Domestic Cat: Calorific Restriction For Longer Life

Providing your cat with a low calorie diet could delay the ageing process and extend your cat’s life. The same could be said about us and a wide range of species from yeast to mammals. Calorific restriction (CR) has been shown to delay the aging process provided reduced calorie intake does not accompany malnutrition. In other words, a diet that is lower in calories but healthy should prolong a cat’s life. Calorific restriction “without malnutrition delays the onset of age-associated disorders in short-lived species” (the conclusion based on a study recently published in Nature Communication).

Calorific restriction in a cat diet is good for cat health

Not good! Cute though! Photo by Giane Portal (fofurasfelinas) on Flickr

The scientists who carried out this study, were initially concerned that CR might be detrimental to health. The study results proved otherwise. Their data showed that both age-related and all-cause survival was significantly improved with CR. With CR, increased survival was observed. This is not only about a longer life but a healthier life and therefore it is also about quality of life.

The study was carried out with rhesus monkeys but the scientists make it clear that the conclusions apply to a wide range of animals and therefore I feel confident in stating that the domestic cat could also benefit from consuming fewer calories. Note: this was not an invasive and nasty study so please don’t criticize it as “animal testing”.

As I understand it, when the scientists write about calorie restriction, they are referring to 30% fewer calories than usual. So, what is behind the benefits? One theory is that when food is scarce the body is able to switch more resources into the maintenance of tissue resulting in a protective effect.

Other scientific studies have indicated that fasting appears to result in the production of proteins that protects cells against oxidative stress. The process of oxidative stress can promote ageing it is believed.

My immediate reaction after reading about this study what to think of dry cat food. I did so because those of us who have a little bit of knowledge about cat food know that dry cat food is high in calories. This is because carbohydrates are required in the manufacturing process. Some vets believe that dry cat food puts a domestic cat in a state of permanent mild hypoglycaemia and dehydration because of the high calorie content of the food and lack of moisture content.

It is difficult to read and understand the labeling on cat food and the manufacturer doesn’t list everything on the labels (see Jo’s comment). Labelling needs to be improved. I would certainly check labelling, nonetheless, to see whether a type of food has less calories in it. I would also restrict a cat’s consumption of food if there were signs of obesity. We should remember that up to 50% of domestic cats in the USA, and a slightly smaller percentage in the UK, are obese.

Obesity itself brings health risks but this study is about much more than that. It is about a restricted calorie intake even for a cat of normal weight and apparent health. This is valuable research for cat owners.

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Domestic Cat: Calorific Restriction For Longer Life — 13 Comments

  1. Michael, excellent article- as always!

    The major problem with the majority of commercial cat foods is that the manufacturer doesn’t list everything on the labels. So many ingredients in these products are high calorie. For instance, Purina Pro-Plan dry food is listed as low-calorie and is a “diet” cat food. It took me forever to find the list of ingredients- which I am sure the average cat “owner” wouldn’t even know to research- and this is what I found as the first ingredients.

    Tuna, brewers rice, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, dried egg product, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), wheat flour, fish meal, animal liver flavor- so much grain and there is no liver in the product- it is liver-flavor. UGH

    In the moist food department, Pro-plan’s first listing of ingredients include:
    wheat gluten, meat by-products, rice, soy flour, soy protein concentrate, artificial and natural flavors ( don’t you love those artificial and natural flavors?)

    Seems to me that these products are loaded with carbs- perhaps designed to fill the bellies more quickly? But this is not what I consider to be low calorie foods, and additionally ade not that nutritious. But they sell a LOT of these products which are supposedly designed for weight loss and control. Is there something wrong with this picture?

    • Totally agree with you as usual. The manufacturers seem to ignore the feedback that consumers provide on the Internet for the sake of profit. However, I believe that this sort of research is very valuable indeed because it is the kind of research that manufacturers, I hope, cannot ignore. I also hope that there’s some more media news on this study, on the Internet and that more people pick up on it and discuss it. One of the problems, as I see it, is that a lot of cat caretakers are complacent about cat health and the food they give them, which allows the manufacturer to continue doing what they are doing.

    • The problem with a lot of dry foods is that as soon as it reaches the stomach, it absorbs the fluids there and swells. If the kitty has a sensitive stomach at all, that can be enough to make them throw up. Especially if you have a speed-eater kitty. One of my boys has to have his food split into more meals than his brothers or else we get his entry into the distance projectile event (which is very not pretty).

      I admit that the content of the food is more important to me than the caloric value. The amount I give them can always be adjusted, but I want to make sure what I’m giving them isn’t swimming in filler crap like carageenan and grain and by-products (and you really have to be careful of that “natural flavor” label because it’s usually just code for wheat gluten and the like).

      I’m close to just making up omlette-type recipes and making them food for the week every Sunday. But for now they get Primal and Stella & Chewies and Acana… The Acana is new, but it’s regional materials and it meets the ingredient restrictions I’ve set for the guys. We’ll see how Mr. Sensitive-Tum likes it and what his bloodwork looks like for his annual. At this point he thinks dry food is treats for doing his neck exercises and tricks, so if nothing else, there’s that.

      Anyhow! Thank you so much for the article! The more information about food and options, the better. I like to have research and knowledge as much as possible so I can try to make the best choice for my guys’ health.

      • Hi Rachel, about dry cat food pellets, I did write an article about that some time ago and I agree with what you say.

        I can see that you are very thoughtful in what you feed your cats. I like to see this very much. You are obviously a very careful and loving cat caretaker. I am pleased that you found the article helpful and that it added to your knowledge of cat food requirements.

        • I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to thank you sooner! I went out of town, then an attempt to switch service led to a void of internet service (to the horror of all inhabitants). But I wanted to make sure I let you know how much I appreciated you pointing me back to the earlier article. My way of looking at it is that the person who cares the most about keeping my boys happy and healthy is me.

          I mean, since I adopted them, they’re my babies! I need to be doing my absolute best to feed them what they need. If I want to be lazy about what I eat that’s one thing; their only option is what I give them, so it’s got to be the right choice rather than what’s easiest. Even if that means I’m putting more effort into their food than mine. ^__^

  2. You can get the same result as caloric restriction taking the supplement PQQ. It has been shown to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis in aging cells. Intense exercise will do that also. Easier to take the pills.

    There is quite a science today behind treatments for anti-aging. I know a lot about it because those treatments are your best shot at getting your body back after flouriquinolone antibiotics take a crack at destroying it. I will probably continue taking PQQ and Idebenone the rest of my life, even if I recover from being floxed. My middle age years may now be a total loss as far as the life I’d really like to lead and the things I’d like to do. But maybe my golden years could still be active, maybe by then my body could heal and with all the anti-aging stuff I’m doing… My real hope is by age 50 to be better than I was before this happened. I think five years to resolve all symptoms is a realistic time frame, but not guaranteed.

    My high school English teacher hiked the Baraboo bluffs for decades after she retired. She had to be as old as many people sitting in nursing homes, but I’d run into her hiking all the time and was more physically fit than I was. She said losing the stress of teaching made her younger.

    We should think about reducing stress for our animals as well as improving their diets. The calorie restriction is never going to work for Monty. He’ll beg for food 15 times a day. Now I know better than to give in. I clean up less barf that way. He does not see overeating as a way to an earlier grave. I do what I can to keep from terribly over feeding him. I also try to give him lots of happiness. He plays outside, he has his suspended cat kingdom, his stuffed doggie for when we are not around, and I try to keep routines as steady as I can for him.

    It’s too bad all the anti-aging treatments and supplements are not also available for our pets. I’ll bet there are a lot of people who would spend the money if it meant they could have their furry friend around and happy and active a little bit longer.

    • Very interesting comment, Ruth-thanks a lot. I was not aware that you can take supplements and pills which have the same sort of effect as calorific restrictions.

      You’ll be fine in middle to old-age! There’s always a way around problems anyway and keeping fit. I know one thing for sure which is that as we get older we have to exercise both our brain and body. We have to keep them working a bit like an old car so that they can function 😉

      • Only the PQQ will stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis. But Idebenone is still a powerful antioxidant that can actually protect brain and heart tissue in case of a stroke or heart attack. Other antioxidants become oxidants (actually harmful) in situations of hypoxia (low or no oxygen.) Wouldn’t it be great if our cats could be on something like that as they age?

  3. Gigi is overweight. She just won’t eat the wet food even if I don’t offer dry – I mean she will eventually but she would rather survive of a little bit of dry food.

    I’ll have to read the labels – I usually stop at the word ‘byproducts’.

    • She seems to have learned to like dry cat food as a kitten. All dry cat food contains too much carbohydrates as far as I’m aware, even the diet ones. I guess you can just give a little bit less dry cat food and also provide some treats which are low in carbohydrates to dilute the overall diet with respect to the amount of carbohydrate in it. I don’t know whether that’s practical or not.

  4. So, I totally agree with CAREFULLY monitoring what your cats eat and how much. Over the last couple of decades I’ve had to deal with the consequences of some commercial cat foods, excessive vomiting, urinary crystals, and a wonderful “little” thing called MEGA colon. My husband, God Bless his generous soul, has always had an open bowl food policy, fill ‘er up when its only half full… our Singapura LOVED this because if somebody wasn’t playing with him 24/7, he would get bored and eat. So, Mr. Pudge became rather rotund. He started losing weight last summer, I blamed it on the new kitten running his little bum around playing, but then we noticed he was pretty constipated. The xray showed how really bad it was. After a couple unpleasant procedures and a Blessed vet who wouldn’t give up, our little boy finally got emptied out and now kindly takes his laxative syrup twice a day. He had gotten painfully skinny.

    I was a wreck when I thought I was going to lose him. So, its not just the “healthy” mindset at issue here, but there are real problems lurking out there waiting for the unwary or unconcerned cat owners.


    • Well, I am pleased that you managed to control the dietary problems. One of the problems we have with commercial cat food is that we do not know how many diseases or illnesses are caused by it. No one’s counting and no one’s doing any research as far as I know on this subject. We don’t know negative effect of commercial cat food on our cats (if there is any negative, which we believe there is).

      The problem is the consumer, who is the purchaser of the cat food and who obviously does not eat it and therefore has no idea how good or bad it is from the cat’s point of view and any health consequences that the cat might have as a result. And who’s looking out for the cats in respect of his diet? The cat caretakers are but as we know we don’t know the effect of the food on our cat until something goes wrong.

      Your cat looks superb by the way.

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