DIET FOR THE DIABETIC CAT
As most of us know, proper dietary support of diabetes mellitus is very important in overall diabetes management. In cats, diabetes mellitus can actually be reversed if there has not been too much permanent pancreatic damage and if blood sugar can be regulated quickly, the cat can become normal. For most diabetic cats, a low carbohydrate/high protein approach is the best route to accomplishing this goal.
Cats become diabetic when they experience sustained high blood sugar levels for too long. Genetics and diet aside, any cat can be made into a diabetic cat by subjecting the cat to repeated intravenous glucose infusions for a long enough time. Too much glucose in the bloodstream over time depletes the pancreas of insulin as the pancreas struggles to control all that sugar day after day. This eventually creates an insulin deficiency (which is basically what diabetes mellitus is).
In a more natural setting where repeated intravenous glucose infusions do not occur, the problem is a high carbohydrate diet. When we eat carbohydrates and they enter our bodies, there is a rise in blood sugar level that persists for several hours. In the cat, it is more like 8-12 hours, even longer if the cat is obese. All this circulating blood sugar stimulates insulin secretion so that all that sugar can be stored in the body. If the cat is snacking on dry food throughout the day, he or she may be secreting insulin throughout the day as well. This makes for a fat cat and a depleted pancreas.
We have mentioned that a diabetic cat can become normal if blood sugar levels are returned to normal and kept normal for a long enough time. This cannot usually be done without insulin injections but diet is important as well.
We need to minimize the post-meal glucose tide that contributed to the cat's diabetes. One way to do this is to provide very little in the way of dietary carbohydrates. The body still needs sugars to run its metabolism but the patient's liver is happy to make them from dietary proteins and the liver does so without creating any post-meal glucose spikes. This makes for a more even blood sugar level throughout the day and reduces the amount of insulin needed to keep things under control. Sounds great, right?
SO HOW MUCH CARBOHYDRATE SHOULD WE BE LOOKING FOR?
It turns out there is another level before we the ability to use our meal calories. We have to process the fuel/food/calories after they have been absorbed into our bodies. We have to transport them into our cells so they can be used. After all the energy used in processing new fuel/calories is taken into consideration, we are left with metabolizable energy, a common reference in nutrition when evaluating diet. The metabolizable energy is now available to be burned/used so theoretically our 100 Calorie cookie on the plate has provided us with 80 Calories to actually use.
It is the metabolizable energy that concerns us because this is the only way to compare the protein, fat and carbohydrate content of different diets; we have to factor out all the undigestible/unuseable material to be able to compare. Values are expressed as "% ME," in other words, the percentage of the total metabolizable energy.
Once again, the "magic number" for a diabetic cat's diet is <7% carbohydrate ME
Actually finding this information is a little trickier as it will not be on the pet food label. If you are lucky, you can go to the manufacturers web site and find the %ME for fat, carbohydrate and protein. If it isn't available and you still want to know, there will be math involved.
Kibbled formats require a certain carbohydrate content to be molded and shaped but canned diets do not have such limitations which means that this degree of carbohydrate restriction is only possible in a canned diet. There are several therapeutic diets manufactured with carbohydrate restriction fitting the above guideline. Ask your veterinarian for guidance in diet selection.
If possible, 3-4 small meals should be provided daily but if this is impractical, then twice daily feedings in conjunction with insulin administration can be provided.
There are many cats who simply do not like canned food and such diabetic cats can most certainly be regulated with carbohydrate restricted dry foods if necessary but, if possible, they should be transitioned to canned food.
OBESE DIABETIC CATS
Obesity makes for a very difficult diabetic regulation. Weight loss is key and the high protein/low carbohydrate strategy discussed above may have too many calories for an overweight cat. This is where it may be more important to use a different strategy in reducing post-feeding glucose tides. Instead of using low carbohydrate diets and forcing the patient to make their own carbohydrate, it may be better to use fiber (complex carbohydrates) to create a better sense of fullness after a lower calorie meal.
Weight loss improves the ability to achieve diabetic regulation 13 fold but must be done smartly as a greater than 2% weight loss per week is dangerous to a cat and promotes development of liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). A good goal is 0.5-1% weekly. Your veterinarian can design a weight loss plan. Several therapeutic diets are designed for this use.
Your veterinarian is your best source of information for what to feed your diabetic cat. Obviously, there are individual concerns, concurrent illness that may require diabetic modifications, and logistics issues to consider. It is also possible to utilize the services of a professional veterinary nutritionist to devise a home made diet. The biggest point is that diet strategy is a very important part of diabetic regulation. See your veterinarian for recommendations.
Page posted: 1/20/2010