Cats join nutrition study at the WCVM

They won’t be walking around the Bowl like the pack of beagles did over the last few years, but a group of cats are joining a nutrition study similar to the one that made the dogs famous at the University of Saskatchewan. 

The beagles that the campus community was so fond of seeing were part of a nutrition study in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) that is growing to include 10 cats named after our favourite hot drinks: the girls are named after teas, like Chai and Earl Grey, and the boys are named after coffees, like Americano and Latte.

"What we found with the beagles was so promising that we expanded the study to cats," said Lynn Weber, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. "But this time we are testing more pulse crops instead of just peas."

The three-year study—funded by Sask. Pulse Growers, Alliance Grain Trades and Horizon Pet Foods—will be testing lentils and fava beans against corn, which is typically used in pet food, Weber said.

"Most manufacturers (of pet food) use more starch instead of protein because it's cheaper, but corn starch has a high glycemic index. Lots of starch might be a reason cats are prone to diabetes and obesity."

It is Weber's hope that replacing the high-glycemic starch with pulse starch, protein and fibre will provide a better diet for both dogs and cats.

"We will focus on cardio, blood pressure and metabolism. We saw benefits in the dogs, and we expect to see even more benefit in the cats because they are carnivores and require more protein in their diets."

The cats recently arrived and are getting used to their new home in WCVM. "They are getting more social, getting along better with each other and they are getting used to us—they weren't used to getting so much attention from people," said Weber.

This spring, more beagles will be arriving on campus to join the study, but it doesn't end with cats and dogs. "We're also going to include aquaculture fish like tilapia and rainbow trout," said Weber.

"It's a big project and we're just getting started, but we're excited," she said, adding that the project also includes researchers Murray Drew and Tom Scott from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and Matt Loewen in WCVM. Kyla Zatti, research associate in both colleges, and grad student Jennifer Briens are also part of the project.

The cats, like the dogs before them, will be placed in family homes at the end of the study.

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