An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Advice for Mihijo, The Cat Who Wants to Eat ALL the Time

READERS' NOTE: This entry mentions specific food brands and gives some dietary guidelines. These brands are used only as examples not as recommendations. And it should go without saying that the dietary guidelines are just guidelines. So any of you wishing to slim down should consult with your veterinarian to make sure that the diet process you follow is the right one for you.

Hi Greyce,

My brother Timmy says you are the best and I need the best because I have a problem. I am ALWAYS hungry and, at about 18 pounds (about 8.2 kg) of weight, I'm starting to look like a basketball with eyes.

Of course I'm handsome, too, being orange and white. I'm the cat Timmy used to intimidate. We live with Jigger (a dog) and a purrson. (Readers' Note: Mihijo's brother, Timmy, is the subject of the recently-posted entry, Timmy the Brave).

Here's the scoop: We are fed twice daily (morning at 6 a.m. and about 12 hours later) in separate rooms because Timmy gets prescription food. I am given dry food although I would eat anything. Since I will even sample the dog's food, Herself puts it away if Jigger doesn't eat it. Sadly I seldom get treats. Right now I'm eating Purina Cat Chow Weight Management Dry Food (1/3 cup in the morning and 1/3 cup in the evening). I think Herself is planning to switch brands again as soon as the bag is empty, because we've tried several weight management foods and none seem to work.

I gobble my food in seconds. I am ALWAYS hungry. The only time I don't want to eat is during the early afternoon because that is nap time. Otherwise I scream at all hours of the day because I am starving; and this gets Timmy going as well. When I burst into song Herself says, "Quit screaming at me!" and then gives me a few kernels of kibble to keep me quiet. She has tried to distract me by giving me attention (picking me up, petting me and talking to me); but I am too focused on getting food to care. Herself says we are driving her nuts.

I am less hungry if the food has really high protein. Is there a food that would keep me feeling full so I wouldn't get on her nerves? I have heard Herself say, many times, that she would love to find a food that keeps us full, is good for us, and isn't too expensive.

Even though I'm starving all the time, I am a healthy guy and don't have to take medications, though I do have Klinefelter's syndrome. Other than that I am a purrfectly curious cat with a fair energy level. I adore chasing fishing pole toys, string and laser beams. I go outside in the backyard in the summer and get lots of exercise walking up and down the sidewalks; so I drop a pound but then gain it back (and more) in winter. I'm very social with people and even with the dog who lives with me. I get along well with Timmy but his tolerance for me is less so, so we don't play together. I will hiss at other cats if they enter my back yard; I'd even fight with them if I had to. But truly, Greyce, I am more of an intellectual and just prefer to talk. Everyone tells me what a talker I am. And of course, I do sing for more supper. . .and breakfast . . . and snacks.

No matter how much I sing, I'm still starving. I ALWAYS want to eat. Can you help me?

Yours in hunger,

Dear Mihijo,
It is always heartwarming to assist a family member of Timmy the Brave. And, my dear, you obviously are in dire need; so let's get started.

Here is my advice in a nutshell:

1) Get canned: Change your diet from solely dry kibble to predominantly wet food along with kibble snacks. Surprisingly you might need more calories that you get right now.

2) Eat your water: Add some more water to your canned food to increase its volume.

3) Eat smaller meals but more often.

4) Slow down: I'll give you a wet food tip so you can eat like a gourmet and not a gourmand.

5) Puzzle it out: Take advantage of your natural curiousity and intellect to enhance your dining pleasure.

6) Have a chat with your vet: Find out if your size is right for you.

Now give me a chance to explain what I mean and why I recommend these steps.

1) Get Canned: Change your diet from solely dry kibble to predominantly wet food along with kibble snacks. Calorie info is here, too.

You say you prefurr and do better on a higher protein diet (which I gather means that you feel more satisfied and thus are less-inclined to demand food). Well then my dear, why are you eating dry food?

Dry foods are higher in carbohydrates, necessary to give kibble its shape and ability to hold its form in a dry state. This means that you have to eat more dry food (compared to wet) in order to get the same amount of protein in your diet. And you need animal protein because you are an obligate carnivore, meaning it is essential to you. So with dry food you can easily gain weight because you have to eat more of eat in order to get a suitable amount of protein (compared to wet food). (Note to readers: There are some prescription dry foods, meaning that they are only available from your veterinarian, that may be exceptions.)

Dry foods are attractive to purrsons: no strong odour, easy to store, don't get a crust if left out all day in the bowl - I could go on and on about the advantages for humans. We all know who does the grocery shopping in our homes and that is why so many of us are exclusively fed dry food.

So here is an important question to ask: Did you know that canned foods tend to have considerably higher protein levels in them than the majority of dry?

I'm sure you are thinking, "Does Greyce believe that the 34% protein in my current food isn't high compared, say, to a canned food that has 11%?" To answer that, you have to know how to compare the protein levels in dry and in wet food. Sorry, that is not on the label. You need to do the math. You first need to convert the food to a dry matter basis (that is, figure out the percentage of the food that is actually stuff and not water).

Here is how that is done:
a) Have a look at the label on the bag or can. It will probably list the percentage of protein, fat, moisture and maybe even a bunch of other things. Find the moisture percentage.
b) Subtract the moisture percentage from 100% (which represents everything possible in that bag or can). Now you have the dry matter content.
c) Divide the percentage of protein listed, by the dry matter content you figured out. This will give you the actual percentage of protein on a dry matter basis.

Let me give you some examples.

You are currently eating a grocery/petstore brand called Cat Chow Healthy Weight dry food by Purina.
From the Purina website, I got the following information: It is 34% protein and 12%  moisture. Therefore the dry matter is 100% - 12%  =  88%. And so the protein level on a dry matter basis is 34% / 88% = 38.6%

For comparison, I selected  Fancy Feast, a wet food also made by Purina. It is 11% protein and 78% moisture. Therefore the dry matter is 100% - 78%  =  22%. And so the actual protein level on a dry matter basis is 11% / 22%  =  50%.

For any food under consideration, remember this: Since you cannot tell directly from the label, you need to do the math. Consult the label and/or the brand's website to get the data for your calculations.

Now this doesn't mean you have to give up kibble completely. Kibble has its place. But for most of us, it should be a considerably smaller portion of our daily diet.

I can only imagine your purrson's reaction: "Good heavens! I'm going to pay all that money for water? Mihijo, you can just drink from the water bowl!"

Truth be told, we cats are notorious for drinking insufficient amounts of water, most especially if we are on a strictly dry food diet. Years ago veterinarians would recommend dry food based on the belief that it would keep the tartar off our gums. It doesn't (except for particular prescription diets specially formulated to do so - and even then they don't work well if you hoover your food and don't chew it).

Since your current food option is driving your purrson crazy because you are unsatisfied, purrhaps she would be ripe for change. I am going to suggest you do exactly as I do, Mihijo: eat a diet consisting primarily of wet food with a kibble accompaniment.

Okay, here it comes. You are going to ask me to recommend what wet and what dry you should eat. And I won't because it is not my business to do so. That is a matter between three of you:
a) You because if you refuse to eat it, there is not much point in serving it.
b) Herself because she does the shopping.
c) Your veterinarian who would be most aware of the impact of any dietary choice and the state of your health (more on this later).

I'm just going to say: For right now, get a decent canned food and a decent dry food.  By decent I mean
a) One you like.
b) One your purrson can afford.
c) One formulated for cats (not kittens and not for a medical condition you do not have).
d) One that comes from a reliable supplier so you can be assured of getting it.
e) One that has that high protein content you like so much.
The particulars can be ironed out amongst the three of you. You can keep the dry food you are using if you are fine with it. And it goes without saying - though I will say it for the benefit of other readers: If you are on a prescription or special diet do NOT change it without consulting with your veterinarian because it could endanger your health. 

I have already established that canned food has more protein content than dry, on a dry matter basis. Most wet foods with which I'm familiar are higher in protein so I'm not sure it would not make a great difference which one you choose if only that variable is considered. I will, however, strongly recommend that you choose a wet food that comes in a completely mixed form (like a pate) rather than one that comes as fillets or chunks in sauce or gravy, because many of us tend to lick the sauce off and then walk away.

On the dry food (kibble), I do want Herself to do the math on protein content.

For both kinds of food, make sure Herself knows what the calorie content is (which she may have to get from the brand's website). You see, so-called 'light' foods may not necessarily be greatly reduced in calories from their 'regular' counterparts. For example, Purina Cat Chow Weight Management has 364 calories in a cup, compared to Purina Cat Chow for Indoor Cats which has 365. Hills Science Diet Adult Indoor Cat has 325, whereas Hills Science Diet Light has 309. So Herself will need to know calorie count in order to give you an appropriate portion.

How many calories should you aim for? Truly the purrson with whom to consult is your veterinarian who will take into account three things:
a) Your current weight.
b) Your condition - age, sexual status, health (and in this case Klinefelter's syndrome).
c) An appropriate goal weight for you.

For the benefit of other readers I will provide general guidelines about what an appropriate calorie count might be:
You say you weigh 18 pounds. Franklin Vets has a Feline Calorie Calculator so I did the math with it and then also checked it with a Daily Calorie Requirements for Cats (from the Animal Medical Center of Chicago). Both are remarkably similar. Based on these sources, I found that you would need to eat
- 475 daily calories if you are an intact male. 
- 407 daily calories if you are a normal neutered adult and want to maintain your weight at 18 pounds.
- 339 daily calories if you are prone to obesity AND 18 pounds is a good weight for you.
- 271 daily calories if you want to lose weight.

When you go into slim-down mode, you need to make sure you do NOT lose weight too quickly. A suitable weight loss goal could range between 0.05% to 2.0% of your body weight per week. At 18 pounds (which is 288 ounces) that would mean between 1.44 ounces and 5.76 ounces.  We are talking very small amounts here - and that is difficult to determine without a good scale (like one for weighing babies that can detect small changes). Any faster weight loss can lead to life-threatening complications; trust me, this is true! And that is why it is so important to weigh in on the same scale every time and to ensure that it is accurate.

At present, assuming that you are eating only that 2/3 cup of Purina Cat Chow Healthy Weight that you say you are, you are getting 219 calories a day. This is likely too little. No wonder you feel as if you are starving!

How can I eat so little and yet not seem to trim down? Probably for the same reason(s) that people have the same difficulty:
a) They eat so little that their body goes into starvation mode and hangs onto whatever it can.
b) They don't drink enough water to flush their systems out (see reason 'a' above).
c) They are actually eating more but not counting it (for example, sneaking snacks).
d) Their scale isn't accurate enough to detect small weight losses.
In your case I cannot account for 'c' or 'd' but I believe you may be eating too few calories and I definitely believe you are consuming far too little water.

So for a start and only as a guideline until you chat with your veterinarian, you might consider aiming for around 300 daily calories (a nice round number) which is between the suggested amount for weight loss and for weight maintenance of an obese-prone cat at your current weight, unless your veterinarian says otherwise. This would likely provide very slow weight loss and also help you feel full.

What does this look like on a daily basis? Working with the previous example, it could look like this:
 2 cans of wet food (85 gram cans of Fancy Feast in the form of classic pate without gravy, such as Turkey and Giblets Feast, which is a total of 191.16 calories;
1/3 cup of Cat Chow Weight Management kibble which is 110 calories.

Again I am merely giving an example. What brands and flavours you use is up to you (and your veterinarian).
(Readers' note: While the Cat Chow website provides the number of calories in a cup, the Fancy Feast site does not, even though both are Purina products. Go figure! So I got that calorie count from Pet Finder .)

Switching From Dry Food to a Wet-and-Dry Food Diet

Of course I don't want you to throw out the existing bag of food, get a case of cans and have at it. What I want is for you decrease your daily portion of kibble while gradually introducing wet food over a two-week period. (If you need more information on how to do this, just ask.) By changing slowly, you won't get any tummy problems (like gas, constipation or diarrhea) AND you will find the new regime easier to accept.

Other Aspects of the Transition You Should Know About

Shopping instructions: Your purrson is on a budget. No problem. If she has access to a large pet supply store (like Petsmart), a department-type store (like WalMart) or a grocery chain (like Safeway), she can keep her eyes peeled for specials. Some stores have a day a month where most purchases are discounted. My Herself saved a bundle by buying cases of my food on one of those days; and it just so happened that the food was already on sale so she got a double bargain. Stocking up is not a bad way to go.

Storage instructions: Unless you are going to eat the entire can in one sitting, the rest of the contents need to be stored. I strongly recommend using a clean glass jar that has straight sides (easy to get everything in and out). Store it in the fridge. And use up the contents within a few days. Wash used jars and rinse very thoroughly so you don't end up tasting soap residue. Lots of people store opened cans of food in the fridge (hopefully with a cover); but fastidious cats can get turned off by the metallic taste which may be apparent to the sophisticated feline sensory system, if food has stayed in an open can for over a day.

As for bags, make sure to squeeze the air out of it and then close it securely (with a clip, for example). Air interacts which the fats that have been sprayed on the kibble to make it appetizing. And that interaction can make the fats go rancid and turn you off the taste.

2) Eat Your Water: Add some more water to your canned food

Now having the majority of your diet in wet food will help you feel full just because of the water content. And that's a good thing. There are additional ways to help you feel full that you should explore as well.

a) Add more water to the wet food to make it into a paste and then smear it over a dinner-sized plate so you have to work more to lick it all up. This may slow you down a bit and thus give you a greater chance to feel full, faster.

b) Mix one can of food with up to 1/2 can of water to make cat food pudding or soup.(This is my favourite tip and one I use all the time.) This increases the volume of food in your tummy so you will feel full. Make sure to use water either at room temperature if you are mixing up a fresh can, or lukewarm water if you are making mix with something that has been in the fridge. We all prefurr our food just very slightly warm.

Just make sure not to increase the water so much that you just gulp the stuff down really, really fast. Because you might throw it all up! So how much water you add and how quickly you introduce it is a matter of experiment.

Does this mean you don't need a water bowl? Of course not. In fact I strongly recommend more than one source of drinking water in your home. I have three in the house and two outside (yes, I'm spoiled). Remind Herself to locate at least one such bowl quite a distance away from your feeding area. We tend to prefer to drink in a place different than the place in which we eat. And remind her to keep the bowl filled with fresh water daily. Topping up stale water is NOT allowed!

3) Eat Smaller Meals But More Often

If at all possible, increase your feeding frequency (that is, have smaller amounts but more often). Right now you get fed twice a day and beg during the rest. By all means keep those two feeds.  I definitely recommend adding a just-before-bed feeding to keep your tummy happy during the night. What is the possibility of kibble in the afternoon? The point is to keep you feeding satisfied and on an even keel, rather than having you go from full-to-starved-to-full during the day.

Again, using my previous example (an 85 gram or 3 ounce can of Fancy Feast Classic Pate Turkey with Giblets) plus the kibble of your choice, here is a possible meal plan:
Breakfast: 2/3 can of cat food at breakfast (when you usually have it)
Afternoon or After Nap: kibble (1/2 the appropriate amount of your dry ration) as an afternoon snack - or something you eat on your own when Herself is not at home or supervising. (The other half would be saved for treats.) Don't worry, I'm saving up the kibble advice for the section entitled Work For It.
Dinner: 2/3 can of cat food at dinner time (when you usually have it)
Bedtime: 2/3 can of cat food just before bed.

4) Slow Down

We know that eating slower allows our digestive system to acknowledge that food has arrived to our stomachs. In general, eating more slowly enables to you feel satisfied on less food. And this is all about feeling satisfied.

To slow down a bit more, take your food in a muffin tin (as suggested in the August 2011 issue of Veterinary Medicine) or a  mini-muffin tin as recommended by Cold Noses Chronicle. Have Herself put small dollops in each receptacle. Basically  you have to work harder and over a larger surface to get everything out and that slows you down.

5) Puzzle it out: Take advantage of your natural curiousity and intellect to enhance your dining pleasure.

Mohijo, you need more challenge in your life. I think part of the reason for your current food behaviour is that you are bored.

You say that you are very, very curious - which means that novelty and challenge would interest you. And you classify yourself as an intellectual which means that an indoor environment probably bores your to tears. And that means that eating becomes a source of recreation and stimulation. We need to add more spice to your life, especially since winter is coming and you live in Canada. You stay primarily indoors in winter when you note a weight gain (likely though inactivity) and I suspect Herself doesn't necessarily have the time to provide you with challenging physical workouts on a consistent basis.

As a regular reader of my blog, you know I'm a great fan of food puzzles.  And they offer a purrfect solution.

Food puzzles are items you have to figure out on your own; no human action involved after the puzzle is set up which is why purrsons tend to like them. Many such puzzles can start out easy (until you get the hang of it) and then be made increasingly complex so they will continue to challenge you. They are available in homemade (very inexpensive) versions, very reasonably-priced bought versions, and more intricate (though also easy clean and well-made) bought versions designed by behaviourists (and others) who understand what a cat needs for challenge. For more, general, information on food puzzles, consult behaviourist  Pam Johnson-Bennett.

Here are some resource to consult as well.

For homemade versions of food puzzles go to Frederick Cat Vet clinic site for photos and instructions. Watch the Lincoln Land Animal Clinic video of a cat working a puzzle made from a plastic water bottle. See also the article Work It Kitty which includes a video of a cat using a yogurt container treat dispenser.

And do get a copy of the book Playtime for Cats from your favourite bookstore or local library. In the book, have a look at the chapter, For the Curious Cat (yes, that's you Mohijo) - Searching and Unwrapping, as well as the chapter, For Strategists - The Fumbling Board for Cats. There are clear instructions and photographs your purrson can follow.

For reasonably-priced entry-level versions of puzzles, try one of the treat balls developed for cats who need to slim down. One such example is the SlimCat food ball. Many brands and versions are available at pet stores or veterinary clinics.

For more intricate puzzles you can buy, have a look at the video of the Animal Rescue website or check out the Trixie products. I've received good comments about the Cat Activity Fun Board and the Mad Scientist.

Whatever you have your purrson make or buy for you, remember the following rules.

a) If the puzzle comes with instructions, make sure Herself reads them before she gives you the puzzle. Otherwise you will be in a similar situation to one of my black-furred colleagues, Lucky Little Guy, who was not at all interested in his Mad Scientist puzzle until his purrson consented to review the instructions. She found she had missed a step. And once she corrected her mistake, Lucky found the puzzle to be great fun.

b) Start with the easiest version and work slowly up. If it is too challenging at first, you will walk away. It's just like your purrson learning to play the piano. Start with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and slowly work up to a concerto suitable for the public performance.

Again, don't forget to consult Playtime for Cats for ways to make dining a more strategic adventure.

6) Have A Chat With Your Vet: Find our if your size is right for you

You say you are a healthy cat with Klinefelter's Syndrome. For the benefit of other cats would want to know, this refers to your having an extra "X" chromosome. Females are XX; males are XY; and rarely, as in your case, they are XXY. In males, this can result in a calico or tortie colouring; almost all such cats are female. So you are very special.

There is at least anecdotal evidence that Klinefelter's cats, though often on the small side when born, become quite large in adulthood. Purrhaps the most famous such cat is Brody Baker (described in the article Giant Cats ) who at age 7 weighed 25 pounds (11.3 kg). Before you take this entry and go meow to Herself that you come by your weight honestly, know that one example (even Brody) does not necessarily mean it is true or that it is true for you. That is why I suggest you get veterinary advice; because there could be other factors at play that a veterinarian is best to determine.

And while I'm on subject of veterinary advice: It helps to have your vet on-side for any weight loss program. It is very important the weight is lost very s-l-o-w-l-y; otherwise it can trigger fatty liver syndrome in which the liver converts to fat. Believe me, Mihijo, this is not where you want to go because it can be life-threatening.

Moreover unless you have an accurate scale (something that weighs small sacks of flour or babies accurately - not an adult purrson scale or a scale for small amounts of food), it will be very difficult to monitor your weight loss well enough to ensure that you are actually losing weight and you are not losing it so quickly that you endanger your health.

I know your purrson is budget-sensitive. Tell her that many veterinarians of my acquaintance have weight loss programs for their clients wherein the purrson pays only for the cat's (or - dare I say, dog's) first visit, during which health is checked, baseline weight is taken, a weight goal established along with feeding recommendations. Then monthly weigh-ins are done at no charge.

Of course a veterinarian may suggest a prescription diet designed for weight loss. But that does not means that your purrson is obligated to purchase one, especially if it significantly ruins the family budget. If your purrson is clear about having limited financial means, she should feel free to ask the veterinarian to recommend a suitable store-bought brand (or type of food) as a component or all of your diet plan. Your purrson needs to be firm about any budgetary constraints so that a choice can be made that suits your catnip fund as well as your dietary needs. Purrhaps you can have a store-bought brand as the prime component of your diet with, say, a supplementary kibble of prescription food. Just a thought.

My last piece of advice comes as an aside. I understand that cats with Klinefelter's Syndrome are often long-legged. If that is true for you, you might experience difficulty in comfortably eating from a dish placed on the floor. (And that might relate to your need to gulp food quickly.) Ask Herself to raise it up an inch or two (2.5 - 5.0 cm) using one or more hardcover books. I have this arrangement at my home, to enhance my dining experience.

In any event, Mihijo. There are plenty of tips to follow to make you feel more satisfied with your diet and thus less annoying to Herself. Do let me know what works for you.

With purrs of encouragement,