Cats and Carbs: An Update on Feline Diabetes

Monday, October 7, 2013 - 1:15pm
Large orange cat with yellow eyes

Guest blog by Louise Murray, DVM DACVIM, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital and author of “Vet Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Protecting Your Pet’s Health”

Diabetes is a real problem for cats in this country, but the good news is that we now have a much better understanding of this condition, and even better, we can cure it in many cases. Best of all, we are learning how to prevent it, which is the ideal strategy for a healthy, happy cat.

Cause: It’s now believed that many cases of feline diabetes are caused by excess carbohydrates in the diet. Dry cat foods in particular can be high in carbohydrates. Cats are not designed to properly metabolize carbohydrates, and cats on dry food may become obese. Additionally, the excess of carbs forces the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin, to overwork. Over time, the pancreas can become exhausted, and lose the ability to make sufficient insulin. This lack of insulin causes diabetes.

Treatment: Most diabetic cats have not permanently lost the ability to produce insulin. In order to rest the pancreas and allow it to return to normal function, cats are given twice-daily insulin injections. It’s essential to carefully regulate diabetes so the cat receives the proper amount of insulin to restore the function of the pancreas while avoiding low blood sugar, a potential side effect of insulin treatment.  

The second essential component of treatment is the cat’s diet. For the best chance of curing diabetes, most cats should eat a canned diet formulated for diabetes, or a canned kitten food. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian regarding the best diet for your own cat.

A note of caution: Cats who refuse to eat can become very ill. Any diet changes must be made cautiously, with careful monitoring of the appetite.

For optimal treatment of diabetic cats, it may be advisable to consult with a veterinary internal medicine specialist. We have two on staff at the ASPCA Animal Hospital: Dr. Pomrantz and Dr. Frank. To find a veterinary internist in your local area go to

Prevention:  We all know that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” For diabetes prevention as well as urinary tract and digestive health, we advise feeding cats canned food in meals, rather than allowing them to graze on dry food. Just remember that when attempting to make any change in a cat’s diet, such as from dry to canned food, patience and caution are essential. Never allow a cat to “hunger strike,” which can cause serious illness.

For more information about keeping kitty healthy, or to make an appointment for your pet, please visit the ASPCA Animal Hospital.

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Actually dry food is worse for teeth, contrary to popular belief. The refined carbohydrates (of which there are more in dry food) stick to pre-existing plaque and tartar very heavily. Dry food does not "knock" tartar off teeth, only the scraping action of teeth on hard surfaces like bones or hard chew toys can knock tartar off teeth. Dry food knocking tartar off teeth is like saying that eating cheetos knocks tartar off teeth. A good product for dental health is "Biotene Veterinary Water Addtivie" its an enzyme formula with no taste, that helps break down existing plaque and tartar. It contains no antiseptics or antibacterials like chlorhexadine (which some companies shockingly use in dental products -fyi animals should NOT be consuming antibacterials! its terrible for the liver). Cats can be finicky about tooth brushing, if they absolutely will not cooperate, you can just use a cloth to wipe the teeth down, this at least wipes off newly forming plaque and tartar.


Thanks Emma!! :)


My cat was diagnosed in January with diabetes. Her back legs weren't working well and I was told it was neuropathy due to the diabetes. After an expensive week at the vet with blood sugar level tests, the "prescription diet" they sold me, and the purchase of insulin (which is pricey!!) I began doing research. I switched my cat to a quality grain-free diet amd within a week or two she no longer needed insulin. (I give her primarily dry food, by the way.) Periodic checks of her blood sugar levels have been consistant AND the neuropathy disappeared after a couple of weeks. Perhaps we caught the diabetes earlier than I initially thought. Perhaps the cat was just lucky. But I'd recommend a grain-free diet for all cats now that I've seen health improvements in all my cats on the diet.


My Orange Tabby "Sherbert" is a sugar Kitty.
We are very blessed to have this special one. He was a rescue. He became huge. He was diagnosed last March. I know make my own cat food. I have a blog about this. with Resources, Recipes and such.
There was very little info available ablout this. I was running blind. But Sherby is now stabilized. He still is partially crippled, but he has adjusted quite well.


What is the link to your blog? I have a huge cat that is just getting bigger. I had him tested for just about everything but I don't think diabetes. I'm going to pursue.


1st quit getting tested at the vets. You can do home remedy and save a bunch of dollars.
Your cat is too fat.You need to give your cat hi protein lo carb diet.
Get rid of dry. Except as a treat. I started making mine rabbit pate using no nitrite bacon. I have a recipe on my blog.

I have a 17 year old cat that has been eating raw meat since we rescued him and he is the leanest and most fit cat of the 4 we have.
He does not get innoculations anymore. As a matter of fact after 10 yo they don't need them. You waste your money. I also went to craig's list for my insulin pens. I also give Sherby a b12-Methocobalin supplement for his neopathy.

You really have to have it inside you to care for these kinds of animals. If someone thinks brushing the cat's teeth is a pain then they should surrender it to someone who will dedicate the time. This disease affects the whole family. Sherbert gets 2 injections a day along with his supplement that he hates. It literally takes 2 people to give him it. Afterwards He gets 1 serving size of temptations. Wet pates are the best hi-protein. Use Canned. I smash the dry in a food processor and sprinkle it on top as a seasoning. The carbs are in the mass shape it is. Grind it up you bust up the carbs. No gravies or cheese.
I brush Sherbert's teeth 2 times a day.You can get a cheap pet brush at Walmart.

Just Me

I have been a loving mother of 8 cats total. I currently have 3 who are 7 yrs. old and very healthy. All but 4 of the past 5 lived to be 14+ (my precious Emmi was a stray and a parasite took her life at 8 yrs.). Now I read that I should surrender my cats because I am unable to brush their teeth. Really, that's how you see it? You're awesome.

Just Me

I forgot...not one of my cats lost teeth, had periodontal disease or diabetes. You should be a little more careful how you make harsh statements. Surrender is pretty drastic.


I can't believe how personal people take things. It's just a general statement. It takes alot for special needs anything. People too. I just stated that if you have a special need kitty and brushing his teeth just happens to be one of the things a person should do to help give a better quality of life then it's something to consider. If one does not want to take on the burdens that having a special need. then they should consider giving it to someone who can. I have seen alot of animals just either abandoned or euthanized because of the extra care and expense it takes. to care for a sick animal. Not everyone considers them their family. You should not be so quick to jump to defense. I have had many cats in my life all of them rescues and each has it's own issues. Orange tabbies are prone to more disease then other breeds. Not sure why but they are. None of my cats ever had dental issues. He doesn't now. But because he's on soft food diet the chance is better he would. So we brush his teeth. I lost 1 orange cat to leukemia and this one has diabetes. It's not a death sentence just alot more care involved. Just be prepared for the long haul. ]
Oh and because of your rudeness I can say you are awesome too.:)