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.




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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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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