinois interested in finding a method to maintain healthy body weight in cats, looked at a previously suggested claim that increased meal frequency could help to increase overall physical activity. The idea is to feed cats the appropriate amount of food needed to maintain a healthy body weight, but to offer it in more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day. Results of the study, "Effects of feeding frequency and dietary water content on voluntary physical activity in healthy adult cats," are published online in a February 3, 2014 issue of the Journal of Animal Science, where you can check out the abstract of the research results.

Promoting more physical activity with decreasing overall food intake and increased frequency of meals per day

Animal sciences researcher Kelly Swanson and his lab at the University of Illinois determined that both increasing the frequency of meals fed per day, as well as offering meals that contained added dietary water—neither method involved decreasing the overall amount of daily food intake—did promote more physical activity among the cats in the study.

"It all comes down to energy in and energy out. It's very simple on paper, but it's not that easy in real life, especially in a household where there is more than one pet. That can be difficult, but I think these two strategies are very practical ideas that people can use," Swanson said in the February 20, 2014 news release, "Smaller meals more times per day may curb obesity in cats."

During the two-part study, the researchers evaluated the activity of the cats between meals using activity collar monitors. In the first experiment, the cats were divided among four rooms and were given dry kibble meals four times per day, two times per day, one time per day, and in the fourth room, were fed a random number of meals per day. The overall amount of food fed to each cat in each room per day was the same; feeding frequency varied.

In the second experiment, the cats were divided among two rooms and were fed twice per day with a 70 percent hydrated diet, using similar amounts of dry kibble used in the first experiment to maintain body weight. Water was added to the kibble an hour before each meal time, Swanson explained.

The cats were placed in their individual cages only during mealtimes so that the researchers could accurately monitor their food intake

During the activity monitoring times, the cats had limited interaction with people. The researchers evaluated the cats' food anticipatory activity (FAA), which included the activity of each cat two hours before meals were given. During the dry kibble experiment, they noticed that the cats were much more active during those anticipatory times, especially those fed four meals per day and those given meals at random times.

"If they know they are going to get fed, that's when they are really active, if they can anticipate it," Swanson said, according to the February 20, 2014 news release, "Smaller meals more times per day may curb obesity in cats." The cats showed an even greater spike in physical activity in the second experiment when they were fed meals with the added water. However, Swanson said the biggest difference in peak activity times with this group occurred in the periods after they had eaten. He added that the researchers had not determined why this was, though factors such as increased use of the litter box, for example, could have come into play.

"I think veterinarians will be interested in this information because it gives them evidence to be able to recommend something to pet owners that could help with feline obesity and diabetes," Swanson said, according to the news release. "When cats are allowed to feed ad libitum, it's difficult to prevent obesity. It is important to identify the right diet. Many owners are accustomed to dumping a pile of food out for multiple cats, just once per day. "The owner does have an active role in helping with weight management," he added.

Owners often overfeed their cats, assuming that the small amount of food needed isn't going to fill their cat or dog. "Because most pet foods are so digestible and nutrient dense, owners see that small bowl of food and think there's no way they can survive on that but they can," Swanson said in the news release.

The key is figuring out how much food is needed to maintain your cat's healthy body weight

"It is tricky because labels on pet food provide ranges for how much should be fed. If you're feeding a cat, that food is supplied to thousands of cats with different metabolism. Some are spayed or neutered, and ages are different," Swanson explained in the news release.

Adding water to dry food, or using wet canned food, may provide a greater gut fill to pets. Swanson also said once the dry kibble absorbs the water, it does look like "more" to the owner, perhaps alleviating the fear that the pet is not eating enough.

He added that rotating between dry kibble meals and wet or canned food could also help in maintaining body weight. Recognizing that the lifestyle of pet owners may not allow for regulating multiple feedings per day, Swanson said if a pet owner could even go from offering only one meal per day to two, it could possibly promote more physical activity.

"With cats, one of the tricky things is that few people can walk their cats. We haven't done studies looking at what happens if you are just in the room with the cat more often and how active you can encourage your cat to be by playing with it. There could be other strategies. From a diet perspective, this is something that is relatively simple," he said, according to the news release. Also, you may wish to see the site, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Cats thriving better on special raw food diets?

National and local cat rescue groups might be interested in looking at how nutritional anthropology as a field researched raw foods diets with cats. Eventually the studies of raw nutrition with cats led to quite a lot of published books on raw foods diets for people.

Research in this arena is related to studies in three branches of anthropology--ethnobotany, nutritional anthropology, and nutritional archaeology. And those fields are linked to genetics, which eventually becomes of interest to genealogists. Basically, it all starts with cat rescue groups feeding dry food to cats, which is affordable. It starts with Pottenger's cats and branches out to human diets, genealogy, and basically, health. There's a branch of anthropology that studies health and degeneration based on diets, cultures, and history, especially family history. You can apply this type of research to pets or people.

Did you know anthropologists also have a food research-related specialty called Nutritional Anthropology? Nutritional anthropologists study the relationship between genetic variability in populations and food consumption patterns. That brings DNA-driven genealogy into contact with genetics counseling. The field is an interdisciplinary science. Food is part of culture. See the site, Food Archaeology.

Sometimes genealogists take an interest in researching applied anthropological studies in nutrition and health. This branches out into another specialty called Focused Ethnographic Studies (FES). For example, with the aid of manuals, short-term qualitative studies have been conducted in planning interventions to improve vitamin A status in deficient populations and for interventions intended to improve the feeding of infants and young children. There's a type of marriage between genealogy and anthropology. It applies to people as well as pets.

How does research in nutritional anthropology relate to feeding cats raw foods which led to more studies based on a percentage of vegan raw food diets fed to people?

In the USA, there are numerous cat rescue groups, and most of them are feeding cats dry food. Yet while doing nutritional research with the adoptable cats in some of these groups, a special book came by mail titled, Pottenger's Cats, A study in Nutrition. How many cat rescue groups locally feed cats raw foods? How expensive is it? And if you have cats, do they share your own raw diet--you with vegetables and fruits, and the cats with what foods help cats to thrive best? See the YouTube video, Feeding Raw Food To Your Cat.

In the case of cats, Pottenger found it was raw meat. He fed his cats raw milk, even though milk that's not raw is said to give some cats diarrhea and cataracts. Why does raw milk work? And what kind of raw meat did Pottenger feed his cats to be so healthy? What role did the cod liver oil play--supplying the Omega 3 fatty acids? Was it the cod liver oil that made the difference?

Pottenger's cats ate certain raw foods

The book is a classic in the science of nutrition that applies to humans as well as cats. Dr. Pottenger by chance found that his cats degenerated unless they were fed raw food. In his 10-year study of 900 cats, he found the optimal diet for his cats was 2/3 raw meat and 1/3 raw milk plus a specific amount, small, but precise amount, of cod liver oil. If either the meat or the milk was cooked, the cats degenerated. And if both were cooked, the degeneration was much worse. His cats, that is the cats he studied, could no longer reproduce by the third generation.

Does this type of nutrition apply in any way to humans? Pottenger thought so, at least to some extent of what humans can digest. Several nutrition-related problems Pottenger found in the cats fed cooked food were: heart problems, nearsightedness and farsightedness, underactivity and inflammation of the thyroid, infections of the kidney, liver, testes, ovaries and bladder, arthritis and inflammation of the joints, inflammation of the nervous system with paralysis and meningitis. Does this sound exactly like what humans eventually get when they eat nothing but cooked foods all the time? And processed foods are similar to cooked foods, in many cases.

Separating the digestive system of humans and cats, certain types of raw food are good for humans, for example vegetables, fruits, some dehydrated meats or fish, and anything not harmful when eaten raw. What is it about cooked food that ages humans rapidly and pushes them into degenerative diseases long before their time?

And why does six percent of the human population thrive regardless what diet they eat? Could it be adaptive genes to modern foods for some but not for most? Many of Pottenger's third generation of cats had bones that became as soft as rubber, according to the book. Lung problems, bronchitis, and pneumonia sprang up constantly. Sound like what happens to humans on a cooked food diet and aging too rapidly?

The female cats soon developed irritable personalities, and some became dangerous. At the same time also on the cooked food diet, the male cats became passive and lacked an interest in sex. Sound anything like behavior attributable to humans that all the time eat cooked foods?

Pottenger knew his cat studies didn't apply totally to humans

The digestive systems are different. He believed that what made the cats healthy could also make humans healthier. When Pottenger did his research, he didn't know exactly what applied to humans.

What he did do was visit his sanitarium where he fed his very sick human patients much raw food, with enough success to write about it in his book on nutrition. Another researcher, Weston A. Price, a dentist by training, in the 1930s, focused on what healthy nutrition is supposed to do.

Price believed more or less that food is medicine. There's also a newer book on nutrition published in 1999, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon (Paperback - 1999). Nourishing Traditions, reports that humans are healthier when they include a lot of raw food in their traditional diets. Also see any of these excellent books, The Metabolic Typing Diet and Life Without Bread. The book, Life Without Bread presents a unified theory of how moderate levels of dietary carbohydrate cause or exacerbate various health problems.

Weston A. Price, DDS, back in the 1930s actually focused on looking at people's teeth as a gateway to the health of the rest of the body

The people he studied that ate lots of raw foods were found to be almost entirely free of the degenerative diseases and dental problems that are rampant in eaters of lots of fast foods and processed foods today.

The human raw-food eaters didn't have tooth decay, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, digestive disturbances, and thyroid problems, according to Price's book which also noted numerous studies. Price traveled worldwide looking for the healthiest people around the globe as he researched their daily diets and lifestyles.

Weston A. Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, contains photographs of humans on raw food diets and other healthy diets, also including cooked soups and stews. He emphasized how what people eat is related to the condition of their bones and teeth.

One section in Dr. Price's book on Nutrition and Physical Degeneration described "the active X factor." It actually referred to the use of what we now know today as the role that vitamin K plays in helping to prevent certain types of hardening of the arteries such as calcification and bone loss.

As far as cats, Pottenger, another researcher, opened the door to exploring the link between what makes cats healthy and what helps humans

Both in many instances point to a lot of raw, unprocessed foods, as long as you can digest them and they are free of harmful microbes and other parasites. Now, it's about time to look into raw foods diets for dogs.

Probably, every living creature can benefit somewhat from at least a partially raw food diet as long as the food can be digested and promotes health. Many people enjoy a diet containing some raw vegetable salads and fruits.

Food Archaeology Trivia

According to the Food and Culture Encyclopedia, at, "when archaeologists unearthed actual charred meals, most notably at Pompeii and Herculaneum, covered by ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, inhabitants left complete meals on tables, food in shops, and loaves of bread in bakery ovens.

"Egyptian priests at the Temple of Isis in Pompeii were eating a meal of fish and eggs when the eruption occurred. Researchers at Pompeii have taken their work a step further to investigate how the Romans, master urban planners, incorporated growing, processing, distribution, and storage of food and drink into the city layout. By measuring distances from dwellings to restaurants and bakeries, they can determine how far a citizen had to travel to quench his thirst or get something to eat."

"Effects of feeding frequency and dietary water content on voluntary physical activity in healthy adult cats" was recently published in the February 3, 2014 issue of the Journal of Animal Science and can be accessed online. Co-authors of the study were P. Deng, E. Iwazaki, S.A. Suchy, M.R. Pallotto, and K.S. Swanson.

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