Research generates new insights into the effect of high-fat diets on cholesterol levels and weight gain in domestic cats
A collaborative team of researchers has found that cats are able to consume a diet relatively high in fat without raising cholesterol levels. The research also showed that, as long as cats’ daily calorie intake remains constant, increasing the proportion of fat in the diet will not affect the likelihood of weight gain. The findings advance understanding of how cats handle dietary fat and reinforce the differences between the nutritional needs of cats and humans.
This research was conducted by scientists from the University of Glasgow and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition – the science centre supporting Mars Petcare brands such as WHISKAS®, ROYAL CANIN and NUTRO®
The study looked at the effects of increases in fat intake and changes in the ratio of saturated to polyunsaturated fatty acids on the levels of cholesterol and other lipids present in the blood of healthy adult cats. Based on studies in humans, it was thought that the diet high in saturated fat could lead to an increase in cholesterol, while the diet rich in polyunsaturated fat would have the opposite effect. In contrast, however, this research found that increasing the proportion of fat in the diet has no impact on cholesterol levels in healthy cats – regardless of whether the fat is provided in the form of saturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids.
“These findings provide fundamental new insights into how exactly cats handle dietary fat and reinforce the crucial differences between the nutritional needs of cats and humans,” commented Dr Richard Butterwick, study author and Head of Nutrition at WALTHAM. “If the same diet fed in this study were given to humans, it would result in a significant increase in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol – a recognised risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
“The study findings therefore support previous research showing that cats have developed physiological coping mechanisms, which have enabled them to successfully evolve on a meat-based diet that is higher in protein and fat than that typically recommended for humans,” Dr Butterwick added.
The research also showed that increasing the proportion of fat in a cat’s diet will not increase the likelihood of weight gain, provided that their daily calorie intake remains constant. This finding reinforces the importance of monitoring daily calorie intake, rather than fat alone, for keeping cats at a healthy body weight. The study forms part of a wider programme of ongoing collaborative research by WALTHAM into the impact of nutrition on body weight in cats and dogs.
This research has been published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research and is available online here: