Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
Erin Shibley and Chirag Rathod are the parents of cat Miko. "Miko Angelo. Miko Angelo is his full name. Miko in short," says Rathod.
It's noon, and the smell of paninis floats from the kitchen in their apartment in Blacksburg, Va. It smells delicious, especially to Miko, who takes it as a signal that it is also his meal.
"He's a vacuum eater, which means he'll just inhale his food," Shibley says.
Shibley knows her cat's habits. Not just from living with Miko. But recently, he was part of a year-long study at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine designed to understand how to keep indoor cats at a healthy weight.
As part of the study, Shibley, along with Dr. Lauren Dodd, a resident of clinical nutrition at the school, checked in every week at Miko and fed him a special low-calorie diet with high nutrition.
Miko was an ideal candidate for the study: no illnesses and a little chunky.
"We didn't ration his food," Rathod says. "It was totally our fault."
"I used to like, share what I ate with him if he wanted it, which was really bad. And throughout the study he would come to me and try to take my food and I felt like a monster because I would say no, "says Shibley.
Megan Shepherd, a clinical nutrition professor at the Veterinary School, has heard all about this type of fighting between pet owners and their pets and knows who usually wins.
"It is not difficult to feed them into a" food is love "culture," says Shepherd.
While some cats can self-regulate when it comes to food, most indoor cats need help keeping the pounds off. It is estimated that more than half of domestic cats in the United States are overweight. The Virginia-Maryland study – it was, yes, sponsored by Purina – tested how best to do it.
It starts with an assessment on the body weight scale. A score of "1" is deflated and "9" is overweight. "And there are pets that leave the scale," Shepherd says. "We definitely have pets that turn 9 … plus … plus."
When Shibley and Rathod brought Miko in for the study, they thought he might be a seven. It turned out that he was nine – a sober insight.
First change, say veterinarians: put a stop to your cat snacks all day. But cat owners know, cats have ways to get their needs heard – crying all night or jumping their heads, to keep everyone else at rest. One cat in the study ate a whole bag of gluten-free bread in protest.
"If you have a cat screaming for food and yet we still have to keep those calories limited," Shepherd says, trying to feed them vegetables. It is right. One of the big takeaways from the study is that cats should and should eat vegetables.
But Dodd says that it is the link between pets and their people that is the biggest factor for successful weight loss.
A woman with a cat in the study decided to diet with her pet.
"Her cat needed to lose. She needed to lose. So it was in the same way as social support, where she could tell her cat 'no', because if she couldn't eat, the cat couldn't eat either," Dodd says "During one of the check-ins, she told me she had lost about 20 kg."
We checked with Miko Angelo a few months later – and his new program works. "He tends to beg for food," says Shibley, "so he might makes it a little worse this week because my little sister is visiting, and she continues to give him salmon. "
" I gave him like two small pieces of salmon and I felt guilty about it! And I was, I know he's doing so well and he's about to be interviewed and I gave him a treat – he's so sweet, he has those big eyes. "
And we all know how it is. But for felines and people, it's not just about losing weight, it's keeping it away.