KITCHENER -- New research from researchers at the University of Guelph suggests it might be better to reduce the number of times people feed their cats during the day.

Animal nutrition specialists at the Ontario Veterinary College and Ontario Agricultural College have found feeding cats one large meal a day might be more effective at controlling their hunger than feeding them multiple times in a day.

The research was published in the journal "PLOS One," a release from the university said. It showed that cats that ate one meal each day showed less food-begging behaviour.

Cutting back on the number of feedings in a day can also help reduce the risk of obesity, the study found. Researchers said it helps control cats' appetites, encouraging them to eat less. They said this is especially important because obesity is a common nutritional problem for cats.

“These findings may surprise the veterinary community and many cat owners who have been told their animals need several small meals a day,” study co-author Adronie Verbrugghe said in the release. “But these results suggest there are benefits to this approach.”

The U of G said this is the first study to analyze appetite-suppressing hormones, physical activity, energy expenditures and use of energy sources.

“There was no good research to back up the several-meals-a-day approach that many owners hear, and so we wanted to put some real data behind current feeding recommendations to be sure they were right for cats,” co-author Kate Shoveller said.

The study looked at eight healthy-weight indoor cats under the age of five. Each of those cats was exposed to the feeding regiments for three weeks, getting the same diet and amount in either one meal or four. Some of the cats were only fed in the morning, while the others were given the same amount spread over four smaller meals.

The cats also wore activity monitors to measure voluntary physical activity. The researchers measured the cats' metabolism through their breath and blood.

According to the study, cats fed four times a day had higher physical activity levels but overall energy expenditure was similar between the two groups. The cats' weight didn't change over the course of the study period, regardless of their feeding schedule.

Cats that only ate once a day had higher levels of appetite-regulating hormones after their meal, which researchers said suggests they were more satisfied. Those cats also showed a lower fasting respiratory quotient, which researchers said shows they were burning fat stores.

The cats that only ate once per day also had a larger increase in blood amino acids, which means more protein was available to them. Researchers said this is important because cats tend to lose muscle mass as they age.

“Physiologically, it makes sense that feeding only once a day would have benefits,” Shoveller said. “When you look at human research, there’s pretty consistent evidence that there are positive health outcomes with intermittent fasting and improved satiety.”

The researchers said they would like to do longer studies on the topic.

“This approach is really yet another tool in a veterinarian or a cat owner’s toolbox for managing a cat’s weight and keeping their animals healthy and happy,” Verbrugghe said. “But we always have to look at each individual animal and account for the cat’s and owner’s lifestyle. So although this approach might be helpful to promote satiety in some cats, it might not help another.”