Cats Reorganize Their Feeding Behaviors Following a Mild Calorie Restriction

Seüverine Ligout


Séverine Ligout, PhD

Nestlé Purina Research, Amiens, France



Calorie restriction is commonly prescribed as part of the dietary management for addressing and/or preventing feline obesity. However, very little scientific information is published about how calorie restriction affects the feeding behavior of cats. This presentation summarizes a study evaluating cats’ feeding behavior when they are no longer allowed ad libitum access to food and offers suggestions about how to work with cats’ natural feeding behavior when caloric intake is restricted.

Key points

  • The natural behavior of cats is to eat small meals throughout day. Cats reorganize their feeding behaviors when there is food intake limitation on cats (meal feeding vs ad libitum feeding).
  • An 11-month study compared normal BW cats fed ad libitum to overweight cats with approximately 6% MER calorie restriction and looked at feeding behavior, BCS and weight, after 3, 6 and 9 months.
  • Cats fed ad libitum had a relative intake of wet (30%) vs dry (70% of maintenance)
    • Changing to meal feeding/calorie restriction affected the feeding patterns of cats in the test group with changes observed in several temporal parameters, meal frequency and size:
    • Cats’ intake reversed to 70% wet food in morning, 30% dry in afternoon.
    • There was increased anticipation of feeding for the first meal of the day.
    • There was an increase in negative cat-cat social interaction around the first meal.
    • Cats ate fewer, longer, faster, less spaced meals.
  • When returned to ad lib feeding, cats behaviors were restored to baseline.
  • Ultimately, preventing ad lib feeding can strongly affect cat behaviors, including cat-cat behaviors and food intake. This may account for difficulty for owners to calorie restrict their overweight cats.
  • Feeding strategies that may aid in controlling cats’ weight and retain normal feeding behaviors seen when feed ad libitum:
    • Feed cats separately
    • Divide total meals
    • Puzzle feeders may slow eating
    • Provide foods that require more effort to eat.

Clinical relevance

Calorie restriction is an effective and common strategy for preventing or addressing feline obesity. From a cats’ perspective, however, calorie restriction not only results in less calories available for ingestion, but also takes away their control over some aspects of food availability and how much to eat. If calorie restriction is used, there are feeding strategies that can be applied to help cats maintain normal feeding patterns.

This document contains summaries of presentations from the Companion Animal Summit, held May 2-4, 2019 in San Jose, Costa Rica. Please note that these summaries represent overviews of the presentations and may include opinions and research of presenters, which do not necessarily reflect those of the Nestlé Purina Petcare Company.
Produced by the Purina Institute, May, 2019

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