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Nutrition Nuggets
 
 
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
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.

Why Exercise May be the Best Medicine for Your Cat's Diabetes

October 25, 2013 / (1) comments

I just finished listening to a podcast produced by the Public Radio show Science Friday called the “Fallacies of Fat.” In it, Dr. Robert Lustig talks about diet, exercise, weight loss, and health and how they are not all related in the ways that you might think.

Dr. Lustig is a medical doctor, not a veterinarian, but I think some of his points could have important implications when it comes to the well being of dogs and cats. I’m going to talk about diabetes and cats here. For my take on weight loss and dogs, head on over to today’s canine version of Nutrition Nuggets.

Diabetes mellitus is on the rise in household cats. Its incidence is currently estimated at 1 in 200-250 cats (0.5%). That may not sound like much until you realize that the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 74,059,000 pet cats were residing in the United States as of 2012. One half of one percent of that number turns out to be 370,295 — that’s a lot of diabetic cats.

The vast majority of cats have what is called type 2 diabetes, meaning that the pancreas is still producing normal amounts of insulin (at least early in the course of the disease), but the rest of the body has a reduced ability to respond to it (insulin resistance). Obesity is associated with an increased incidence of insulin resistance and raises the risk of a cat developing diabetes three to five-fold, so it’s not surprising that veterinarians tend to discuss weight loss as an important way to prevent and treat diabetes in cats. But that emphasis may be slightly off the mark.

Dr. Lustig quotes the statistic that 40% of thin people have metabolic syndrome and are therefore on the road to developing type 2 diabetes. In other words, these people are thin but sick. Other folks are what he calls “fat and fit.” The difference is exercise. Even a moderate amount of exercise is enough to reduce the amount of belly (visceral) fat that is directly linked to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. This is true even if the amount of peripheral (subcutaneous) fat remains relatively unchanged. According to Dr. Lustig, exercise builds muscle, which increases the number of mitochondria where energy is burned. Large numbers of mitochondria are harder to overload so the body makes less visceral fat as a result.

Perhaps veterinarians and owners should be focusing more on increasing the amount of exercise cats get and a little less on how fat they appear to be. Thankfully, we’re not talking exercise on the level of Olympic training here. Simply encouraging cats to move around the house more should suffice.

  • Place the food bowl in an out of the way location so cats have to put some effort into getting their meals. Forcing them to go up and down stairs is ideal.
  • Play with your cat. Toss a “mouse” down the hall or purchase a kitty “fishing pole” or laser pointer to get him or her moving again.

Diet is the other critical component to managing feline diabetes. Simple carbohydrates are the enemy when it comes to managing the disease. They cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels that overload the body’s ability to cope.

Foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates are appropriate for most cats with or at risk for developing diabetes. The carbohydrates that are present should contain a lot of fiber, which helps to slow their absorption from the intestinal tract. This type of diet generally also helps cats lose weight, but Dr. Lustig’s presentation makes me think that we should be seeing that more as a happy coincidence rather than the main point of managing diabetes in cats.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Photohunter / Shutterstock

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Comments  1

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  • Cat-ercise
    10/25/2013 05:17pm

    While all my kitties FLY up and down the stairs with regularity, the running-around-and-playing is minimal. They frequently "fly" up onto the kitchen counters or dining room table. One still hasn't learned that the curtain rod won't hold his weight.

    I find it interesting that kitties I've adopted that were once "street cats" have a tendency to overeat (Oh my goodness. That food dish MAY be empty someday!) while the ones that have always had good care and haven't gone hungry aren't nearly so food-motivated.

    My Winston and Darlene (both RIP) both got pretty chubby, but in my opinion it came in kinda handy when they had eventually had serious health problems (unrelated to weight) because they had something to lose and didn't become skin and bones. Quite honestly, I think the extra weight helped Winston when he battled cancer, we were working to adjust his chemo and he didn't have much of an appetite.

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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