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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

What Food is Best for a Cat with Diabetes?

May 24, 2013 / (6) comments

The great majority of diabetic cats have what is called Type 2 diabetes. This means that, early in the course of the disease at least, they are still producing levels of insulin that should be adequate for normal body function. The problem is that the rest of the body has become less sensitive to insulin, almost always due in large part to the hormonal effects of obesity. To have an effect on blood sugar levels, the pancreas has to crank out ever higher amounts of insulin, which eventually exhausts the pancreatic beta cells responsible for insulin production.

If Type 2 diabetes is caught early and treated appropriately, enough beta cell function may remain, allowing the cat to eventually be weaned off insulin injections (called a diabetic remission). This is not usually true for more advanced cases, however. These patient’s beta cells are permanently worn out, and insulin injections remain necessary for the rest of the cat’s life.

The ideal food for diabetes management must achieve three goals:

  1. Blunt the wild swings in blood sugar levels thereby decreasing the amount of insulin the body needs
  2. Promote weight loss to reduce the negative hormonal effects of obesity
  3. Cats must want to eat it


Let me focus on point three for a moment. If a cat won’t eat a food, it obviously can’t have a positive effect on the patient’s condition. Equally important with diabetes is that insulin doses need to be modified based on how much food a cat takes in. A cat’s prescribed insulin dose is based on the assumption that the patient is eating a specific amount of food. If she eats significantly less, the dose must be lowered to avoid the potentially fatal complications of low blood sugar levels. Disease management is much easier and less dangerous if a diabetic cat looks forward to her meals and eats with gusto, allowing the full prescribed dose of insulin to be given without worry.

Thankfully, many cat foods are available that meet all three of these criteria. I can sum up the best choice with one word — canned. Seriously. All canned foods are high in protein and low in carbohydrates, a combination that promotes weight loss and steady blood sugar levels in cats, and most cats love canned foods, unless you’re dealing with an individual who is addicted to kibble.

Sure, we could go into a lot more detail about exactly which canned food might have the ideal nutrient profile for managing diabetes, but that’s unnecessarily sweating the details, in my opinion.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Comments  6

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  • Diabetic Cats
    05/24/2013 09:55pm

    I've had several experiences with diabetic cats.

    My first diabetic was completely uncontrolled even though we worked diligently to "even her out". Thank goodness I learned to check her BG prior to any insulin injection. She might eat heartily, but her BG would be 40 afterward. The opposite could also be true - she hadn't eaten in quite some time, but her BG would be 400+. It had to be so hard on her little body.

    Winston was a controlled diabetic and his BG stayed fairly stable. Unfortunately, he was on high doses of Prednisolone because he had cancer and wouldn't eat at all without them. Even though his BG was stable, I still checked it prior to any insulin injection.

    Stella went into remission and didn't have to take insulin any more. The really odd part was that she went into remission when she had to spend several days at the clinic for IV fluids for her chronic kidney failure (trying to get her kidney numbers down).

    For all the kitties, the vet worked with me to try to find a diet that would help with their diabetes and that they liked. He has a handy-dandy list of cat foods, their ingredients, etc etc and, luckily, we were always able to find several that all the kitties would enjoy.

  • 08/24/2013 08:51am

    Our cat went from 4 units 2 times daily to 1 unit 2 times daily on Lantus. The problem has been he bottoms out but shows NO SYMTOMS. This has not happened for a while and since he was a semi-feral older cat testing at home is impossible. We get a check up every 3 months with a frucostimine done. Anyone else have this problem ?

  • 08/26/2013 07:12pm

    It sounds like your cat could be in / going in to remission. Fructosamine levels can't tell you whether that is the case - a glucose curve at the veterinary hospital could.

  • 08/26/2013 11:29pm

    they just did one today as a matter of fact. I dropped him off this am and picked him this evening. he is now getting 2 units twice a day and he goes back to the vets in 1 month for another curve recheck at the vets.

  • 09/04/2013 08:09pm

    Hello! It was great to read your blog! I have a diabetic cat who is on one unit of insulin twice a day. You mentioned a list of cat food that your vet gave you. Was there any supermarket type food on the list or just expensive vet food! I have phoned Purina and found that their Felix, as good as it looks range has a low 1 % carb level and 14.5 % protein level. Just wondered what was on the list he gave you as my vet and pet shops only recommend Royal Canin diabetic food which is mega expensive!! Please help!!! Thanks.

  • 09/04/2013 10:10pm

    Hi Kt_Kat,

    The list the doctor gave us is considered low-carb and is 7% carb or less. (1% sounds pretty low - even for a diabetic) It's an old list so I don't know if this is all still true.

    Many are grocery store foods and the list is a 3 page Word document. The highlights:

    Low Carb/Lower Calorie Canned Cat Foods (7% carbohydrates or less)

    Chicken and Tuna Dinner (187 kcal/can)
    Classic Seafood Entree (172 kcal/can)
    Liver and Chicken Dinner (172 kcal/can)
    Mariner's Catch (156 kca./can)
    Mixed Grill (172 kcal/can)
    Special Diet Beef and Liver Entree (181 kcal/can)
    Special Diet Ocean Whitefish Dinner (184 kcal/can)
    Special DIet Turkey and Giblets Dinner (175 kcal/can)
    Special Diet with Salmon (177 kcal/can)
    Supreme Supper (156 kcal/can)

    Fancy Feast
    Beef & Chicken Feast (95.3 kical/3 oz can)
    Beef & Liver Feast (93.6 kcal/3 oz can)
    Chopped Grill Feast (96.1 kcal/3 oz can)
    Chunky Chicken Feast (92.7 kcal/3 oz can - high protein)
    Chunky Turkey Feast (95.2 kcal/3 oz can)
    Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast (84.2 kcal/3 oz can - high protein)
    Filet & Pate Beef & Chicken Feast (90.2 kcal/3 oz can - high protein)
    Filet & Pate Chicken & Seafood Feast (91 kcal/3 oz can)
    Tender Liver & Chicken Feast (89.3 kcal/3 oz can)
    Turkey & Giblets Feast (97 kcal/3 oz can)

    Chicken & Beef Dinner (162 kcal/can)
    Flaked Tuna in Sauce (147 kcal/can - high protein)
    Ground Chicken & Seafood Dinner (154 kcal/can)
    Ground Chiciken & Tuna Dinner (161 kcal/can)
    Ground Chicken Dinner (159 kcal/can)
    Ground Liver & Bacon Dinner (176 kcal/can)
    Ground Super Supper (159 kcal/can)
    Ground Turkey and Giblet Dinner (156 kcal/can - high protein)
    Ground Turkey Dinner (154 kcal/can)

    Chicken & Tuna Dinner (165 kcal/can)
    Chicken Dinner (165 kcal/can)
    Seafood Kitty Chowder (150 kcal/can)

    A 10 pound cat needs about 200 calories (kcal) daily to maintain the same weight.

    None of the dry formula cat foods are optimal for cats who need a low carbohydrate diet.