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A Call for Action: Using A Common Nutrient to Reduce Obesity in Cats


May 25, 2022

Dr. Adronie Verbrugghe, Ontario Veterinary College

Traditional practices of increasing exercise and carefully monitoring food intake are not the only way to manage obesity in cats. Researchers at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) have found that increasing the essential nutrient choline in cat food can reduce the common risk of obesity in spayed and neutered cats.   

Researchers discovered that kittens who consumed higher amounts of choline after being spayed or neutered voluntarily ate less and gained less weight and body fat than those that consumed choline at the currently recommended levels. 

“We want to use this research to support long-term health in cats by calling for action from the pet food industry to improve diets and include higher levels of choline,” says Dr. Adronie Verbrugghe, professor at OVC and the Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Endowed Chair in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition. “We want to incorporate additional choline into food to not only prevent nutrient deficiencies but to support cats’ optimal growth and prevent obesity post-neutering.” 

The research, published in PLOS ONE, was also featured in the Toronto Star

Obesity can be prevented, even in cats spayed and neutered  

About 79 per cent of domestic cats are spayed or neutered. The procedure, common for population control and other health benefits, is one of the highest risk factors for feline obesity, studies show.  

The study was conducted by Hannah Godfrey, PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences, and the team analyzed a small sample of male domestic short-haired kittens that were neutered at six months of age.  

The kittens were divided into two groups, monitored, weighed and fed the same diet three times daily for 12 weeks after their neuter surgery. Housed together, one group received additional choline supplemented in their food and one did not.   

Choline, an essential nutrient, is already found in cat food and is a field of ongoing research, particularly for feline fat metabolism and liver health, Verbrugghe said. The opportunity to study how it might also act as a supplement to prevent obesity in growing kittens naturally presented itself, she added.   

“These cats, right at that time when they’re spayed and neutered, provided an excellent scenario to test that,” said Verbrugghe.  

Pet owners should be more informed about benefits of dietary changes   

Researchers found kittens that consumed additional choline voluntarily ate less, and the kittens that consumed choline according to current industry standards gained more weight and body fat.   

“The cats given additional choline had less excess fat but continued to grow healthily without jeopardizing muscle mass,” Godfrey said.   

Given that obesity in cats can be prevented, Verbrugghe said, pet owners should be aware the energy levels of spayed or neutered cats decrease. The absence of sex hormones makes them less active, affects appetite and changes their energy metabolism. Therefore, de-sexed cats should be fed less, she said.   

“Every spay and neuter procedure should go together with a recommendation on how to adjust the cat’s diet and I think nowadays that is not happening enough,” Verbrugghe said.   

Cats are still under-represented among patients in veterinary practices, she added, most likely because trips to the vet can be stressful for them.  

This research was funded by a collaborative research development grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), in partnership with Elmira Pet Products. The choline supplement was provided by Balchem. Acquisition of a DXA scanner was supported by funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. 

This article was originally published on the University of Guelph’s News page.  

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