More than half of the pets in the U.S. are overweight or obese, a condition that causes cats a host of health problems and impairs their quality of life.

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Because implementing weight-loss plans can be challenging for cats and pet owners alike, Megan Shepherd, assistant professor of clinical nutrition; Lauren Dodd, clinical nutrition resident; and study sponsor Purina set out to discover how owners’ perceptions of their cat’s quality of life were influenced by adding food toys to the cats’ weight-loss regimen.

Forty-four overweight cats were enrolled and randomly assigned to groups with or without food toys. In addition, wearable activity monitors were used on some cats to record changes in their activity levels. Each cat was given a customized weight-loss plan, including weight-loss food and low-calorie treats. By completing monthly questionnaires, owners recorded their perceptions of their cat’s quality of life.

The research team’s hypothesis — that cats in the food-toy group would be perceived to have a better quality of life — was not proven. Interestingly, quality of life also was not tied to the amount of weight each cat lost or the cat’s “success” in the program.

The team did discover, however, that weight loss seemed to improve the cat’s daily functioning, including mobility, grooming, and overall mood. Since weight gain is typically gradual, many of the owners hadn’t realized just how much the added pounds had affected their cat’s quality of life.

They also discovered that Purina’s Fortiflora probiotic product was useful in getting cats to eat vegetables as a low-calorie snack. This finding has high clinical relevance because veterinarians and owners can implement this “diet hack” to help cats lose weight.

Dr. Dodd will present this research and aims to publish it later this year.

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This compilation of the study's fabulous felines also includes some "blooper reel" images that were too silly to include elsewhere. Thank you to all participants who submitted photos and testimonials!