Understanding how cats eat

Hi, my name is Dr. Uri Burstyn I’m a veterinarian in Vancouver BC and I’d like to welcome you to my series of practical skills for pet owners. I’m joined by Lancelot today to talk to you guys about a topic that I get quite a few questions about both in clinics and in the YouTube channel. About cat eating behavior and when to worry when not to worry what’s normal, what’s abnormal? So before I get into that I would like to remind you all to squish the subscribe button and pat the little bell icon next to it. So you get notifications of upcoming videos and livestreams You’ve done that? Thank you. And now let’s get into the video as a veterinarian it is quite common for people to come to me with a concern that their pet is not eating enough. And of course anorexia, or inappetence are a really common sign of disease in cats. Most cat diseases present as loss of appetite and loss of muscle mass or like anorexia wastage getting skinny, whatever you want to call this. Getting skinny, not eating enough. Having said that, quite commonly people will come to me concerned that their cat’s not eating as much as they used to or that their dog is not eating as much as they used to. And I look at them and they’ve actually- and when we go look at them in the clinic they’ve actually gained weight. And what’s happened there is in those cases the cat or dog is completely fine, but they’ve gained weight and they’re using their nutritional intelligence to say “Oh I’m getting a little chubby. I need to eat less” and they know this and they just- and they try and self-regulate and the owners get so concerned that their poor pet isn’t eating enough. We often see this after a diet change where we change their type of food for whatever reason. And owners get very concerned that “My dog’s not eating enough”
“My cat’s not eating enough” and of course it’s always worth checking out but sometimes It’s just that they’ve gained a little few pounds and they realize they’re– and they– and they’ve used their nutritional intelligence to realize they need to eat less and of course as- as owners, we’re always very concerned about our pets’ feeding behavior. So Lancelot here is a poster child for cat feeding because he’s been both a self-regulating cat and an overeating cat at different parts of his life. And that is the two cat- I guess eating attitudes that most people will encounter. Some cats will be self regulators and some cats will be greedy little eaters. Yeah, right. You might also notice Lancelot has a little shaved bit on his arm he just gave blood recently. So he’s been eating very well since then trying to make up for lost energy. As you guys know from “The story of Lancelot” video he is an occasional blood donor in our clinic. So this cat saves cat lives. Don’t you, sweetheart? Cats differ from dogs in one important matter. They are trickle feeders. So to understand feeding behavior of cats what you really need to do is look at how they behave in the wild in nature. And there’s an important difference between cats and dogs in this regard because cats are predators primarily who hunt small prey. Whereas dogs are really kind of scavengers, you know. They can exhibit some pack-hunting behavior where they’ll hunt large and larger animals. They also hunt for smaller ones, but they’re also very, very happy to scavenge. Now cats are, in nature, will eat 14 to 16 small meals a day because you know they’ll be wandering around and they’ll eat a little bird, eat a mouse, eat a fish depending on which food source is available to them in the environment and which one they learn to feed on because cats actually acquire feeding behaviors from their mothers and typically a cat will eat whatever food source the mother eats. So if you have a mother cat that’s a bird hunter Then the kittens will generally be bird hunters. If you have a mother cat who’s a rodent hunter you’ll have kittens who are rodent hunters. Lancelot’s gonna go hunt… You know, his litter box probably because I think he’s just eaten I’m gonna- so… *chuckles* So when cats live with us they are happiest generally when they can exhibit the same behavior that they would in the wild, so trickle feeding. So Lancelot had a little feed right before we started shooting this video and now he’s off and then he’s gonna want to come back to his food. Every so often and probably once every hour or so have a little bit more of a feed and then walk away. Like I said, we call that trickle feeding and that is pretty much the optimal way for a cat to eat. There are studies showing that cats who have food freely available to them and eat multiple times a day will have lower insulin levels and are less likely to be obese than cats who are fed discreet meals but of course this all depends on the cat’s ability to self-regulate and we call that nutritional intelligence. Most cats exhibit very good nutritional intelligence meaning that they know when they’re hungry and then when they’re not hungry and they’ll adjust accordingly. Now one way we can help them in this regard is by feeding food that is calorically appropriate to them because different cat foods and whether it’s dry or wet doesn’t actually matter so much but different cat foods will have different calorie contents per gram. So when you’re a young kitten you have a- you need more calories than you do as an adult cat. And an adult cat probably needs more calories than a senior cat whose metabolism has slowed down a little bit. Whereas a cat with a specific health issue may need- they have very specific dietary requirements for that health issue, so it’s quite important to feed correctly for your cat’s life stage and your cat’s metabolism which you will know because if you feed your cat the wrong food and they’re a trickle feeder. They’ll gain weight. They’ll become obese, and that’s not ideal. Right? There’s also all sorts of health issues that come with being overweight, so… Cats who’re trickle- most cats are going to be trickle feeders that’s the natural way for them to eat. And we can facilitate healthy trickle feeding just by making sure that the food that we offer them is appropriate for them. Now small proportion of cats will be what we call food obsessed meaning that they, pretty much, you put food front of them and they will eat it all, they’ll just finish it. And in those cases we have to help them self-regulate because, again in the wild they would never be in a situation where there’s an unlimited food source. Whereas in living with us, they could potentially have that food dish that never runs out or that automatic feeder that- you know, that refills every hour. And then they can just gorge themselves as much as they want and these cats’ mission in life is to get as fat as possible. These cats are a little bit more like dogs. And in dogs nutritional intelligence is a bit rarer. Certainly, there’s some breed predisposition where certain breeds typically are pretty good at maintaining their own kind of caloric requirement whereas other breeds and I’d say most Labradors and retrievers which are, you know, obviously the most popular pets in North America fall into the category where they’ll just basically eat until they throw it up and then eat it some more. So in dogs, trickle feeding is a bit more of a rare phenomenon. But in cats it’s kind of the norm and– but some cats will become food obsessed and what can lead to this? I think there’s a couple factors I think breed does have some predisposition for this. I’ve just made the duration throughout my career that male orange cats tend to be really, really into food and I think this is- I always thought–
I don’t have any factual evidence behind this but I always thought that this is where the myth of Garfield came from. Cause, you know, Garfield is the orange cat who loves lasagna and will eat, and eat, and eat and is food obsessed and I have a strong suspicion that Jim Davis the artist behind Garfield has shared his life with an orange boy cat at some point. Because it’s just it’s– it’s a recurring pattern, orange boy cats tend to be really, really obsessed. Really into their- into their kibble and their wet food and they tend to be quite fat, is what I’m gonna say right out there. They’re fat cats generally. Very rare to see a skinny orange boy out there. So there’s some breed predisposition.
I also think that the experiences of the cat particularly early in life how they live as kittens can influence this certainly I’ve noticed that many cats who are rescues have an increased risk of being food obsessed particularly ones who’s had a bit of a rough start in life, maybe have undergone a period of starvation they kind of learned that food is a rare commodity and when they’re in an environment where food becomes unlimited so once they get adopted into a loving home. They’ll just eat, and eat, and eat and become completely food obsessed. So it’s something to watch out for maybe when you get an adoption cat just keep an eye on the fact that- just be aware of the fact that they may be food obsessed. And you may need to regulate their food intake a little bit and there’s a number of tools for that that I’m gonna probably talk about in a later video when I talk about feline obesity. So know your cat. Do they have good nutritional intelligence?
Are they trickle feeders? Or… Are they food obsessed? And they’ll just eat, and eat, and eat as much as you’ll give them. Now there is another very rare subset of cats that is common enough for me to mention in this video, but is not overall. This is quite a rare third group. And these are cats who won’t eat unless their owner is present and this is both endearing and hilarious and a little bit sad, but certain cats, and again, in my experience this is mostly rescue cats who had a bit of a rough go of life who maybe have been neglected or undergone periods of stress and starvation. But certain cats just won’t eat unless you’re there. A great example of this is a cat that my mother adopted who, my mom worked as a home care aide, and one of her clients had this orange- orange boy named Joey. Big fat orange cat and when she passed away my mother adopted this cat he came to live in our home. But this orange boy was a stray who was found by the SPCA in our town. I think he was, you know, he was in really rough shape. He was- Had some pretty serious health issues. He was starving and… Obviously, they took care of him he got adopted into a loving home. He had unlimited food access, all of his health issues were resolved. He was a happy orange boy, but this cat would not eat unless his human was watching. And it was just absolutely hilarious that he would just stand there at the top of the stairs and meow at my mom until she or, any other human around really, he preferred my mom, but it’ll be anyone around. He’d meow at you and basically walk towards food dish, turn around, meow walk towards his food dish, turn around, meow, And he would lead you to his food there. So you could watch him eat. Every single day for the rest of his life. And this is- this happens with some regularity. I think I shared some- I had a number of clients who experienced this. And I don’t really know what to say about that. Other than that you just have to love them for who they are and just have enjoyed a hilarious cat you have if that is the scenario. I don’t think these cats would necessarily starve themselves to a point of being unhealthy if there wasn’t a human around to follow them. But they’re certainly very insistent that a human watches them eat. So it is important to know your cat’s feeding patterns. It’s important– I think it’s really good to know whether they’re a trickle feeder or an obsessive feeder and adjust your feeding accordingly. And if they are an obsessive feeder then just to know that how many calories a day your cat needs and break it up to two or three meals. And not offer them any more and certainly your veterinarian can do that. That’s, you know- We can calculate how many- the caloric requirement of a cat based on their body weight and figure out how much of a given food you need to feed for that. That’s very, very doable. If you are gonna feed discrete meals to a cat, it’s good to break it up into as many meals as your lifestyle will let you three or four, because again, we want to encourage them to trickle feed and the more meals they have per day the better they are gonna be at controlling their body weight and controlling their insulin levels to reduce the chance of getting diabetes and just keep them a little bit healthier. And while it is very important to be aware of when your pet eats less and know that that is a red flag that should- should let you know that there may be something wrong and that a vet visit is warranted. It’s also good to be aware that sometimes particularly after you change a pet’s food- because again different foods will have different caloric densities. Sometimes they will- after a diet change they will eat less
just because they’ve gained a little bit of weight or the foods a little bit richer and their exercising their nutritional intelligence to just take on less calories and maintain a healthy body weight. Well, I hope you found that to be educational and helpful. If you’d like to see more videos like this I would really appreciate your support which you can express by joining me on patreon where I have a wonderful community of patrons already or by getting some “SquishThatCat” merchandise like this t-shirt. I also have mugs and a bunch of other stuff. So please support me. I look forward to making more videos like this and until next time, have fun with your pets and I’ll see you again.

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