30 July 2016

INNOVATION - Feeding the Cat Just Got More Interesting

Bringing all the goodness of the great outdoors inside will help ensure domestic cats are getting the best when it comes to meal time.

That's the thinking behind the NoBowl creation – an indoor hunting system for cats - by veterinarian, Liz Bales.

The Philadelphia vet hopes mimicking cats' natural feeding habits outdoors will mean less indoor issues for owners to deal with, especially the so-called scarf-and-barf syndrome.

“They need portion control. They need regular exercise. They really should be in charge of their own feeding schedule,” Bales told the New York Times. “All these factors boil down to cats should not be eating from bowls.”

Bales says NoBowl isn't just about trying to eliminate the icky need for owners to contend with cat puke but about the health of felines especially at a time when research shows nearly 60% of cats are overweight or obese.

While most would-be fixes have focused on lower-calorie food or portion control, Bales says the solution isn't about making meal time play time but instead should be a return to the wild ways which kept felines in fine form.

Indoor living, touted by many as the most responsible way to keep a cat and offer it a longer life than it would have if permitted to go outdoors, suppresses cats' natural hunting instincts, Bales explained to the New York Times.

In their natural environment, cats eat about a dozen times a day, dining on delicacies like mice and birds and the NoBowl Feeding System is designed to simulate cats' natural feeding habits.

“When cats are fed from a bowl, they are denied the ability to fulfill (the hunting) instinct,” the NoBowl website states.

“Their bodies are often over nourished while their instincts are starved. A cat's frustrated hunting instincts are commonly redirected into negative behaviours like obesity, vomiting, destructive behaviour, inter-cat aggression and maybe even urinating outside the litter box. While veterinarians have known this for a long time, there has been no safe and effective way to help cats hunt inside of the home.”

Cat owners opting for the system ditch the traditional bowl and instead put small portions of dry food into five plastic containers (wrapped in stretchy, grey fabric and made to look like a mouse,) and hide them for the cat.

So rather than strolling to the big, ol' bowl, the kitty has to work for its dinner.

That puts puss on the hunt for food and when they find it requires them to bat the pouch around in order for food to fall out.

“Some cats just roll it,” Bales says “But with other cats, it’s a full-on rodeo.”

The feeding option is already getting props from professionals.

Dr. Carlo Siracuse with the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, says the real world doesn't see cats have their meals rolled out on the red carpet and it does see them toss about their prey as part of the meal-time process.

“The behaviour pattern is written in the genes of the animal, which means that this is a behavioural need,” Siracusa told the Times. “Paying attention to not just the amount of food, but to the feeding behaviour is a very new concept for veterinary medicine.”

So impressed with the simple but cutting-edge concept, Siracusa joined the NoBowl advisory board.

While some might find the process of stuffing the containers with food and then hiding them somewhat cumbersome, there seem to be many willing to put in the extra work if it means improving their cat's health - with about 3,500 NoBowl customers, so far.

There have been interactive feeding tools for dogs for a while - Kong Wobbler, Starmark Chew Ball, Buster Food Cube, Pet Safe Busy Buddy to name a few.

And if such novel feeding systems are a way to improve pets' health, that is a welcome advantage given the plight of pets these days.

A 2015 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention survey found 58% of cats and 53% of dogs were overweight – yet 90 % of cat owners and 95% of pooch owners incorrectly identified their pet as being in the normal weight category.

The NoBowl retails for $60.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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