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).
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.