Pilot study evaluating the effect of feeding method on overall activity of neutered indoor pet cats

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Abstract

Indoor housing of cats is associated with a higher incidence of multiple diseases, including obesity. Increased exercise is often recommended as a method of creating or increasing the negative energy balance required for weight loss. Food-dispensing toys have been suggested as a method of increasing cat activity and providing environmental enrichment but have not been systematically evaluated in client-owned cats. To compare the effect of meal feeding from a bowl versus a food-dispensing toy on overall activity, 19 client-owned cats were enrolled in a 2-way, 2-period, and randomized repeated-measures mixed-effects crossover study. All cats were acclimated to wearing an accelerometer attached to a collar during week 1. Cats randomized to the bowl-first condition were acclimated to bowl feeding during week 2, and activity counts were collected during week 3. Cats randomized to the toy-first condition were acclimated to toy feeding during week 2, and activity counts were collected during week 3. During week 4, feeding methods were crossed. Cats randomized to the bowl-first condition were acclimated to toy feeding during week 4, and activity counts were collected during week 5. Cats randomized to the toy-first condition were acclimated to bowl feeding during week 4, and activity counts were collected during week 5. The outcome measure of interest was the change in total activity during weeks 3 and 5 for both groups. No significant difference was found in average weekly (P = 0.30) or daily activity counts (P = 0.17) when cats were fed from a toy compared with a bowl. A treatment effect by day was observed with activity decreasing in the toy-first group and increasing in the bowl-first group between days 3 and 4 (P = 0.028). In addition, we found that overall activity of cats decreased 6%-7% with each 1-year increase in age (P = 0.041). Although the type of feeding method in this pilot study did not affect overall activity, providing meals to cats using food toys may provide other benefits related to satiety, stress reduction, and overall well-being. More research is needed to explore the benefits of alternative feeding practices for indoor cats.

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