Currently there is some amazing technology available to help with pet care. Today Dr. Eloise Bright from Love That Pet discusses whether an automatic pet feeder can help cats struggling with their growing waistline.
As a vet I have my concerns about the use of automatic pet feeders if people use them as an excuse to go on holidays and leave their furry friends unattended. I see too many blocked cats that have suffered because their owners missed that they weren’t using the litter tray. That being said, almost 50% of our pets are overweight and many of my clients are sick of me nagging them and really struggle to help their cats lose weight. This is where I really see the potential for an automatic feeder like the Petnet(io) SmartFeeder.
Why feed on a schedule?
Cats are creatures of habit, they love routine and for cats that border on the slightly neurotic, having irregular feed times can be stressful. Cats also prefer to eat little and often and are metabolically geared towards grazing. For owners that sometimes spend 12 hours away from their cats, this can be a problem and lead to a cat that wakes them during the night for food to make up for periods of ‘starvation’ during the day. Many cats are successful grazers and self-regulate their food intake. The struggle occurs when we have cats that eat their entire breakfast all at once and then feel hungry the rest of the day and binge again in the evening.
This is where the automatic pet feeder comes into its own. There is no real magic to weight loss. Simply move more, eat less. But even for people this simple formula can be troublesome. The traditional hunter that would sleep then hunt has been replaced by a sedentary being who no longer needs to do those short bursts of hunting activity up to 7 times daily to survive. The most exercise many cats get is walking to the food bowl then seeking another sunny spot to rest in. Not ideal for the waistline.
Unfortunately as many of us who have tried to lose weight know, as soon as you have those extra fat cells, they cry out for more food. Restricting food means you feel hungry all the time. And a hungry cat is a cat that is unhappy and most likely batting you around the head at 3am to tell you about this dire starvation situation.
One simple solution I have found that can help increase that feeling of satiety is to give regular predictable intervals of food. The idea is to closely mimic how your pet would eat in the wild. So rather than giving 2 big meals a day and hoping that will last your cat overnight and during the day you can set predictable intervals and feed your cat several small meals a day (ideally 7). This is one way the SmartFeeder can help. According to Petnet(io), the SmartFeeder can be programmed to dispense food portions throughout the day while making sure that the total amount of food provided will meet (and not exceed) the pet’s daily needs.
What to feed?
Of course the limitation with the automatic feeders is that you can’t store meat or wet food in there. As a vet I am a big advocate of raw meat and high protein foods for cats. Most dry food is incredibly calorie dense and has a much higher carbohydrate composition than is ideal for cats. When selecting a dry food, find one that has as much meat protein as possible, definitely not corn, soy or other grains first on the list of ingredients. The Petnet(io) SmartFeeder technology can also help with food selection. It is connected to a database of thousands of pet foods and can help you choose foods that are higher in meat protein and without fillers and artificial ingredients.
Cats are also poor drinkers and for any pet owner who has had a cat with urinary issues the recommendation is lots of wet food. The other problem is that dry food is not as filling as wet food and meat, so cats will eat more calories per mouthful compared to wet food. Wet food can be as high as 80% water, while dry food is around 5% water.
The ideal way to use the automatic pet feeder for weight loss is to continue feeding wet food or meat twice daily for breakfast and dinner, but allocate a very small amount of dry food for those other small snacks throughout the day and night. You may find a teaspoon is all you need for those additional 5 small meals from the automatic feeder. Just enough of a snack to keep the metabolism going and reduce that feeling of starvation during the dieting phase.
How much to feed?
This can be difficult to determine when you are feeding multiple types of food. Simply following the manufacturer’s directions on your dry or canned foods can also often overestimate your feline’s nutritional needs, particularly if your cat is less than athletic. The simple answer is to feed the right amount of food for your cat’s level of activity. Start out with the manufacturers guidelines, then drop that by about 1/3 for weight loss. Then weigh your cat weekly to see if you have it right.
This is another area where the SmartFeeder can help. It will provide the pet owner with an estimate of the cat’s daily calorie needs and alert you if they are getting too much food.
And finally, don’t forget to play
A much more enjoyable way to help your cat to lose weight is to increase activity. Take your cat out on a leash outdoors, play with a laser pointer toy, allow your cat to pounce and leap for a fishing-line toy or throw some balls of tin foil around. Many cats need to be taught to play and have periods when they feel more playful, so tune into these moments. Having a scheduled playtime that your cat can rely upon is a great fat-busting routine to get into and is also excellent for anxious cats. If you notice your cat has a ‘mad moment’ around 6pm when he races around the house, tap into it and get the toys out and interact with him at this time.
About the Author: With 7 years of small animal practice, Dr.Eloise Bright came to Love That Pet as an animal lover and advocate for all animals from baby birds to stray kittens. With two sons in tow and hubby, Eloise mainly practices in Sydney, Australia. Meet her, her dog - Duster, and cat - Jimmy, on her profile page.