Cornell study finds obese cats still love you even when you restrict their food intake.
Will your cat hold it against you if you put it on a restricted diet for weight loss?
Turns out that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to a recent Cornell University published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
Researchers hypothesized that pet owners are hesitant to put their cats on a diet because they think the cats will beg and become less affectionate. Cat owners held on to the idea that the cat would develop annoying behaviors or—even worse—would no longer love them, according to the study. And yet, of the cats studied, a majority actually increased their affectionate behavior post feeding, even though their food was restricted.
The 47 cats that participated were classified as obese, and didn’t have any other abnormalities on their physical exams or blood work. Owners were required to bring their cats in to be weighed every four weeks during the study.
Cat’s feeding behavior can be divided into three phases, the study says, appetitive behavior, consummatory behavior and satiety. Feline appetitive behavior hasn’t been widely documented, but could include “biting or pouncing on their caretakers or vocalization.” Satiety behaviors include playful behavior, rest or elimination behavior, according to the study.
Does diet matter?
A secondary objective of this study focused on the composition of feline diets and whether or not the nutritional makeup of the food would lead to greater weight loss over time.
The cats were divided into three groups and fed equicaloric diets of three compositions, a control designed to maintain weight, a high-fiber (HiFi) diet or a low-carbohydrate and high-protein diet. Because cats are obligate carnivores and a normal diet would be rodents, “one might hypothesize that a low-carbohydrate and high-protein diet would reduce food-demanding behavior more than a HiFi diet and would allow for a greater weight loss than a HiFi diet.”
The Cornell researchers were surprised to find that cats lost the most weight (6.5% of starting weight) overall on the HiFi diet. At four weeks, cats on both of the test diets had lost weight, but at eight weeks the cats on the HiFi diet had lost more weight.
Before starting the study cat owners completed a survey about their cat’s behaviors when it was hungry and when it was satiated. The surveys were given again at four and eight weeks into the study. Each question asked whether the behavior had been displayed more, less or the same since the diet had begun.
Most of the cats showed an increase and then decrease in begging, following, meowing or pacing before being fed. But there was generally not a change in the type of appetitive behavior displayed, just a change in frequency. The median time at which the behavior started was 16-45 minutes before feeding.
When compared to their behavior before restrictive feeding, the cats were much more likely to have increased purring, sitting in their owner’s lap, resting and using the litter box after feeding at four or eight weeks, or both. They also were more affectionate at both four and eight weeks, the study found—something that the researchers found could help encourage owners to put their cats on a diet.