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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 www.acvim.org.

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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Dyane

I have a nine year old Neutered male cat who was diagnosed with diabetes this summer. I have spent so much money on vet bills (over $2,000) trying to get his blood sugar regulated. He weighed 17 pounds at the time he was diagnosed, he was not fat he is just a very big kitty. He now weighs 13-1/2 pounds and is receiving 5-1/2 units of insulin twice a day. He still drinks a lot of water, urinates way too much (I have to change his litter box 3-4 times a day) and he sometimes pees on the floor, furniture or what ever he wants to. I changed his moist food to Fancy Feast Classic and a little Fancy Feast dry food.

Where did you find the organic brewers yeast? I have to try something else because I just retired and my income has decreased substantially. What kind of grain free food do you feed you little girl? I need all the help and suggestions I can get. Thank you

Kathie

Can you tell me how many ounces of can food should I feed my cat if I want to switch and how many times per day (if more than once?) Thank you!

Dyane

Check the can for feeding instructions, it recommends the weight for the amount to feed them.

Emma

A wonderful food for cats with Diabetes is a raw food diet. If you can afford it, you can buy ready made frozen versions (brands like Natures Variety make a wonderful frozen raw food). Raw food has less than 5% carbohydrates, compared to dry cat foods 40-50% carbohydrates. If you cant afford to buy the ready made stuff, but you have free time, pick up a book like Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Cats and Dogs. Or Dr. Ian Billinghursts BARF Diet (bones and raw food). These teach you how to make a completely balanced raw food diet at home!
You could also go 50-50. 50% Raw frozen diet, and 50% canned wet food.

Julie Anderson

My cat was diagnosed with diabetes and put on insulin. We did some research and learned of the high carb connection and transitioned her to a low carb diet of the canned pate type food. Within 3 weeks of diagnosis, she was completely off insulin and has remained that way for 10 mos so far. If your cat is currently on insulin, and you want to change its diet, it's VERY IMPORTANT to consult with your vet first to work on a strategy to reduce their insulin. When you reduce the carbs in the diet they will need far less insulin and you don't want them to have a hyoglycemic event which can easily lead to death. We monitor her glucose at home with a meter and check the carb content and ingredients of any wet food we give her; foods with gravy all have too much carb, the pate ground foods are mostly ok. There is now a "Zero carb" dry food for cats from a specialty manufacturer and we have used this successfully to supplement the wet pate food.

Julie Anderson

I want to ad that the food we feed her is mostly the 12 flavors of Fancy Feast Classics--these are the small cans with the pate type food that say "Classic" along the bottom of the label...the "Grilled" or "Elegant Medleys" or "Sliced", "Grilled", "Gravy Lovers", "Marinated Morsels" or "Mornings" are NOT SUITABLE for managing diabetes. We also feed Friskies pate foods. The Zero Carb dry cat food I'm referring to is made by YoungAgainPetFood.com, you can find it from web search. I feed 3-4 small wet meals a day (1.5-2oz)and leave out a couple Tablespoons of dry for her to graze on so she doesn't have to process big meals which might spike her insulin. Now that she is off insulin and on this diet I test her insulin at home 2-3 mornings per week, very easy once you get the hang of it. The website that helped me most with this was felinediabetes.com. Their message board is excellent and full of people willing to help you get your cat regulated and hopefully off insulin. They also will point you to lists of commercial cat foods that are low carb and suitable for helping managing diabetes. Raw food is nice if you are ambitious, but there are economical commercial solutions which might be more convenient for you -- you don't have to buy special pricey "diabetic" food from your vet (which often is high carb!)

Marnet

I've had a pair of litter mates, both of whom became diabetic although the other two cats in the household eating the same diet did not develop diabetes. So, likely there is a genetic predisposition for the two w/ diabetes. One died of lymphoma but the other is still with me.

Have done the home blood glucose testing and insulin shots for some years. Experimented with diet and have managed to get the remaining diabetic cat off insulin and glucose levels in good control with the following mix of foods:

1/2 the food offered is low carbohydrate canned food
1/2 the food offered is a zero carb dry food

Yes, there is a dry food with zero carbohydrates. It took me years to find it and it is available only online at this time. I found it at www.youngagainpetfood.com With my veterinarian's permission, I switched to that dry food about nine months ago and have had excellent results.

NOTE: I am NOT affiliated in any way whatsoever with Young Again Pet Food. I merely am a consumer who is so far cautiously satisfied with using their zero carb cat food. If you have a diabetic cat and think you may wish to try using it for your cat, please consult your physician first!!!

I will say that feeding presciption diabetic cat foods, such as those from Hill's Prescription cat foods, Science Diet, and Royal Canin did not work well for my cats and, in fact, made their diabetes worse in some cases. But then, not all cats will respond quite the same so you need to keep an open mind.

However, I will say I believe that had I found this zero carb cat food years earlier, the other diabetic cat might have responded well to it, had less inflammation of the pancreas caused by diabetes and might not have developed fatal lymphoma in the pancreas from the chronic inflammation. That is mere speculation on my part but I can't help wondering if my poor kitty might have survived without pain and with a good quality of life had I found the zero carb food earlier. I'll never know and cannot know. But I am certain that my remaining diabetic cat is doing well with the zero carb dry food as half his diet.

Johanna

I wonder why modern cats can't eat fresh or boiled fish and/or meat like liver instead of all the unnatural canned and dried foods.
My mother would buy a big fish' head, boil it with a slice of wholewheat bread and some green veggies and our big male cat would eat from it for one week.
He never had any sicknesses!

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Jeanette

I have a two fold challange... I have two cats 1) 12-yr old diabetic in stable and happy remission 2) a 13yr old newly diagnosed hyper thyroid girl kitty.

My 12 yr old orange tabby was a sugar kitty breifly but changing his food emmediately and sustably has put hid diabesetes in remission. I check his blood and ketone now and then but after 6 months no reasons for concern have cropped up.. Good news.
But 3 or 4 months into the food change my Grey and white short hair tabby went from the occasionl grass induced vomit to now vomitting almost daily to some degree. After a vet visit and testing it turns out she has become hyper thyriod. Her organs and over all health otherwise are in great shape axxording to the vet. Studies show indoor (mine or both innies & outies) cats who eat canned cat food are much more likely to become hyper thyroid. There are many possible reason....daisy might be have become hyperthyroid regardless of canned food but it has me thinking. My pure bred siamese ate dry most his life and lived to be 22. I'd like to find a dry food for diabetic cats. Maybe switch to a rawmeat- dry mix to see if this helps Daisy the 13 yr thyriod kitty since Tigger orange ex-sugar kitty can eat that . This would remove the possible toxins from metal-canned food. I use the Evo- hi protein. Not sure if all canned food have the inside coating that has been linked to possible thyroid issues.

I will likely end up doing the iodine nuclear treatment if food change doesn't work or i find I cant pull it off. The iodine treatment while successful has side affect while % wise are low still concern me. Its not easy being a grown- up... Regardless of who you are taking care. And introducing radiation into the solution is not fun. But maybe the best long term solution. Sorry for not going into too many detils. Those who know what Im talking about with out a lengthy explanation will be the ones who have the knowledge to to helpfully respond.

Anyone with experience for Hyperthyroid kitty's that might be helpful, your comments would be appreciated.

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