Last year, I told you about a study that found that feeding cats from a SureFeed microchip feeder helped cats lose weight above and beyond just being placed on a weight management diet. The most likely benefits are preventing food-stealing between cats and allowing cat guardians to weigh how much food they are feeding their cats (some SureFeed models include a scale).
Other commonly cited challenges to feline weight loss are the ability of cat guardians to “stick with the diet” for their cat, and begging behavior on behalf of the cat. A 2016 study found that cats on a diet don’t get mad, they get cuddly! Thirty out of 32 cats placed on a diet became more affectionate when they were placed on a weight loss program. That said, most cats did engage in more begging for food, which can be hard for some humans to resist, and can lead to more food in the bowl!
A new study, Evaluation of a pet-separating automatic feeder and high-frequency meal feeding for weight loss in multi-cat households, revisited the pet-tech and weight loss topic, by removing humans from the feeding picture. There were two goals to the study:
- To see if cats would stop begging if they were fed from an automatic dispenser with RFID tag access (meaning only the cat with the correct tag can open the feeder) and programming capabilities (the PortionPro) – will cats beg from a robot?
- To determine if there was an effect of meal frequency on weight loss – do more frequent, smaller meals lead to greater weight loss?
How did they conduct the study?
All cats in the study were at least a year old, indoors-only, living with other cats, and overweight. Cats were free of any other health problems that would impact appetite or metabolism. All cats were fed the same diet during the study (Hills Metabolic) and were assigned to one of three conditions:
- Fed twice daily from a regular food bowl (5 cats)
- Fed twice daily, dispensed by the PortionPro (9 cats)
- Fed six times a day, dispensed by the PortionPro (6 cats)
Cats were examined and weighed before and during the study to monitor health and weight loss and make sure they were getting the appropriate amount of food. The study lasted 26 weeks, or until the cats reached their target weight loss, whichever happened first. Cat guardians also completed several questionnaires about their cat’s behavior during the study as well as their satisfaction with the weight loss program.
What did the study find?
There were no differences between the three groups on questions such as “How hungry is your cat?” or questions about activity or behavior problems. Overall, cat guardians felt the same level of satisfaction regardless of which group their cat was in. Ironically, they rated the use of the automatic dispenser as more difficult than feeding cats from a bowl.
When comparing the begging behavior of cats, the cats who were fed from a bowl were more likely to meow at the bowl, follow their owners around before being fed, and also were more likely to paw at their owner before being fed. Removing the human from the feeding equation does seem to reduce begging.
More cats fed via the PortionPro met their target weight (40% when fed twice a day and 83.2% when fed 6 times a day). None of the bowl-fed cats met their target weight goal. Although the sample size was too small to find statistically significant differences, the cats fed from the automatic feeder also lost a larger percentage of their body weight (15.2% when fed twice a day, and 17.1% when fed 6 times a day) compared to the bowl-fed cats (9.7%).
What does it mean?
This study was small, so we must be careful in interpreting the results. But it supports a small but growing body of evidence that technology can be our friend when it comes to feeding our cats. All cats were fed the same diet, so if how cats are fed is unimportant, we would expect similar weight loss patterns in all cats.
The RFID tag technology allows cats to eat what they like, when they like, and prevents cats from getting unintended snacks through stealing from other cats in the home. This led to more weight loss in cats using the PortionPro. Technology also had a side benefit of reducing begging behavior.
The researchers were less confident that having the PortionPro dispense food six times a day provided any benefit over twice a day as far as weight loss is concerned. The PortionPro does close when the cat wearing the correct tag walks away, so it is also possible that cats fed twice a day opted to graze and ate from the PortionPro more than twice a day, even if the food was only deposited twice a day. Many studies support that cats are natural grazers and will eat 8-15 + meals a day when given the free choice.
If you experience begging behavior in your cat, or need help with your cat’s weight loss program, be sure to work with your veterinarian, and…why not consider the assistance of some pet tech?
Levine, E. D., Erb, H. N., Schoenherr, B., & Houpt, K. A. (2016). Owner’s perception of changes in behaviors associated with dieting in fat cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 11, 37-41.
Witzel-Rollins, A., Murphy, M., Springer, C. M., Moyers, T. D., & Albright, J. D. (2022). Evaluation of a pet-separating automatic feeder and high-frequency meal feeding for weight loss in multi-cat households. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 1098612X221105046.