What is the best diet for a diabetic cat?

The best discussion and the best advice that I have seen about a diet for a diabetic cat is in the book Your Cat by Elizabeth M Hodgkins DVM. She writes extensively about feline diabetes (I am referring to sugar diabetes): how to manage it and how to cure it. I’m going to briefly summarise as best I can what she states in her book. I will also recommend that you buy it. It is at the very reasonable price of $9.21 as a Kindle edition download on Amazon.com at the date of this post. Please read it as it may transform your cat’s life. Her advice was presented in 2007 so I’d hope that ten years later many cat owners have already become aware of it.

I would hope that I’m fair in saying that you could almost summarise what Elizabeth Hodgkins says in the following sentence: feed your cat a decent quality wet cat food. This also means not necessarily taking the advice of your veterinarian if he/she recommends one of the prescription diet dry cat foods for diabetic cats. The trouble with these foods is that they are high in carbohydrates because a carbohydrate source must be added to make the kibble.

Elizabeth Hodgkins also says that your veterinarian may recommend a canned wet food which is made for diabetic cats. These foods are okay but some cats don’t like them. This is not a problem because most canned foods are appetising and work “very well to stop the flood of sugar into your cat’s system”.

She makes the point that if your cat is an “early diabetic” simply changing to a wet cat food may be all you need to do to cure your cat of diabetes. She recommends that you should avoid canned foods with apples, carrots, potatoes any kind, rice, corn and any other fruit. She recommends a meat-based food for the lower sugar content.

Another great book on cat health, Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, states that “obesity greatly reduces tissue responsiveness to insulin and makes diabetes difficult to control. Accordingly, overweight cats should be put on a diet until they reach their ideal body weight”. It should be noted that prescription diets, so-called, to assist the cat in losing weight might be inappropriate because once again they will be kibble and kibble is a high carbohydrate cat food which arguably creates a diabetic cat.

In might be useful on this page to quickly mention that if your cat needs insulin after switching to wet cat food from dry, Hodgkins recommend that you suggest to your veterinarian that you use the “animal-source insulin called PZI. At the date of the publication of her book in 2007 this was her recommendation. It is quite possible that due to research things have moved on since then so please bear this in mind.

Your veterinarian may wish to recommend “prescription diets” for diabetic cats that fit your cat’s profile. These diets include Purina DM Feline, Royal Canin Diabetic DS 44, and Hill’s Science Diet m/d Feline (there are no doubt others). As mentioned there’s a good argument to avoid these foods because they are high carbohydrate foods.

It is said that cats on a high-sugar dry cat food diet respond well to the switch to a low-sugar canned food. Obese, diabetic cats begin to lose weight simply by a change to this diet it is said. Less sugar floods the system resulting in less insulin needed to be injected if your cat if he is receiving insulin injections.

The recommendation is to “avoid feeding the whole day’s calories at one meal. Divide the daily ration into a number of small meals. Your veterinarian will be able to advise.

Weight loss alone may be enough to reduce or even eliminate a cat’s need for insulin.

It is said that diabetic cats have a history of eating dry cat food. Elizabeth Hodgkins says that in her experience having treated “hundreds of feline diabetics” all of her patients had been on a diet of dry cat food often exclusively. It does not matter if these foods are of the highest quality. In her experience also, many diabetic cats are neutered males who are moderately overweight. People who care for a cat like this should be suspicious of feline diabetes if their cat changes in the amount water he drinks and “the number of trips he makes to the litter box”.

This is a complicated subject and anything I write no matter how accurate it might be cannot substitute the advice of a good veterinarian but that veterinarian must be enlightened and they must not be peddling prescription diet dry cat food.

One final note about one of a number of examples of how Elizabeth Hodgkins treated diabetic cats. She refers to a cat whose name is Maggie Dunbar.

Maggie was a 10-year-old female cat. Her owners would feed her small meals of premium quality dry cat food with occasional canned food as a special treat. She was losing weight [note from Admin: When diabetes is advanced, many cats are underweight]. She wasn’t eating very well. She was drinking a lot of water. When presented to Dr Hodgkins she was dehydrated and underweight. A blood sugar test showed that her blood sugar levels were very high. She was hospitalised. She was fed canned food only. By the second day Dr Hoskins says that Maggie’s average blood sugar was much reduced, by the third day it was within the normal resting blood sugar levels of a domestic cat. After a week she was back to normal meaning in good health and her blood sugar level was normal. Maggie remained in good health with correct blood sugar levels two years later. And she gained back the weight that she had lost.

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