Is A Specific Food Required for Diabetic Cats ?
Diet is the second most important part of diabetes treatment after insulin injections. Proper diet decreases the need for insulin. However priority should be given, if present, to complications or concomitant diseases that are often more severe and that may have their own nutritional demands.
Because it is part of the treatment, the diet will be prescribed by your vet. She may put together a home made diet or advise and sell you a processed food designed for diabetic cats. Processed food can be dry or canned. Canned food may be preferred by some vets, because they can reach higher protein contents.
Obesity is a prominent factor of diabetes onset. Obesity comes from inappropriate diets containing too much carbohydrate, from cats’ habit to eat too much by grazing throughout the day, and/or from the lack of physical exercise of indoor cats. A diabetic cat diet aims at rectifying all the mistakes that led to obesity or overweight.
What to feed to diabetic cats
Diet composition: cats are obligate carnivores; their natural regimen is made up of small preys that contain very little carbohydrates and a lot of proteins. Healthy cats should eat food with a maximum of 20-25% of calories coming from carbohydrates. Modern diabetic cat diets are even lower in carbohydrates: around 10% of their energy comes from simple or complex sugars. They are low in fat and high in proteins and fibers. They aim at lowering blood glucose and thus at decreasing the need for endogenous and/or exogenous insulin.
Weight management: if your cat is obese of overweight, you will have to bring its weight down, but not too rapidly to avoid the risk of hepatic lipidosis. It is recommended that you decrease its weight at a pace of 1% per week and without going over 2% per week.
Concomitant diseases: your diabetic cat is at increased risk to suffer from renal disease, which is the most frequent chronic disease in aging cats. Cat renal diets are usually low in proteins because it is the easiest way to limit phosphorus content. In addition, proteins are not advised in the latter stages of renal disease. Thus, your vet may give priority to a low protein food and compensate for the excess in carbohydrates by an increased insulin dose.
Similarly in case of concomitant pancreatitis, priority can be given to low fat instead of low carbohydrate diet content.
How to feed diabetic cats
Feeding cats may seem easy: your cat eats what you give it. It does not get around the same way as humans do. However, there are two issues that deserve your attention:
- The new food may be less palatable to your cat. Cats do not like changes, especially when they concern their food. In addition, food for diabetic cats contains a lot of fibers that cats usually do not like. This decreased palatability may make your cat eat less than what your vet had initially recommended. It will destabilize the treatment and could lead to dangerous episodes of hypoglycemia. The best is probably you can manage a transitional period by progressively replacing the previous food by the new one.
You will have to note daily the food leftovers, so that your vet can precisely interpret the evolution of the disease.
- Outdoor cats hunting habits may perturb the diet. Cats like hunting small preys that add to their meals. As you do not necessarily see it you may not be aware of this extra calorie intake that may unbalance the treatment.
Drinking water should be available all the time.
When to feed diabetic cats
Cats fed with low carbohydrates diets, have little post-prandial hyperglycemia. They do not require a tight synchronization between meals and insulin injections as it is the case for dogs. It is recommended that you feed your cat on a regular basis, ideally two to three times a day, with the same amount of food, at the same times every day.