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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quality of life...

just wondering about the daily stress and angst the cat is put through due to the daily teeth brushing and shots.

Actual cat love...

Skinni - you cannot break down carbs by "smash the dry food", that's like saying you'll get rid of water by turning it into steam, it's still just small bits of the same thing, when you know about enzymes that actually break down carbs, then you can advise others... and don't get me started on buying insulin from craigslist - why not just ask your local dealer for a few!

Whiskas, Kit-e-Kat, Felix, any of the UK versions of cat food which I am sure you must be able to get somewhere are a far higher quality of food than the US ones, the standards for the production of pet food in the UK is approaching that of food for human consumption. Whiskas contains a good balance of meat / poultry / fish and vegetables every time, cats here rarely suffer from dietary problems.

Oh, and while I'm on a rant (don't worry, I'll be off soon), contrary to the ASPCAs claim "Founded in 1866, the ASPCA was the first humane organization in the Western Hemisphere", the RSPCA (called the SPCA until 1840 when Queen Victoria added the Royal) was founded in 1824 and in that year brought sixty three offenders before the courts. In 2012 it had Revenue of £132,803,000, - (that's a cr4pload of dollars), it is the biggest and oldest animal welfare charity in the world.


Kristen Hamilton

If you wouldn't mind, could you please email me and let me know what food you make for your cat with diabetes? I have a cat also with diabetes and rather than trying to read all the labels on canned cat food I would prefer to just make her the food she needs so that it truly is a high protein diet. My email address is [email protected] and I would greatly appreciate the help. Thanking you in advance for your kindness, I remain

Sincerely yours,

Kristen Hamilton


Can you tell me what to look for in grain-free cat foods (wet and dry)? What brands do you feed your cats? Much appreciated!


I use buffalo Blue. It has no grains, or byproducts. It starts out with real meat wheather it is fish turkey salmon, chicken etc. PetsMart carries it here in Texas. I believe in it.


what brand grain free dry food


My cat Larry was just diagnosed with diabetes and the vet has him on the DM diet, I have been researching for other food options for him that is high protein and low carb. Can u please tell me what food u found that has helped your cat greatly so I might try it on my baby boy. He has not started the insulin yet I'm trying to beat this with a change in diet be for we have to start insulin.


What food do you find to give your cat. My cat has just been diagnosed and we need to change his food.

ashley oliver

My vet (a Board Certified Feline Practitioner) told me years ago that the dry food was was causing the epidemic of diabetes and obesity. Now we have the answer--GRAIN FREE dry foods, good quality ones that are not loaded with potato for cheap filler (sweets and yams are fine)--read the ingredients: meat, low glycemic veggies and fruits (like berries), NO rice, barley, wheat, soy,oatmeal, or grain of any kind, and your kitty will be eating well. They are more expensive to buy but end up costing about the same since kitty will eat less because they are nutrient rich (the difference between feeding a steak and a loaf of white bread) and you'll save on vet bills.Gotta go to a good pet stores not the local market--well worth it.


May I ask you what cat food you feed your cat? My 4 yrs. old Graycee
had been very sick when she was 1 yr. old. I had her on "Taste of Home" dry food & now have her on "Life Abundance" dry food. I have been giving her Wellness food in the pouch also, but she will only lick the juice, & not eat the food itself. I want to feed her the best food, but am now a little worried about diabetes, because since she has been eating "Life Abundance", she has gained weight. She is 4yrs. old, & weighs close to 15 lbs. Thank-you in advance for any help you can give me....