How Often You Feed Cats Could Be Critical for Their Health – Here’s What You Need to Know

Cat Feeding

Got a cat that always seems hungry? New University of Guelph research suggests you might want to reduce — not increase — how often you feed them.

Animal nutrition specialists in U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) have found that feeding cats one large meal a day may help control hunger better than feeding them several times a day.

The research, published in the journal PLOS One, revealed that cats that ate one meal a day were more satisfied, which could result in less food-begging behavior.

The results also suggest cutting back feeding frequency could help reduce the risk of obesity by controlling cats’ appetite and potentially making them eat less – an important discovery given that obesity is the most common nutritional problem affecting cats.

Adronie Verbrugghe

Prof. Adronie Verbrugghe. Credit: University of Guelph

“These findings may surprise the veterinary community and many cat owners who have been told their animals need several small meals a day,” said study co-author Prof. Adronie Verbrugghe, a veterinarian with OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, who specializes in companion animal nutrition. “But these results suggest there are benefits to this approach.”

Previous research has examined the effects of meal frequency on cat behavior, but this study is the first to use a comprehensive approach analyzing effects on appetite-suppressing hormones, physical activity, energy expenditure, and use of energy sources, said co-author Prof. Kate Shoveller, an expert in animal nutrition with U of G’s Department of Animal Biosciences.

“There was no good research to back up the several-meals-a-day approach that many owners hear, and so we wanted to put some real data behind current feeding recommendations to be sure they were right for cats,” she said.

The study involved eight healthy-weight, indoor cats under the age of five.  Each cat was exposed to both feeding regimens and each for a total of three weeks, with the same diet and amount being offered in either one meal or four meals. Some of the cats were fed only in the morning, while the others were fed the same amount in four smaller meals.

The cats were equipped with activity monitors on harnesses to measure their voluntary physical activity. Food intake was recorded daily, and body weight was measured weekly. Researchers also measured cat metabolism through breath and blood.

Anna Kate Shoveller

Prof. Anna Kate Shoveller. Credit: University of Guelph

Physical activity was higher in cats fed four times a day, but overall energy expenditure was similar between the groups. The weights of the cats in both groups did not change over the study period, no matter which feeding schedule they were on.

Cats that ate just once a day had higher post-meal levels of three key appetite-regulating hormones, suggesting they were more satisfied. These cats also showed lower fasting respiratory quotient, suggesting they were burning their fat stores, which is key to maintaining lean body mass.

The cats that ate only one meal a day also had a larger increase in blood amino acids, meaning more protein was available to them to build muscle and other important proteins. This is important given that many cats lose muscle mass as they age, a condition known as sarcopenia.

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

Even big cats in the wild engage in a form of intermittent fasting, the authors note, feasting when they make a kill and fasting before the next one.

While their data suggest feeding once a day may be a good way to promote satiation and lean body mass, the researchers would like to do longer studies.

“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, who is the Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition. “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.”

Reference: “The daytime feeding frequency affects appetite-regulating hormones, amino acids, physical activity, and respiratory quotient, but not energy expenditure, in adult cats fed regimens for 21 days” by Alexandra Camara, Adronie Verbrugghe, Cara Cargo-Froom, Kylie Hogan, Trevor J. DeVries, Andrea Sanchez, Lindsay E. Robinson and Anna K. Shoveller, 18 September 2020, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238522

The research was funded with support from the Winn Feline Foundation and Simmons Pet Food.

19 Comments on "How Often You Feed Cats Could Be Critical for Their Health – Here’s What You Need to Know"

  1. Interesting study.
    Is there any information about cats with diabetes? My cat was prescribed Glipicide (usually given to dogs, but she refused insulin by needle. She has been stable for over a year on it). But I feed her with meds 6am and 6pm and small portions spread out. She seems to hate the regimen. Constantly begging for food.

    I’ll ask my vet before putting her on a single large meal — BUT is there a study of diabetic cats?

    Thank you.

  2. What a BS.
    I feed my cats premium dry cat food. After consumption, it increases in volume by at least 5x. If I try to feed them once a day, the required amount easily exceeds their stomach volume and induce vomiting.
    Perhaps, this would work if we fed our cats with fresh meat. But definitely not with modern cat food.

  3. My cat is a PIG my mom feeds her every 2 hours despite me telling her not to, Panda sleeps all day long when she’s not eating. She’s 17 and has beginning stages of Renal Failure, all she does is beg all day even after being fed. She thinks human food is her’s too, when she lived with me she only ate twice a day. If she’s eaten half a can she refuses to eat the other half, more work than ANY of my dogs were and more than she should be.

  4. Can journalists please stop writing about tiny-sample-size, single, unreproduced research studies like they change all of science as we know it? That isn’t how research works. So many fad diets and health decisions that turn out to be erroneous have been made because of articles written like this that don’t acknowledge issues with the research or overstate the impact of the study. Maybe this will turn into something that changes how we feed our cats and maybe it won’t. It’s way too early on in the process to tell. I do appreciate that at least a link to the original article was provided.

  5. My cat demands fresh.
    She would never go for the 1 meal a day.
    She likes 3 or 4 small meals a day. Shes active healthy and I wouldnt change her eating plan

  6. Wrong. Sounds like someone is doing pointless animal experiments. Sadist needs to get a real job.

  7. They speak of physiological aspects in this article but say nothing of phycological aspects. I “free feed” my cats. Meaning an always available bowl of dry food. They get an appropriately small wet food treat for breakfast but otherwise they feed themselves throughout the day. For the cat, knowing that food is always available prevents them from feeling the need to gorge out of worry when the next meal will come. On their most recent check up, Doc says they are exactly where they should be weight wise and body mass wise. Most pets regulate themselves well if they are emotionally at ease.

  8. Totally agree with Eric.. I free feed my cats.. small wet food in the morning, I wouldn’t even do this if it weren’t for babe.. she’s on the small side.. but healthy.. My 14 lb maltese is the one overweight, after he was neutered at 5yrs he gained weight.. no matter what I do he never loses a lb..

  9. My cats self feed & are at an ideal weight. I feed premium food to 3 cats, few treats. I have several friends who’s cats self feed & are so overweight. In my humble opinion, it’s all in what you feed them.

  10. Cheryl Troilo | October 2, 2020 at 2:02 pm | Reply

    Not to be hypercritical, but 8 cats? That is anecdotal in my view. Run a statistically powered study, THEN tell me how to feed a cat.

  11. Hello, well my cat is making 16 years young on the 31th of this month. I have been preparing healthy and sometimes canned tuna in water. Lately she has been asking for milk Wich I mix water. Only problem so far that she has had was an ear infection. So each cat is different. 🐈.

  12. Yes, who’s writing this stuff? My cat is doing great,with how I’m feeding him. His weight is almost perfect, his coat is nice and shinny, and he gets lots of exercise. He’s a Bombay cat and he’s absolutely gorgeous!

  13. This is probably true for a fully domesticated house cat. It’s definitely NOT true for a cat that doesn’t use a cat box, but let’s you know when wants out. Cats that are only occasionally outside will quickly look for food other places if you don’t keep them fed. It’s true they get fat, but cats are well known to end up basically having more than one home because they find people who feed strays. Then they might not even come back home for a couple days or so. During that time they often will come back injured. We had this problem with our Male fixed cat. He is babied by us, but if we don’t pamper him…he’ll run off and then gets exposed to the types of things that take some of his 9 lives. Twice he seemed he would die of snakebites, or that’s what we think. But other times he had come back severely hurt from cat fights, raccoons, or unknown viciousness. After the last time, we finally started feeding him pretty much when he wants and we buy him the good stuff. We think last time he barely escaped death from a coyote or dog. His head seemed like it was possible almost crushed. It had his inner ears, eye in very bad shape. After about 2 months of keeping him fed, his inner ear and head pain seem much better. When he wants out, he stays near and is always easily ready to come back in. If we stopped spoiling him…we know for sure he’d run back over to a house that has a neighbor about 3 houses away that feeds lots of animals and doesn’t care the cats might have real homes. We would not mind sharing him, but it’s how hurt he easily gets just about everytime he goes over there a couple days before crawling back to us where he has it very good. He’s older now, so we are letting him pig out because frankly we’re afraid he’ll get killed. He was a stray kitten who definitely MADE us take him in. We took him to a strays clinic that nurtured him, gave him a rabies shot, and dewormed him. Then they clipped one ear do he can be identified as being fixed. In his case, he was far more affectionate than the other feral cats. Now that he is 7 years old, we have finally gave in and keep him fed so he never runs off to his second home anymore. If we stopped pampering him, he immediately start running off again. He’s a huge Male cat that at one time he was the local Lion King..but his age is catching up with the ol guy. He is only outside about a half hour each day because he let’s us know he wants to go to the bathroom. We fo have a cat box, and he will use it, but he definitely prefers to do his business outside. We are in Florida and the entire state is like a sand catbox heaven.

  14. My 13 yr old DSH is fed a lil dab of wet food several times daily
    By adding purified water to his food, I am able to hydrate him. Dry food causes kidney disease due in large part to lack of hydration and too much phosphorus. Go to catinfo.org for an explanation of diet and nutrition. Written by a vet, she compares all wet foods

  15. I think what you guys are missing is that the study is right, it just depends on the car. This is literally a tool to use behavioral modification. If you give your cat access to enough food that they easy all of it and vomit it up, then why the hell would you feed them that much??? Feed the cat less so that they don’t do that? It’s not that hard. Don’t react to meows for more food, as in negative punishment and reward in accordance with behaviours you want your cat to do. It’s not that they WON’T learn, like dogs. It’s just that it takes longer. You have to be more stubborn for it’s health than your cat is hungry for an endless amount of munch. Feed your cat enough to keep it happy but not enough to throw up. U gotta work together.

    • *it depends on the cat**
      Also what I do instead of feeding my cat is I play with him so much that he doesn’t think he’s hungry anymore. Your cat might even be bored. People eat when they’re bored all the time.

  16. Lol. One study. With 8 animals. Ridiculous.

  17. Funny that so many people are defensive and complacent to the norm of overeating (including for pets). 70% of Americans are overweight/ obese and ignorant to their harmful sedentary indulgent lifestyle. David Sinclair (tenured Harvard prof/ researcher and author of Lifespan) shows that intermittent fasting is extremely healthy for animals and humans. Ketosis burns fat, and being sensitive to blood sugar, not overwhelmed by excess, is healthy for organs.

    I’m optimistic people will slowly wake up and acknowledge being mindless inactive consumer pigs is unhealthy.

  18. I disagree. I’ve had over 30 cats in my lifetime. My girls get fed at 5 am and 5 pm wet food. With a daily fresh bowl of dry to nibble on during the day. All cats have lived to be 16 to 20 years old.

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