This article originally appeared on Dr. Mahaney’s Pet-Lebrity News column on Pet360.com as Interview with Veterinarian Liz Bales, Creator of the NoBowl Feeding System.
I’m always eager to share the good works of my fellow alumni from my alma mater, the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Liz Bales, a veterinarian who has taken pet-purposeful ingenuity to a new level by creating a novel product to pique the interest of our feline friends through portion-controlled feeding, graduated one year after me (I finished in 1999) and masterminded theNoBowl Feeding System to help combat the pet obesity epidemic.
Pet obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., with a 2014 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention determining that nearly one million cats and dogs are overweight or obese. That’s 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats in the U.S., which is an unacceptable reflection of how we treat our beloved pets.
The NoBowl Feeding System does more than just fight pet obesity through portion control, it also caters to the need for behavioral stimulation, as many cats live less-than-interesting, indoor lives and are prone to boredom and immobility.
In order to introduce the NoBowl Feeding System to my Pet-Lebrity News readers, I thought it would be best to interview Dr. Bales to learn about her perspective on veterinary medicine and on the physiologic needs of our feline friends to which NoBowl caters.
Q: What event or series of events lead you to become a veterinarian?
A: I was one of those kids who did whatever I could to be around animals. My family was not too big on pets. I spent most of my free time at horse stables, riding, mucking stalls and hanging out with the barn cats and dogs.
When I was 12 years old, I was with a friend when her pony broke its leg. The vet came to care for him and he made a huge impression on me. Unfortunately, it was a very bad break and the pony could not be saved. Even in this terrible circumstance, the vet was uniquely compassionate and gracious to us kids. I will never forget how gentle and tender he was to that pony in his last moments. From that time on, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I ended up working for that veterinarian, learning from him for more than ten years and ultimately making my dream come true by attending the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Q: Do you tailor your veterinary practice to cats, dogs, horses, all the above, or other species?
A: In my career, I have done equine-only, feline-only and dogs and cats work. I have a special interest in the unique behavioral and wellness needs of cats. I find them fascinating. And the bond between a cat and the person who loves them is exceptional.
Q: As a veterinarian having a busy practice that (in-part) caters to our feline friends, what motivated you to create the NoBowl Feeding System?
A: Feline wellness is a major concern of mine. Keeping our cats well and preventing disease is equally as important as curing them. Sixty percent of cats in America are obese, which has very serious health consequences. To my surprise, almost 70 percent of cats in an on-line survey I conducted vomit at least once a week.
In addition, the number one cause of death for cats is euthanasia. This is a terribly sad statistic. The majority of these euthanasias are a result of behavioral problems with the cat. These behavioral problems break the bond between cats and their owners, sometimes irreparably, causing owners to surrender their cats to shelters where death is often inevitable.
Feline behaviorists have known for decades that cats need environmental enrichment to thrive in the indoor environment. Cats have unique needs that they fill naturally in the outdoor environment. When we bring them inside to keep them healthy and safe, we deny them the ability to fill these needs on their own. Our homes are lovely, warm, safe cages. If their natural needs are unmet in the indoor environment and their instincts are denied, then they are very likely to have behavioral reactions that can make them sick and which we humans find very difficult to live with.
So many of the needs of cats link back to their natural hunting cycle in nature. The NoBowl Feeding System is the first and only complete indoor hunting system for cats. The NoBowl Feeding System gets rid of the very unnatural bowl feeding and provides cats the opportunity to hunt in the indoor environment in a way that is clean, safe and easy for their care takers.
Q: Can you fill my Pet-Lebrity News readers in on some of the science/research/biological behavior of cats behind the NoBowl Feeding System?
A: In nature, cats hunt both day and night. Some animals are active only in the day (diurnal), like most humans, while others are active only in the nighttime hours (nocturnal), like raccoons. This is why many cats wake their owners up at night.
Cats hunt somewhere between 9 and 20 times a day. Not every attempt is successful. The average cat requires approximately 250 kcal/day and the average mouse is 35kcal, so a cat would need to eat seven to eight mice a day to maintain its bodyweight. A cat’s stomach is about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and is designed to hold no more than one or two tablespoons of food, an amount equivalent to the edible contents of their typical prey, at one time. This is why your cat can vomit when it eats a big portion of food at one time. Their stomach was not designed to hold that much at once.
Cats have a natural cycle of their day, called “the seeking cycle.” Cats will hunt, and if they are successful, they catch their prey, but they don’t eat right away. Cats play with their prey before they eat then when they are ready, they will eat their prey, groom and finally, take a satiated nap. When hunger stimulates them, they head out on another hunt. It is very unnatural, and not consistent with a cat’s nature, to eat one or two large meals a day. Worse yet, endless access to food in the absence of hunting is making our cats very unhealthy.
Cat’s physical and mental health is based on hunting in this natural cycle. They are both mentally and metabolically designed with the innate drive to hunt and eat many small meals throughout the day and night, yet we are ignoring all of these factors in the way we proved nutrition to our cats. So many of the most common health and wellness problems that I see as a veterinarian are a result of how we feed our cats. Now we can do better.
Q: What is next for you and the NoBowl Feeding System?
A: This is a very exciting time. We tested the NoBowl Feeding System with cats as young as three months and as old as 16 years. We tested single cat households and two cat households and a five cat household. Our results were amazing. Owners reported that once transitioned onto the NoBowl Feeding System, their cats were happier and friendlier. Owners could sleep through the night, because their cats were hunting for NoBowls and not for their owners! Vomiting from scarf and barf was eliminated. And most interesting to me, fights between household cats were nearly eliminated as well.
You see, cats are solitary hunters. When cats eat from one communal location in the home, they cannot carry out their solitary nature during the hunting and eating process. In addition, cats prefer keeping space between them to deal with conflict. When resources, like food, are consolidated it is very difficult to employ avoidance as a conflict-management strategy. With the NoBowl Feeding System, each cat gets one kit, consisting of five NoBowls, which are placed in random locations around the house. This is exactly what the multi-cat household needs to keep cats happy.
And, it looks like the cat-owning public understands and is ready for The NoBowl Feeding System. We launched acrowd funding campaign on Kickstarter on March 10 and were fully funded in just 4 days. The NoBowl Feeding is still available on Kickstarter until April 10.
Thank you Dr. Bales for taking the time to improve the health and quality of life of our feline companions with your ingenuity. I look forward to seeing the response of my cat patients to the NoBowl Feeding System.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Thank you for reading this article. Your questions and comments are completely welcome. Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook. Copyright of this article (2016) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.