Can Diabetic Cat Food Provide
a Truly Useful Dietary Option?

How the right diabetic cat food, including the 'Catkins Diet' can keep the feline pancreas in working order and support feline weight management.

The Big Picture

Feline diabetes is a difficult problem to live with, so prevention is better than having to look after a cat that needs injections twice a day. 

One of the most interesting recent developments is that diabetic cats respond quite well to dietary management and there are new commercial diets developed to help.

The key change in thinking is to replace carbohydrates (CHO) with protein and to have a moderate amount of fat and fibre. This is a departure from previous recommendations as we have realized that while most cats can use CHO for energy, some cats have a metabolism that is ‘tricked’ into diverting CHO straight into fat! 

Thus, modern feline diets are once again starting to be more like mice - high protein, no carbohydrate and moderate fat!

It is can be very hard to live with a cat on a diet. We have even had some felines go feral on their owners and attack them or another cat in the house when their calorie intake was restricted! So some perseverance, redirection and thick gloves may be needed.  

On the plus side, however, the new diet recommendations for diabetes are also working very well for cats who need to lose weight.

Clients are telling us that their cats aren’t being as vocal nor as demanding of food as they have on other reducing diets. The latest version of dietary management for cats and dogs (the Hills prescription ‘Metabolic diet’) is an even more technically advanced way of getting the pounds off you pussy (or puppy dog!) without having to live through the ‘I’m dying of starvation’ issues.

The Nitty Gritty

Currently, the diatetic recommendation is a return to the ‘natural balance’ in a cat’s diet.  Mice are, of course, mainly protein, and highly digestable protein at that, with some fat and a bit of fur (fibre)!  

And a high protein - low carb diet is, of course, the Atkins diet, so the diabetic cat food diet is often called – the Catkins Diet! 

The feline metabolism is actually closer to that of cattle (cat vs CATtle! See the relationship?-) as both rely more on fatty acid metabolism than on glucose metabolism for their body energy requirements.  Their need for glucose is quite low in comparison to humans and dogs, as their main organ that needs glucose exclusively as its fuel is the brain. 

Choosing commercial diabetic cat food

There are several commercial diets – wet and dried – to cater for the diabetic (and even just the overweight) cat. 

The ‘critical analysis’ for the diabetic cat food diet, has 38% protein as a minimum.  The higher the protein level the better.  Also, the more digestable the protein is, the less work it is for the cat’s pancreas and digestion in general.  This means you should be using animal muscle meat protein and not animal by-product protein or vegetable protein.  

Protein levels of 46% is pretty standard among the manufactured varieties, and they also have the smallest amounts possible of carbohydrate (‘flour’ to hold the dried biscuit kibble together), as these starches and ‘carbs’ require the pancreas to produce insulin in order to process them.. 

All the commercial varieties are fully feline-tested for palatability and metabolisable energy requirements.  Your cat, however, may feel differently about the offerings, so sometimes a home-made diet is needed to kept your feline functioning.  

Home Made Diets

There are a number of sites on the web that offer recipes, and the variety indicate that, while a cat’s nutritional requirements are fairly strict, fulfilling them can be done in numerous ways.  The recipes vary from a ‘manufactured or home-made mouse equivalent’ to a vegan cat diet. 

Interesting and true – all of them supplement the diets with taurine (synthetic) and various B vitamins, so I guess it is tricky to get the perfect mouse substitute!  

Prescription Foods

I am happy to recommend prescription (i.e. commercially manufacutured) dried and tinned food from any of the companies that produce them.  The companies have to go through some forms of testing before they can advertise the product, and while any individual cat can have a problem with any individual diet, on the whole the high protein types work fine.  The only version I do not subscribe to is the Hills R/D or W/D, either dried or tinned as being a suitable diabetic cat food – that is old technology.  

It gets tricky when a cat has renal issues as well as diabetes (a combination becoming more common as our feline friends age with us) because the treatments/dietary requirements are diametrically opposed.  

Cats with renal issues, who are on Renal diets need ‘low protein’ (actually, they need low-phosphorus but since that is a big component of animal protein, it does mean restricting protein somewhat) while diabetic cat food needs to be high protein. It is possible to juggle them using phosphate-binders and potassium citrate to alkalinise the blood, but it is tricky.

Once your (plain old) diabetic cat has started to eat a high protein diet, that may be all that is required for maintenance.  Often for years.  

On the other hand, if your cat requires insulin, the highly digestable, high protein diet will reduce the amount of insulin she needs, because the pancreas is not required so intensively in the metabolism of protein. Therefore the stabilisation process has to adjust both together.

So what do I need to ask about diet for my diabetic cat?

First up, your cat friendly vet should have a preferred diet protocol – what this is varies with personal (vet) preference and local availability.  If your vet has not mentioned diet – it may be your cat is already getting the ‘moused perfect cat food’ !  The various manufacturers have lots of literature about the how and why of their particular approach to the diabetic cat food they produce, and you may choose to inquire into the details.  

However, in the end, the cat will force the choice, and you might as well wait and see what Fluffy will eat before you check out other options.  I always say it is easier to modify what a cat WILL eat, than insist on the Best Thing for a cat to eat – as food choice is central to the feline favorite past time of being fussy with their food!


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