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A diagnosis of diabetes can be life changing, both for you and your cat. Regular trips to the vet, insulin injections and a change of diet… This can be very daunting!
The good news is that diabetes can be managed and even reversed in cats. Feeding the right food and maintaining a healthy weight can help cats go into remission.
Here we’ll have a look at the best cat foods for diabetes and discuss what else you can do for your cat.
Best cat food for diabetes
Best overall – Crave Chicken Pate Grain-Free Cat Food Trays
- Very high protein
- Grain free
- Very low carbs
- Mainly animal sourced ingredients
- Some unnecessary ingredients – cats don’t eat tomatoes!
- Not the cheapest option
- Less environmentally friendly ingredients
- Could be higher in fibre.
Crave is a brand that aims to create diets that meets cats’ nutrient requirements and instinctive drive to eat protein rich food. Meat is always the main ingredient. Crave foods are all cooked in the USA from ingredients from around the world.
This is one of the highest protein and lowest carb foods on the market. It is rich in species appropriate protein and is highly digestible.
While not marketed for helping diabetes, this food is ideal. High protein, low carbs and generally high quality ingredients makes it perfect for helping keep a steady blood sugar level. Crave foods do not contain any grains which is good for cats with grain intolerances.
The only real negative of this food is the inclusion of ingredients that just don’t need to be included. For some reason it has tomatoes in it! This shouldn’t cause any harm, and the vitamins will still be useful, but it’s unnecessary.
This is a great quality food for any cat, particularly cats with grain intolerances or a sensitive tummy.
Best dry food and best budget option – Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DM Dietetic Management Formula
- Very high protein
- Great value
- Very low carbs for a dry food
- Environmentally friendly ingredients
- Dry formulation doesn’t help maintain hydration
- Plant ingredients high on the list
Purina is one of the biggest names in pet foods. The company is well over 100 years old, though they’ve been making cat food since 1963. Purina’s foods are manufactured in the USA and Canada. Ingredients are usually sourced locally, but some are imported.
This food is specially formulated for controlling diabetes. While wet foods are generally recommended for cats with diabetes, this is an exception. This is a fantastic quality food that stands out from any competitors.
This food is high in protein and low in carbs, which is exactly what we want to see in a food for diabetes. It is rare to see nutrient levels from dry food.
Being dry food, this is a very cost-effective way of feeding a cat with diabetes. This leaves you more money to spend on veterinary visits and insulin. This means better control of diabetes.
We would prefer to see more animal ingredients on the ingredient list. But, because the main ingredient is a meal this makes the ingredient list look worse than it is. The ingredients in this food offer a good balance between quality, value for money and environmental sustainability.
This really is a strong contender for the best cat food for diabetes.
Best for overweight cats – Royal Canin Ultra Light Thin Slices in Gravy
- Very high in protein
- Low in fat
- Low carbs
- Low environmental impact ingredients
- Mainly animal source ingredients
- Some grains – not suitable for grain intolerant cats
Royal Canin is a long established brand, with origins in Europe. It is manufactured around the world, and has manufacturing plants in the USA. The majority of food sold in the USA is produced within the USA.
Royal Canin is often prescribed by veterinarians. It has a strong pedigree for producing food for specific life-stages and conditions.
This food is designed for weight loss, but it also is ideal for cats who are overweight and diabetic. This recipe represents exactly what we’re looking for for this circumstance. It has high protein, low fat, low carb and it’s got added fibre.
This is the best weight loss food around. It’s got great nutrition and cats seem to love the taste.
If you need to help your cat lose weight in a sustainable way while controlling diabetes this is the food you want to use.
Best best for underweight cats – Wellness Complete Health Kitten Formula
- Very high protein
- High levels of omega 3, vitamins and minerals
- High meat content
- Low carbs
- Some questionable ingredients – cats don’t eat carrots!
This food is made in the USA with ingredients from around the world. It is high in species-appropriate ingredients with high nutrient density. It is high in quality protein, and low in carbohydrates. There are no artificial ingredients.
This might be labelled as a kitten food, but it’s ideal to help cats gain weight. The high quality of nutrients and ingredients makes it ideal for diabetic cats. This food will help stabilise blood sugar levels while promoting healthy weight gain.
The majority of cats really enjoy this food, so you’re unlikely to see noses turned up!
The only complaint we have is the inclusion of carrots and cranberries. These ingredients are very unlikely to cause any problem to your cat, but they won’t add much either.
Honorable mention – Hill’s Prescription Diet m/d GlucoSupport
- Pate texture that some cats really like
- Also good for weight loss
- Very low carbs
- High in fibre
- Environmentally friendly ingredients
- Less animal ingredients than ideal
- Not all cats like the texture
Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s history goes back over a hundred years. It began in Kansas and gradually expanded from there. It was bought by Colgate-Palmolive in 1976.
Hill’s Pet Care’s facilities in Kansas are one of the most advanced research facilities into pet nutrition. All Hill’s foods are manufactured in the USA with ingredients from North America, Europe and New Zealand.
This food is a great food for diabetic cats because it is high in protein and fibre, low in carbs. This is ideal for stabilising blood glucose levels.
The ingredients are more plant-heavy than other foods which keeps it off our top spot. However, plant protein can be healthy for cats so don’t let that put you off. We think that Crave is a better choice for most cats but this is a food you should definitely consider.
What is diabetes?
The type of diabetes cats get is diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the levels of blood sugar get out of control.
This happens when a hormone called insulin isn’t working as it should. This can happen because the level of insulin isn’t high enough. But in cats the problem isn’t usually that there isn’t enough insulin. The main problem in cats is insulin resistance. There is a normal amount of insulin, but the body stops responding to it normally.
Diabetes in cats is similar to (but not quite the same as) type 2 diabetes in humans.
Cornell University College has a good resource on diabetes here.
What causes diabetes in cats?
It isn’t known exactly what causes diabetes in cats, but obesity is definitely a risk factor. Cats who are overweight are at a much higher risk of becoming diabetic. Overweight cats are also prone to lots of other health problems too.
Older cats, males and certain breeds (like Burmese) are also at higher risk of getting diabetes.
What are the signs of diabetes?
There are four main signs of diabetes you might notice at home:
- Increased urination – excess sugar in urine draws water out of the blood
- Increased thirst – caused as your cat tries to avoid dehydration from all the urination
- Increased hunger – losing sugar into urine causes energy loss
- Weight loss – blood sugar cannot be used normally by diabetic cats and it is also lost in urine.
Weight loss is the last sign to appear. If you notice your cat drinking more, urinating more or seeming hungry get your cat checked by a veterinarian. These are symptoms of serious disease, and not just diabetes.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
Diagnosis of diabetes is fairly straightforward.
A urine sample can show the presence of glucose (sugar). If there is also a persistent excessive level of sugar in the blood, this is diagnostic of diabetes.
Your vet may recommend doing some other tests too to rule out other conditions like kidney disease or hyperthyroidism.
How is diabetes treated?
Treatment of diabetes requires a combination of measures. Both medication and diet are used together to give the best control possible.
Regular monitoring is essential for a good outcome, so make sure you get your cat checked regularly.
The main treatment for diabetes is injections of insulin. Increasing the level of insulin in your cat’s body can help overcome insulin resistance.
Injections are usually given under the skin on the back of the neck, and it’s much easier to do than you might think.
Your vet will advise you on how much to give and how to give it, but here’s a video:
Diet and weight control is very important to controlling diabetes. Overweight cats can go into remission from diabetes when they become a healthy weight. Cats can lose weight when they become diabetic, so it is important to get their weight back to a healthy level.
The right food can help keep blood sugar levels stable, which is exactly what we want when treating diabetic cats.
What’s the prognosis?
Diabetes can be controlled. Some cats can go into remission and never need insulin injections again.
With the right treatment cats can live healthy, happy lives for many years. Diabetes can be complicated, and a good outcome requires a determined effort. Regular treatment, the right diet, getting to a healthy weight and regular checks by a veterinarian are needed.
What makes a good food for diabetes?
The idea behind foods for diabetes is that they help maintain a healthy weight, promote lean muscle growth and stabilise blood sugar levels. There are a number of ways that they do it, but the main way is tweaking the nutrient ratio of the food.
The best weight loss foods for cats are high in protein and fibre, low in carbs. The fat level can vary depending on whether you are trying to help your cat gain or lose weight. We’re looking for a food with a low glycaemic index (GI).
The most important thing about any cat food is the nutrients it contains. Ingredients can vary, but the nutrients must be there. The three most important nutrients to consider when choosing food for a diabetic cat are protein, carbohydrates and fibre.
Protein is a key part of a cat’s diet and is required for all aspects of health. A protein level of 40% is needed to maintain muscle mass. Foods high in protein are tasty and cats love them. Protein does not impact blood sugar levels. So foods high in protein help to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Carbohydrates in cat food are quite controversial at the best of times. The main problem for diabetic cats is that carbohydrates lower a food’s GI. This means that foods high in carbs can cause blood sugar spikes, and destabilise diabetes.
As well as the problems mentioned above, cats are not good at eating large amounts of carbohydrates. Too many carbs can cause an upset tummy because they struggle to absorb them.
Cats with diabetes definitely need to eat a diet low in carbohydrates.
Fibre has no calories at all and is essential for digestive health. The main benefit to cats with diabetes is that fibre helps slow nutrient absorption.
This means that a food high in fibre will lower a foods GI and reduce spikes in blood sugar. This helps to keep diabetes controlled.
Foods high in fibre can help cats lose weight. This is ideal for overweight cats, but if your cat is underweight you’ll need a food lower in fibre.
Some fat is essential in any diet for cats. Fats are needed for skin, coat and brain health. Healthy fats are rich in omega 3 and 6. It is essential that your cat eats a source of animal fat.
Fat doesn’t cause blood sugar levels to rise, so is a good source of calories for diabetic cats. Unfortunately fat is very energy dense. This means that foods high in fat are high in calories too.
This makes foods high in fat good for underweight cats, but be very careful giving high fat foods to a cat who is overweight!
We also need to consider the ingredients of food when we want to choose the best one.
Unfortunately, this is where things get complicated and controversial!
Manufacturers of foods list their ingredients in order of weight. So the things that appear at the start of the list are the things that weigh the most. This can mean that food with lots of water but not much nutrients appear high on the list.
To the untrained eye, ingredient lists can look much better (or worse) than they really are.
For example, “chicken breast” has lots of water in it, whereas “chicken meal” is quite dry. Per ounce, chicken meal has much more protein than chicken breast (even if it doesn’t sound as tasty).
Ingredients like “meat meal” and “meat digest” are by-products. They might not sound like a good thing but by-products are not a bad thing.
By-products are often very nutritious and tasty for cats. Always remember, you are choosing a food for your cat, not for you. Just because you don’t like the sound of “meat by-product meal” doesn’t mean your cat won’t!
PedMD has a useful article on exactly what by-products are.
It is really important to coordinate with your veterinarian when your cat gets diagnosed with diabetes. With a combination of medical and holistic treatments it is possible to keep your cat healthy. It is even possible for cats to go into remission.
Feeding the right food is a cornerstone of diabetes treatment for cats.
It is important to get your cat to a healthy weight as a first priority. So if they’re overweight feed Royal Canin Ultra Light Thin Slices In Gravy. If they’re underweight use Wellness Complete Health Kitten Formula.
Then, once they’re a healthy weight we would recommend Crave Chicken Pate for most cats. If you want to keep costs down or if your cat likes dry food try Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DM Dietetic Management Formula, it’s a great quality and great value.